Heisman Trophy 2017: Ranking the Top 10 Candidates Ahead of Week 8

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2017

Heisman Trophy 2017: Ranking the Top 10 Candidates Ahead of Week 8

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The madness of an upset-filled slate in college football reshaped the 2017 Heisman Trophy race heading into Week 8.

    Quarterbacks from the state of WashingtonJake Browning and Luke Falkstruggled through the worst performances in their production-filled careers. That opened the door for a couple of new faces, including one defender, in the weekly update.

    The leading Heisman contenders stood their ground, though. Penn State star Saquon Barkley had a week off, while Stanford running back Bryce Love and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield stayed near the pre-eminent spot on the list.

    We'll keep an eye on Browning and Falk, though they must be truly outstanding to rejoin the chase. Other players to watch are Notre Dame running back Josh Adams, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts and University of Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton. North Carolina State running back Nyheim Hines is also worth monitoring.

10. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

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    By the numbers: San Diego State's 31-14 loss to Boise State in Week 7 severely stings Rashaad Penny's chances, but this level of production cannot be ignored just in case it was one terrible day. After managing 53 rushing yards against the Broncos, the senior has 1,046 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. His 199.3 all-purpose yards per game still rank No. 3 in the FBS.

    Signature moment: Before helping the Aztecs stun Stanford, the versatile star sliced Arizona State in Week 2 for a 95-yard rushing touchdown and 99-yard return score. He added a receiving touchdown while piling up a career-best 353 all-purpose yards in the 30-20 victory.

    Week 8 prediction: Penny must rebound from a poor performance against Boise State, lest he fall out of the Heisman conversation. He'll face a Fresno State team that is 3-0 in Mountain West play (4-2 overall) and ranks 14th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game. That stout defense will contain Penny, who will be content with a San Diego State victory but leave the Heisman watch.

9. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

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    By the numbers: At some point, statistics will no longer merit inclusion on their own. Lamar Jackson is one loss away from 4-3 Louisville's record vaporizing his Heisman candidacy. Until that happens, though, he must remain on the periphery of the discussion. Jackson leads the country with 430.3 yards of total offense per game and has accounted for 26 touchdowns in seven contests.

    Signature moment: When the junior torched North Carolina for 525 total yards and six touchdowns in Week 2, he offered a glimpse of his top-end potential. The reigning Heisman winner avoided a free-rushing defender, stepped up and launched a perfect 75-yard pass to Jaylen Smith.

    Week 8 prediction: Florida State (2-3) is laboring on offense without Deondre Francois under center, but the defense has remained quite stingy. Jackson will likely spend much of his day trying to escape pressure. Thanks to his mobility, though, he'll still collect 300 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.

8. Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State

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    By the numbers: Ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (13.0) and third in sacks (6.5), Bradley Chubb has spent much of the season tearing apart offensive lines. The senior has posted 37 total tackles, had two pass breakups, forced one fumble and even a blocked kick. Heading into Week 7, Pro Football Focus College Football had credited Chubb with 32 hurries. He notched at least two more against Pitt.

    Signature moment: The North Carolina State hype quieted after a season-opening loss to South Carolina, but Chubb helped remind the nation why it should believe in the Wolfpack during a 27-21 win over Florida State in Week 4. He notched two sacks and chased down quarterback James Blackman to knock the ball loose and create a turnover.

    Week 8 prediction: NC State has a well-timed bye in Week 8. During the following two weeks, Chubbthough he aligns on both sides of the defensive frontwill face pro-caliber left tackles in Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey and Clemson's Mitch Hyatt.

7. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

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    By the numbers: James Washington can't stop taking the top off the defense. The senior has grabbed 34 passes for 882 yards and six touchdowns. His per-game average (147.0) and per-catch mark (25.94) rank first and second in the FBS, respectively. Washington has more 30-, 40- and 50-yard receptions than any other player.

    Signature moment: While we're waiting on a decisive moment from Washington, it's much easier to be patient when he has at least 124 receiving yards in every appearance except one. And in that matchup, he only tallied a mere 98 yards on two catches and a touchdown. For now, his overall outburst of 235 yards against Baylor in Week 7 will have to do.

    Week 8 prediction: Just six teams have surrendered more receptions of 40-plus yards than Texas' nine. Washington will snag several catches on intermediate routes, but one explosive gain will push him over the 100-yard mark for the sixth time in 2017.

6. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

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    By the numbers: After a poor showing from UCLA's Josh Rosen in Week 7, Mason Rudolph has jumped atop the national leaderboard in passing yards per game (394.7). He's second in yards per attempt (11.6), as well as tied for third in passing touchdowns (19) and third in rating (191.00). Rudolph also has six rushing scores.

    Signature moment: While a go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter at Texas Tech in Week 5 deserves a nod, Rudolph put together a remarkable 30 minutes during a 59-21 obliteration of Pitt in Week 3. He picked apart the Panthers for 497 passing yards and five touchdowns, piling up 423 yards and all five scores before halftime.

    Week 8 prediction: The Texas Longhorns have snatched nine interceptions in six games, so an errant throw could be costly. However, they have ceded 8.1 yards per attempt this season. Rudolph should notch his seventh straight 300-yard day of the campaign, adding three touchdowns in a contested win.

5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

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    By the numbers: In Week 7, Jonathan Taylor notched his second straight 200-yard performance. It was also his third of the young season. The breakout freshman has amassed 986 yards and 10 scores for Wisconsin, which is 6-0. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor has forced 39 missed tackles on 128 touches and leads the Big Ten in the site's elusive rating. 

    Signature moment: Wisconsin is the clear front-runner in the Big Ten West Division, but a loss at Nebraska would've altered that perception. Taylor ensured the Badgers would avoid the upset with a career-high 249 yards and two touchdowns in that road triumph. The highlight was a 75-yard scamper immediately after the Huskers scored their first touchdown of the game.

    Week 8 prediction: Maryland hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher until Northwestern's Justin Jackson piled up 171 yards last Saturday. Sounds like a streak is about to start. Aided by one breakaway gain, Taylor will eclipse 100 yards and extend his personal run of scoring at least one touchdown to seven consecutive contests.

4. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

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    By the numbers: Another week, another blowout for J.T. Barrett and Ohio State. The demolition of Nebraska helped the senior move into a tie with West Virginia's Will Grier for most touchdown passes (21) in the nation. Barrett has completed exactly two-thirds of his passes for 1,838 yards and has 359 rushing yards with five more scores.

    Signature moment: Speaking of Nebraska, Barrett tied a personal best with seven total touchdowns during the 56-14 victory. He threw for five scores and ran for two others while recording a new season-high mark of 325 passing yards. The 81.8 completion percentage was also the highest clip of Barrett's career in a game where he attempted at least five passes.

    Week 8 prediction: Barrett is now preparing for Ohio State's most impactful matchup of the season. After a bye in Week 8, the Buckeyes will host Penn State. We'll wait until Week 9 to share a prediction, but a victory over the Nittany Lions would give Barrett and Co. an essential tiebreaker in the Big Ten East Division.   

3. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

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    By the numbers: Baker Mayfield is a 300-yard machine. The senior has cranked out five such performances in six games while completing an FBS-best 72.7 percent of his passes. Mayfield also leads in yards per attempt (12.0) and rating (207.33), and he ranks ninth with 322.8 yards per game.

    Signature moment: Midway through the fourth quarter against rival Texas, Mayfield hit Mark Andrews for a go-ahead 59-yard score. But calling that a Heisman momentwhen Andrews was open by 10 yardsfeels like a stretch. We're sticking with Mayfield's 386-yard, three-touchdown performance to defeat then-No. 2 Ohio State.     

    Week 8 prediction: Over the last three weeks, Kansas State has surrendered at least 291 passing yards. That's not a good trend heading into a clash with Oklahoma. Though the Wildcats will limit his success downfield, Mayfield will pick apart K-State with quick-hitting passes and guide the Sooners to a victory.

2. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

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    By the numbers: Bryce Love is trending in the wrong direction. He mustered a then-season-low 152 yards in Week 6, and he lowered the bar with a meager 147 last Saturday. Sad times at Stanford. Nevertheless, Love is pacing the FBS at 198.1 rushing yards per game and 1,387 for the season. He's scored 11 times in six games.

    Signature moment: Topped only by a 327-yard explosion from Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, Love has the second-highest single-game rushing output of the season. The junior scampered for 301 yardsand tallied a trio of touchdownsagainst Arizona State, breaking Christian McCaffrey's previous school record of 284.    

    Week 8 prediction: Love exited the victory over Oregon with an ankle injury, so Stanford's Week 8 bye is perfectly timed. He'll be rested for a favorable matchup with 1-6 Oregon State, which has allowed six 90-yard rushers in 2017.

1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

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    By the numbers: Penn State had a bye in Week 7, but Saquon Barkley held steady atop the country with 217.0 all-purpose yards per game. Through six games, he's collected 649 rushing yards, 29 receptions for 395 yards and 258 kick-return yards. Barkley has accounted for 10 touchdowns in four different ways.

    Signature moment: Barkley showed off his dynamic skill set with an improbable first down at Iowa. After snaring a checkdown near the sideline, two Iowa defenders closed in on Barkley. He leaped over the first, absorbed a midair hit from the second, steadied himself upon landing and accelerated past the first-down marker to keep the drive alive.    

    Week 8 prediction: Although Michigan's offense is an absolute mess, the defense is the exact opposite. The Wolverines, who contained Barkley in each of the last two seasons, have ceded the fifth-fewest yards per carry. He'll still make a considerable impact as a receiver, but Week 8 will be an understandable grind for Barkley.