Heisman Watch 2017: Ranking Top Favorites in the Race

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistNovember 25, 2017

Baker Mayfield's status as the Heisman Trophy favorite is only in question because of off-field actions.
Baker Mayfield's status as the Heisman Trophy favorite is only in question because of off-field actions.Brett Deering/Getty Images

The 2017 Heisman Trophy competition experienced a complicated, tough-to-quantify twist.

While Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield massaged his candidacy with three touchdowns in Week 12's 41-3 rout over Kansas, his actions may have cost him some votes. A clear-cut race suddenly has some intrigue.

J.T. Barrett and Saquon Barkley have fallen out of prominent contention, leaving Lamar Jackson and Bryce Love as Mayfield's primary competition. The trio enters Saturday's games as the top choices to attend the ceremony in New York in December, so let's break down each player's case with updated Heisman rankings.

          

1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Baker Mayfield will not start Saturday's game after make an inappropriate gesture at Kansas players.
Baker Mayfield will not start Saturday's game after make an inappropriate gesture at Kansas players.Brett Deering/Getty Images

Containing all analysis to the gridiron, Mayfield would run away with the Heisman. Yet the award's official mission statement twice mentions "integrity" in its opening paragraph.

Some voters may wonder whether he still qualifies after making an obscene gesture toward Kansas players. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley responded by announcing his quarterback won't start or serve as a captain for Saturday's game against West Virginia.

A unanimous Heisman choice in USA Today's poll prior to the incident against Kansas, Mayfield lost three of 20 first-place votes. Yet he still maintained a cushy lead. Only one of 12 ESPN.com analysts did not place the senior atop their ballot.

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For all the taunting and flag-planting, he has had an undeniably incredible season. He has spread out his 34 passing touchdowns with at least two in every game for the 10-1 Sooners. His 70.6 completion percentage, 11.6 yards per attempt and 199.3 passer rating lead all FBS quarterbacks. 

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit told For The Win's Michelle R. Martinelli that he can see Mayfield losing some votes but would consider it "shocking" if the polarizing front-runner didn't win, saying:

"You have some [Heisman voters] who are more old school. They've been voting on this for a long time, and they'll look at that action and they'll say that is not representative of what a Heisman Trophy winner should be. I have no problem with people who take that, and they might have a hard time putting him on there because of some of those actions. But I think the overwhelming majority will look at what he's done on the field."

Mayfield still looks poised to do the Heisman pose in New York. Luckily for him, his most qualified competitor isn't receiving proper recognition.

           

2. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Lamar Jackson has put up impressive numbers as a passer and runner.
Lamar Jackson has put up impressive numbers as a passer and runner.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jackson's 1,287 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns with his legs are undoubtedly impressive tallies, but other running backs have exceeded his spectacular exploits.

Oh, wait! He's a quarterback who has also accrued 3,273 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions. Louisville made the case for its star to join Archie Griffin as the only back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner:

A 59.7 completion percentage is lacking for a Heisman victor, but he received last year's honor despite a 56.2 rate. While he needs a spectacular finish to match 2016's 30 passing and 21 rushing touchdowns, the junior has mirrored last season's 8.7 yards per attempt with a slightly improved 149.4 quarterback rating.

Yet Jackson is receiving little respect as a contender. On Nov. 6, OddsShark showed six players (led by Mayfield) had better odds at capturing the prize than a quarterback who wields six 300-yard passing performances and eight 100-yard rushing tallies.

Voter fatigue can play a factor. Any time an athlete wins an award, it becomes tougher to repeat since onlookers take that excellence for granted and wish to spread out their praise.

More important, the 7-4 Cardinals have fallen short of preseason expectations. The defense has relinquished 173 combined points in those shortcomings, but the quarterback often receives blame (and credit) for things outside of his control.

Per ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson, Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino exonerated Jackson from the squad's struggles when endorsing him as a deserving Heisman finalist.

"I think he does for sure," Petrino said of whether Jackson warrants an invite to New York. "I can't imagine there's a better player in the country than Lamar Jackson, his ability to throw the football, run the football. I know we had our struggles, but it wasn't his play. He was playing great and doing everything he could."

He's a close runner-up to Mayfield, but Jackson may not even make the final cut.

            

3. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Bryce Love set an FBS record with 11 runs of at least 50 yards this season.
Bryce Love set an FBS record with 11 runs of at least 50 yards this season.David Madison/Getty Images

Love has scored a touchdown in all 10 games played this season. He cleared 100 yards all but once to compile 1,723 rushing yards on 195 carries.

As Stanford Football's Twitter account noted, the junior's efficiency compares favorably to other Cardinal running backs who won the Heisman:

He has also churned out a run of over 50 yards in all but one bout. Per Stanford director of athletic communications Alan George, he set a FBS milestone with last week's 57-yard rushing touchdown to top California:

Love has replaced Barkley as the nation's most decorated running back. Any non-quarterback, however, always faces an uphill battle to shine brighter than passers from the mythic position. 

At 8-3, No. 20 Stanford also can't match Oklahoma's team success. Despite Mayfield's antics, he could guide his squad to the College Football Playoff. 

Love, who missed a game last month because of an ankle injury, needs a memorable season finale against Notre Dame to fortify his claim as a finalist with a legitimate opportunity to win.