Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater are the hot Heisman Trophy names heading into Week 5 of the 2013 college football season, but if we've learned anything over the years, it's that early projections mean nothing.
Just ask Geno Smith.
Before bowl season begins, at least one player not currently mentioned as a legitimate threat to unseat Johnny Football's place as the reigning Heisman winner will separate himself from the field.
Keeping that in mind, here's a look at three candidates to do just that. These players will have big games this weekend with the eyes of Heisman voters everywhere firmly fixated on their efforts.
*For a complete look at the college football Week 5 schedule, click here (via NCAA.com).
Fresno State QB Derek Carr
Carr put on a clinic against Boise State last week, completing 65.0 percent of his passes en route to a 460-yard, four-touchdown day. Needless to say, his sparkling stats helped the Bulldogs take down a conference opponent on a big stage.
The school has launched a Heisman campaign for the senior star, and for good reason—his stats currently rival those of nearly every other Heisman candidate in the country at the quarterback position.
Through three games, Carr has a 68.9 percent completion rating, thrown for 1,121 yards and has 12 touchdowns to go against just one interception (in Week 1 against Rutgers). The defense has been suspect, yielding an average of 38.7 points per game so far, but Carr has guided Fresno State to a 3-0 start.
Against a Hawaii team that has given up at least 30 points to opponents (all losses) in each of its first three games, Carr must take advantage of an opportunity to pad the stat sheet while still guiding his team to the all-important "W."
Last year, Carr threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns against Hawaii. A repeat performance in 2013 will help bolster his Heisman candidacy, albeit it against a lesser opponent in a weaker conference. All Carr can do is play good football. Expect him to do so on Saturday evening.
Prediction: 345 passing yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
A breakout star for the Badgers through the first four weeks, Gordon currently leads the nation in rushing with 624 yards on just 53 carries.
His 11.8 yard-per-carry average is also tops in college football; only Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk (11.0) has come close to the numbers the sophomore from Kenosha is putting up for Gary Andersen's offense.
Even nicer than his numbers might be his attitude. Evan Flood of 247 Sports explains with this tweet:
As Wisconsin—and Gordon personally—prepares for its toughest test of the season to date against Ohio State, conventional wisdom might suggest that he's in for a setback in terms of the stat sheet and his potential Heisman candidacy.
I would argue, however, that Ohio State hasn't seen a runner like Gordon, an offense like Wisconsin's or felt the sting of a conference battle after comfortable victories over the likes of Florida A&M, Buffalo and San Diego State.
Although the platoon situation of Gordon, James White and Corey Clement will make it difficult for any of the three Badgers to make a serious claim toward the Heisman, Gordon has the best shot. He has seven touchdowns, breaks long runs like bakers break soft bread and plays on a recognizable team in a strong conference.
Ohio State poses a stiff threat to make Gordon irrelevant in the Heisman race, but I like him to rise above that conclusion on Saturday. If he gets 15 touches on offense, expect at least 100 yards and a touchdown to come out of it.
Prediction: 115 rushing yards, 2 TD
Oregon State QB Sean Mannion
Mariota and Brett Hundley are getting all the Heisman attention in the Pac-12, but it's Mannion currently leading the NCAA in passing yards and touchdowns heading into Week 5.
Oregon State's colossal setback to Eastern Washington in Week 1 left doubters to cast away any awards for this group of Beavers, but Mike Riley's bunch has turned it around with three straight victories before conference play begins.
Speaking of Riley, he feels Mannion should be in the Heisman conversation right now. Per a report from Lindsay Schnell of OregonLive.com, here's what Riley had to say about his starting QB as a Heisman candidate after the win over San Diego State:
He belongs in any conversation. He's playing really good football, which is a sign of preparation and talent meeting one another. He made a lot of throws with a lot of heat yesterday, and I'm really proud of him for that. His (completion) percentage is amazing.
That completion percentage (71.5) is also good enough for a top-10 spot on the national leaderboard, giving Mannion plenty of juice to throw his numbers in with the best players at his position in the country.
But the Heisman is about the overall package, and that includes stringing together victories. A tough schedule awaits the Beavers henceforth, but there's a number of winnable games on the schedule to help Mannion prove he's the total package in the eyes of the voters.
One such chance will be against Colorado on Saturday, a team that has allowed at least 24 points in each of its first two games. Expect Mannion and the offense to be on full display against the Colorado defense, and don't be surprised if he's the first 2,000-yard passer of the 2013 season come Sunday.
Prediction: 415 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
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