Ranking Heisman Contenders' Performances After Week 3 of College Football

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 17, 2019

Ranking Heisman Contenders' Performances After Week 3 of College Football

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    Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa during the 2018 season
    Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa during the 2018 seasonJonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    If the next three months of the 2019 college football season are anything like the first three weeks, Heisman Trophy voters will be faced with a decision that haunted coach Nick Saban throughout the 2018 preseason: Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa?

    Both the former and current starting Alabama quarterbacks were nothing short of dominant in blowout road wins over Power Five conference opponents Saturday and are starting to turn the early Heisman conversation into a two-horse race. Don't sleep on LSU's Joe Burrow or Ohio State's Justin Fields, though, as those signal-callers did their best to keep pace.

    These are the players who entered Week 3 with the 10 best odds of winning the Heisman, ranked in ascending order of their Week 3 performances.

    To reiterate: These are snapshot rankings—a single grade on the season-long report card, if you will. The player at No. 1 won't necessarily be the favorite to win the Heisman, nor is the player at the bottom of our rankings always in danger of dropping out of the picture altogether (Though in this case, both of those things are true). It just means the former had a great performance while the latter left something to be desired.

    Team success and difficulty of opponent factor into the rankings along with individual stats and highlights.

    Heisman odds accurate as of Monday and courtesy of Caesar's Casino.

    Note: Starting next week, we will use the top 10 Heisman candidates from after the weekend rather than before it. Were that process in place this week, Jerry Jeudy (listed at 25-1) and Jake Fromm (28-1) would have replaced Travis Etienne (40-1) and D'Andre Swift (50-1). Also, Jonathan Taylor (12-1) was not included this week because Wisconsin was idle. He is still among the top candidates to win the Heisman.

9. Travis Etienne, Clemson RB

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    Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

    Heisman Odds: 40-1

    Stats (at Syracuse): 14 carries, 76 yards; 3 receptions, 32 yards                  

    The Good

    Travis Etienne led Clemson in rushing, gained more than 100 all-purpose yards, didn't fumble and was not once tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Those are all positives, even though we were hoping he could do more against a Syracuse defense that had just allowed 354 rushing yards and six touchdowns in a Week 2 blowout loss to Maryland.

    The greatest good for Etienne is that the other running backs in the Heisman hunt didn't do anything to surpass him.

    Jonathan Taylor had the week off, and Georgia's D'Andre Swiftagainst a worse opponentput up numbers similar to Etienne's. Both Alabama's Najee Harris and Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins gained some ground with strong outings, but they both started the week with odds of 100-1 or worse and remain an afterthought behind their more noteworthy quarterbacks.

                   

    The Bad

    For the second straight week, Etienne posted a bit of a dud. He averaged 3.3 yards per carry in Week 2 against Texas A&M, but that's looking like an elite defense. Had he bounced back with a big day against Syracusecombined with his herculean performance in the opener against Georgia Techwe would have gladly overlooked the mediocre afternoon against the Aggies.

    Instead, Etienne has now been held in check by the only two teams on Clemson's schedule that opened the season in the AP Top 25. Given the lack of competition the rest of the way, he'll just about need to average 175 yards per game and/or 10 yards per carry to get back into the mix for a top-five finish.

             

    Up Next: vs. Charlotte 49ers (Saturday)

8. D'Andre Swift, Georgia RB

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Heisman Odds: 50-1

    Stats (vs. Arkansas State): 9 carries, 76 yards; 2 receptions, 64 yards, 1 TD

    The Good

    D'Andre Swift had another efficient day in a dominant win for Georgia. Thanks in part to a third consecutive game with a rush that went for at least 35 yards, Swift averaged 8.4 yards per carry. That actually dropped his season average from 9.7 to 9.4 YPC, but he will remain among the nation's leaders in that category.

    Swift's most impressive play wasn't on a carry, though. He had just one reception for nine yards through the Bulldogs' first two games, but he took a screen pass 48 yards to the house in this 55-0 victory over Arkansas State. Several would-be tacklers were left grasping at air while Swift showed how elusive he can be in the open field.

                    

    The Bad

    Per usual, Swift's touches were limited, which is no way to win the Heisman. Derrick Henry averaged 26.3 carries per game in 2015, when he was the last running back to receive the honor. Mark Ingram II had a combined average of 21.6 carries and receptions per game en route to the 2009 stiff-armed trophy. But Swift is hovering at a meager 11.3 touches after yet another game in which Georgia didn't need him for long.

    If he runs rampant against the likes of Notre Dame, Florida and Auburn, it won't matter that the Dawgs barely used him for the first three weeks. However, the modest per-game numbers make Swift a distant afterthought in the early Heisman conversation. Even if you're of the mindset that someone from Georgia has to be in the hunt, quarterback Jake Fromm had an impressive day against Arkansas State (17-of-22, 279 yards, 3 TD) to put himself back in the mix.

          

    Up Next: vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Saturday)

7. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson QB

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    Steve Jacobs/Associated Press

    Heisman Odds: 10-1

    Stats (at Syracuse): 22-of-39, 395 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT, 156.6 PER; 4 carries, 42 yards, 1 TD

    The Good

    Clemson won 41-6, clearing what figures to be the final semi-legitimate hurdle on its schedule. Maybe the regular-season finale at South Carolina gets a little dicey, but the Tigers are significantly more likely to go 12-0 than any other result. Assuming they run the table and spend the entire season ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the AP poll, that's going to keep Trevor Lawrence in the Heisman conversation.

    And in the process of leading the Tigers to an early 14-0 lead, Lawrence looked unstoppable.

    On the final five plays of the first TD drive, he went 4-of-4 for 55 yards and ran for nine yards. His pump fake on the touchdown pass was nothing short of lethal, opening up the middle of the field for Amari Rodgers to score. On the subsequent drive, Lawrence showed off his newfound dual-threat skills, rushing one in for the third consecutive week.

            

    The Bad

    Lawrence threw a pair of third-quarter interceptions that were downright reprehensible.

    Both picks set up Syracuse inside the Clemson 10 for possessions that could have changed the trajectory of what was at first a 17-6 ballgame. Fortunately for Lawrence, Tommy DeVito threw an interception on the first play after the first pick, and the Tigers defense put together a goal-line stand after the second one, holding the Orange scoreless in the second half.

    Lawrence has now thrown five interceptions through three games, which is already one more than he had in the entire 2018 season (four). The three touchdowns and nearly 400 yards against Syracuse helped improve his passing efficiency rating to 139.5, but he is still 64th in that category among qualified quarterbacks.

    The combination of his 2018 success and the preseason Clemson hype will keep Lawrence among the five favorites, but for now, he doesn't belong in the same conversation with Jalen Hurts (250.2), Joe Burrow (223.9), Tua Tagovailoa (213.4) or Justin Fields (185.0).

             

    Up Next: vs. Charlotte 49ers (Saturday)

6. Justin Herbert, Oregon QB

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    Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

    Heisman Odds: 16-1

    Stats (vs. Montana): 30-of-42, 316 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT, 173.9 PER

    The Good

    For the second consecutive week, Justin Herbert threw for at least 300 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptionssomething he had never accomplished in his first three seasons and something that only five other players have done through this season's first three weeks, per Sports Reference.

    Herbert kept things simple with short chunk gain after short chunk gain. He didn't have a single pass that went for more than 21 yards, but 19 of his 30 completions either ended in a first down or a touchdown. It looks like something one would find in a Mike Leach box score, but Herbert had 20 passes that gained between nine and 21 yards.

    And he spread the love among 11 different receivers. It is hard to stop a guy who is happy to march down the field by taking what the defense is giving him.

                

    The Bad

    I mean, it was a home game against Montana. How much can we take away from this? The Grizzlies had given up multiple passing touchdowns and just under 300 yards per game in their first two contests against South Dakota and North Alabama, and they lost 63-7 to the Washington Huskies when they last faced an FBS opponent in 2017.

    And aside from finishing off the opening drive with a five-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-goal, Herbert was dreadful on third-down and fourth-down passing attempts. He went just 3-of-10 for 17 yards, and one of those completions was a four-yard gain on 3rd-and-6 that still resulted in a punt.

    The Ducks were never in danger of losing—they won 35-3—but they likely would have scored at least three or four more times if Herbert hadn't been so unclutch.

                                       

    Up Next: at Stanford Cardinal (Saturday)

5. Joe Burrow, LSU QB

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    Patrick Dennis/Associated Press

    Heisman Odds: 9-2

    Stats (vs. Northwestern State): 21-of-24, 373 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 237.2 PER; 7 carries, 30 yards, 1 TD

    The Good

    Joe Burrow only played two-and-a-half quarters in the 65-14 victory over Northwestern State, but he still put up a full day's worth of stats while guiding the Tigers to scores on seven of their first nine possessions (six touchdowns and one field goal).

    He was almost perfect, including his dart to Terrace Marshall Jr. for a touchdown on 3rd-and-long in what was a close game midway through the second quarter. And the second TD pass might have been even prettier. He was rolling out to his left and somehow got his shoulders square to find Marshall sliding in the back of the end zone. It wasn't quite Patrick Mahomes-ish, but it was a vivid reminder that this is the most physically gifted quarterback LSU has had in a long time.

                       

    The Bad

    The lone interception was an ugly one. Burrow had his eyes locked on Justin Jefferson the whole way, enabling Dylan Wilson to jump the route and set up Northwestern State in the red zone late in the first half of a 24-14 game. LSU's defense shut down the Demons and got a missed field goal to keep it a two-possession margin, but this easily could have been a three-point contest at halftime because of Burrow's carelessness.

    He atoned for that mistake with a 48-yard pass on the first play of the second half as well as a 65-yard completion on his final drive of the game. However, this is the second straight week that the LSU defense had to bail out Burrow after a bad pick deep in his own territory. Plays like those could be the difference in future games against Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M.

             

    Up Next: at Vanderbilt Commodores (Saturday)

4. Justin Fields, Ohio State QB

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Heisman Odds: 12-1

    Stats (at Indiana): 14-of-24, 199 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 169.2 PER; 4 carries, 11 yards, 1 TD

    The Good

    In Tua-like fashion, Justin Fields led the Buckeyes to a third consecutive blowout victory in which he accounted for at least four touchdowns without throwing an interception. And he made it look easy, despite playing on the road against a conference foe.

    The touchdown pass to Chris Olave looked like a 37-yard handoff, as Fields casually lofted one up and hit his target in stride in the back of the end zone. On the other two passing touchdowns, he flung darts that only his receivers could have caught. And his keeper on the read-option touchdown was a vivid reminder that Fields can do just as much damage with his feet as he can with his arm.

    He'll get one more warm-up game before the schedule begins to stiffen, but early returns suggest that this Ohio State offense could be even more dangerous than the one that saw Dwayne Haskins throw for 50 touchdowns last year.

                    

    The Bad

    After completing over 75 percent of pass attempts through the first two weeks, Fields finished this game at a much less impressive 58.3 percent. He only attempted two passes on third or fourth down, and he missed the mark on both of those throws.

    That is some serious nitpicking, though, as it's hard to complain about a quarterback's turnover-free performance in a 51-10 road win. 

                  

    Up Next: vs. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (Saturday)

3. Sam Ehlinger, Texas QB

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    Heisman Odds: 10-1

    Stats (vs. Rice): 23-of-27, 279 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 208.7 PER; 5 carries, 27 yards

    The Good

    If Sam Ehlinger was still frustrated by last week's tough loss to LSU, it didn't show against Rice. He came out on fire, leading Texas on four consecutive touchdown drives that each went for at least 73 yards. The game was effectively over by the end of the first quarter. In those first 15 minutes, Ehlinger completed 12 of 13 pass attempts for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

    He's still not finding the end zone (one touchdown through three games) with his feet nearly like he did last year (16 rushing touchdowns), but it's hard to cry for more rushing theatrics from a quarterback with an 11-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

                               

    The Bad

    As with what Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert did against Northwestern State and Montana, respectively, it should be taken with a grain of salt that Ehlinger torched a Rice team that has now lost 25 of its last 28 games. Wake Forest's Jamie Newman put up almost identical numbers (21-of-27, 312 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT; 6 carries, 29 yards) last week at Rice, and his Heisman odds aren't even on the board.

    But while Burrow threw a brutal interception and Herbert looked lost on third and fourth downs, Ehlinger was pick-less and converted four times on 3rd-and-5 or longer (three passes, one scramble). Even with the "Rice can't play defense against Conference USA opponents" caveat, Ehlinger was impressive.

                       

    Up Next: vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (Saturday)

1B. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma QB

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Heisman Odds: 5-2

    Stats (at UCLA): 15-of-20, 289 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 245.9 PER; 14 carries, 150 yards, 1 TD

    The Good

    Even if we disregard the rushing figures, what Jalen Hurts is doing thus far as a quarterback is almost incomprehensible.

    For the third straight week, he threw for at least 250 yards, completed at least 75 percent of his pass attempts, averaged at least 14.4 yards per attempt and threw exactly three touchdowns with no interceptions. Thus far this season, there have been seven instances of a quarterback posting a single-game PER of at least 245, and Hurts is responsible for three of them.

    Now consider that dude also ran the ball four times for 99 yards on Oklahoma's opening possession against UCLA. Hurts is the nation's sixth-leading rusher and has the third-highest yards-per-carry rate among players averaging at least nine rushes per game.

    Hurts' rushing numbers aren't quite as ridiculous as Lamar Jackson's were through the first three games of his 2016 Heisman season (49 carries for 464 yards and 10 touchdowns), but Hurts has been a much more efficient passer and is arguably having a more profound impact on the offense.

                                                                                    

    The Bad

    As was the case after Hurts' destruction of Houston in Week 1, the worst thing about the quarterback's performance was that it came against an opponent that no one expected to slow him down.

    UCLA's state of football is a dumpster that caught on fire inside of a train wreck, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if the Bruins allow Washington State's Anthony Gordon to throw for 500 yards and five touchdowns next weekend.

    But you know what? UCLA stunk last year too, and what Hurts just did to the Bruins was even more impressive than what 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray did against them last September. Hurts was flawless for the third consecutive week and clearly deserves to be Heisman co-favorites along with former teammate Tua Tagovailoa.

                 

    Up Next: vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (Sept. 28)

1A. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama QB

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Heisman Odds: 2-1

    Stats (at South Carolina): 28-of-36, 444 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT, 227.2 PER

    The Good

    Tua Tagovailoa entered the week as the singular favorite to win the Heisman, and that isn't going to change following his phenomenal performance in Alabama's 47-23 rout of South Carolina. He set a new personal best in passing yards, going over 400 for the first time in his career. He also matched a career high with five passing touchdownsmatching his feat from last year's Iron Bowl.

    He set the tone early with two beautiful touchdown passes in the first quarter.

    On Alabama's first possession, he rolled left, looked left and then spun back to the right to find a wide-open Najee Harris on a wheel route. On his second touchdown, he sold the play-action fake and stared down wideout Jaylen Waddle on a screen route to get Henry Ruggs III five yards of space in the middle of the field, after which the track star was off to the races.

            

    The Bad

    Tagovailoa was practically perfect, unless you want to gripe about the two sacks that he took in the span of three plays in the first quarter, resulting in Alabama's only punt of the day.

    The "worst" thing about his performance was that his receivers kind of stole the show, most notably Harris, who delivered a stiff-arm-and-hurdle combo that will be one of the top highlights of the entire 2019 season. But that incredible run-after-the-catch would've never happened unless Tagovailoa had the poise to stand tall in the pocket and read the field for a 4th-and-3 conversion in a seven-point game.

                                          

    Up Next: vs. Southern Mississippi (Saturday)