Heisman Forecast: Could Halfway Heisman winner Lamar Jackson possibly be denied?

BY foxsports • October 12, 2016

It's not even worth debating who is the Forecaster's pick for the Halfway Heisman winner.

To say it could be anyone other than Louisville's Lamar Jackson would be absurd considering the historic pace he's on when stacked up against other Heisman Trophy winners, and near-historic pace overall.

Should the sophomore quarterback stay at or near that 462.6 yards per game average, Jackson is setting us up for the only real drama in this race to be whether he can supplant Reggie Bush for the highest percentage of possible points earned (91.7) or Troy Smith, who has the biggest majority of first-place votes (91.6).

The Cardinals remaining schedule -- which ranks 32nd per NCAA.org based on future opponents' winning percentage -- is more than manageable, and while it would take some upheaval to get Jackson and Co. into the ACC Championship Game picture, he has at last has the Nov. 17 trip to No. 13 Houston to provide a late-season spark to his resume.

None of this, though, is to say booster John Schnatter -- you know, Papa John -- should start conjuring up a signature pizza for the school's first trophy recipient quite yet.

Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is gaining ground, the credentials of Michigan's do-everything safety Jabrill Peppers keep getting more impressive and, of course, Clemson's Deshaun Watson has a head-to-head win over Jackson in one of this season's best games.

There's also the fact that all of those players -- along with Washington QB Jake Browning -- have their respective teams very much in the College Football Playoff conversation.

That, barring that dreaded C-word (chaos), isn't likely to happen for the Cardinals with their future resume taking a hit due to the Cougars' loss to Navy last weekend.

He continues to be your leader for the true hardware, but for now, Lamar Jackson, enjoy the Halfway Heisman. A congratulatory edible arrangement is on the way.

As we dive into this week's Risers and Sliders, here's a look at who is trailing Jackson in the Forecaster's latest virtual ballot.

The freshman, who is the first Crimson Tide freshman to start at QB since Vince Sutton in 1984, is coming off of his best game of the season with 253 yards and two TDs through the air -- backed by a 76.5 completion rate -- and ran for another two scores vs. Arkansas. Now he has the first of two consecutive Top-10 opponents with No. 9 Tennessee this week and No. 6 Texas A&M the next. The SEC has had a Heisman finalist in each of the past 10 years, and while it may be difficult for Hurts to win, if he continues to develop at this rate, he could make it interesting to see if he can keep that streak alive.

Barrett and the Buckeyes have rarely been tested this season, with their biggest win coming against Oklahoma and its 89th-ranked defense. No. 8 Wisconsin will be a major step up, having allowed Michigan just 14 points in its only loss. Barrett has never played against Wisconsin, missing the 2014 game due to that right ankle fracture that gave way to Cardale Jones, and coming off a game in which he threw for only 93 yards vs. Indiana (though he did run for 137 and a score), expect him to take full advantage of the stage and a Badgers pass defense (35th) that's just not as stout as that team is vs. the rush (6th).

If anyone's campaign needs a mulligan due to Hurricane Matthew, it's Trubisky. He was gaining steam behind back-to-back 400-yard games, then threw for just 58 yards on 13 of 33 passing against Virginia Tech, and had his North Carolina record of passes without an interception at 243. Then he threw another pick. He'll have his work cut out for him getting back into this race on the road vs. No. 16 Miami, which is 10th in total defense and 11th against the pass -- and there's a 60 percent chance of rain in Coral Gables. Trubisky, though, will be the most efficient QB this Hurricanes defense has seen, ranking 14th in FBS (160.3).

It would be stunning to have McCaffrey not wind up in New York after being the runner-up last season, and sitting third in all-purpose yards at 188.2 per game, he's going to have numbers to back up that name recognition, and figures to still be a factor in the Far West voting region. All that being said, it's difficult to see McCaffrey having any chance of actually winning. He's coming off back-to-back losses in which he's had a combined 84 yards rushing, and he's failed to reach the end zone since Sept. 17 against USC. A big performance against Notre Dame this week would give him a strong statement vs. a name opponent, but the chances to truly impress are dwindling with zero ranked teams remaining on the Cardinal schedule.

Ward's numbers are still strong, as he's fifth in FBS in total offense at 391.2 per game and got to Navy's defense for 359 yards passing and 94 rushing, along with four touchdowns. However, he also threw two interceptions in that loss, has already missed one game (Sept. 10 vs. Lamar) and now he and the Cougars are no longer a CFP threat, thanks to the Midshipmen. So much of Ward's credentials rested on having Houston in the playoff conversation, and while they remain a New Year's Six option, delivering the school's first trophy since Andre Ware in 1989 is no longer in the cards.

Dobbs and the Volunteers nearly had more magic up their sleeves against Texas A&M, and while there's a real opportunity to rebound this week against top-ranked Alabama, the Forecaster has already put Hurts on the Riser list, meaning the other SEC top contender is in for a fall. A year ago, the Crimson Tide held Dobbs to 171 yards passing and a 139.4 rating, and with another stout defense for Nick Saban -- Alabama is 12th in FBS at 292. 5 yards per game -- it could mean more trouble for Dobbs' chances.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,' is out now, and 'The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners' will be released Nov. 22, 2016.



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