Ranking the Heisman Favorites Heading into Week 6

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystOctober 8, 2020

Ranking the Heisman Favorites Heading into Week 6

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    Florida QB Kyle Trask
    Florida QB Kyle TraskJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    Early October is usually when two, maybe three Heisman candidates separate from the pack.

    By this time last year, it was just about a foregone conclusion that either Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts or Joe Burrow would win. One year before that, the race had been more or less whittled down to Tagovailoa, Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins.

    But this year?

    It's still anybody's guess.

    Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Florida's Kyle Trask are slight betting favorites at the moment, but Miami's D'Eriq King isn't far behind. Neither is Ohio State's Justin Fields, who has yet to play a game. And there's an entire gaggle of guys like Mac Jones, K.J. Costello, Sam Ehlinger, Spencer Rattler and Zach Wilson who have started strong and wouldn't need much of a push to move to the head of the class.

    The next two weeks should significantly separate the wheat from the chaff, though.

    Lawrence and King go head-to-head this Saturday. So do Ehlinger and Rattler. Trask faces Texas A&M this weekend and LSU the following Saturday. Jones (and Najee Harris and Jaylen Waddle) has to contend with Georgia's elite defense next Saturday.

    By the time Fields finally takes the field on Oct. 24, the race may well be down to one or two clear favorites with the Buckeye as a late-entry X-factor. But it's a jumbled mess at the moment. 

6. Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

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    Only Texas (51.0) is averaging more points per game than BYU's 49.3, and quarterback Zach Wilson has been at the epicenter of that offensive onslaught.

    The Cougars are actually more of a run-first team than usual, and it's Wilson who makes that possible with his versatility. He doesn't run much (17 carries for 41 yards), but he has been so lethal out of the play action that defenses are forced to respect the pass at all times. That opens up massive lanes for Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa to go to work, leading BYU to more than 225 rushing yards per game.

    And when Wilson gets the chance to throw, he capitalizes in a big way. He is completing a staggering 84.5 percent of his pass attempts and averaging 13.4 yards per attempt. On just 23.7 pass attempts per game, he is averaging 316.3 yards.

    Normally, we wouldn't expect a quarterback to remain that efficient for long, but what team on that schedule is going to stop him?

    BYU faces UTSA this week, which has allowed more than 300 passing yards per game through four contests. After that is Houston, which hasn't played yet this season, but which had one of the worst secondaries in the nation last year. Then it's home games against Texas State and Western Kentucky, two teams which will provide slightly more resistance, but nothing compared to the defenses the other Heisman candidates will be facing in the next month.

    By the time BYU finally faces a legitimate challenge (at Boise State on Nov. 7), the Cougars might be in the AP Top 10 and Wilson might be one of the top three candidates for the Heisman. If he also thrives in that game, BYU might be celebrating the 30-year anniversary of Ty Detmer's Heisman with another one.

5. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

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    Up until a few days before the start of Alabama's season, we weren't even certain Mac Jones would be able to lock down the starting job ahead of the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2020 class, Bryce Young. However, Young didn't see the field until the Crimson Tide were up by four touchdowns in their opener against Missouri, and he didn't get out there at all in last week's win over Texas A&M.

    Jones is completing nearly 75 percent of his passes and averaging better than 13 yards per attempt, so why mess with a good thing?

    To be clear, the uncertainty throughout the offseason was never a knock on Jones, but rather an acknowledgement of both Young's immense potential and college football's growing trend of immediately handing the reins to true freshman quarterbacks.

    Jones proved throughout last season that he is worthy of a starting job. In fact, he was one of just seven quarterbacks in the past four years to have a passer efficiency rating north of 185 in a season with at least 100 pass attempts. The others were Baker Mayfield (twice), Tua Tagovailoa (twice), Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts and Malik Cunningham.

    Thus far, he has more than maintained that level of efficiency with a nation-best rating of 222.07.

    The only real question at the moment is whether he'll be able to finish ahead of his world-class teammates. Najee Harris has five rushing touchdowns through two games, and Jaylen Waddle racked up at least 130 receiving yards and a score in both of Alabama's contests. Aside from perhaps Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, those are the top two non-quarterbacks in the early Heisman discussion.

4. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

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    Justin Fields is something of a Heisman lone wolf among college football's late-arriving crowd. Penn State's Sean Clifford, Minnesota's Tanner Morgan and USC's Kedon Slovis would be worth mentioning if you want to go 25 guys deep in search of sleepers, but Fields is the only strong Heisman candidate from the Big Ten or Pac-12.

    And I have no clue how that's going to play out.

    Could it be a Royal Rumble type of scenario in which the last man into the ring has the inherent advantage of only needing to out-perform a handful of remaining contenders, or will it be a situation in which just about anything he does will be too little, too late?

    The proper answer lies somewhere between those two extremes, but I do believe the shorter season is going to leave Fields with much less wiggle room for a mulligan.

    If he isn't immediately on point in Ohio State's first two games against Nebraska and Penn State, he'll drop out of the conversation. Even if he thrives in those two October games, he'd better come out in November and eviscerate Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana and Illinois, because he simply won't have time to gradually make up ground on the likes of Kyle Trask and Trevor Lawrence.

    It would also help immensely if he puts up bigger numbers this year. Fields' efficiency was outstanding last year, but his first game with at least 300 combined passing and rushing yards didn't come until Ohio State's 10th game of the season.

3. D'Eriq King, QB, Miami

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    A former transfer has won the Heisman in each of the past three years, but D'Eriq King is hoping to tweak that formula a bit by pulling it off in his first year at a new school.

    Thus far, King has been every bit as good as advertised, averaging roughly 250 passing yards and 50 rushing yards per game for Miami. He isn't individually scoring touchdowns (seven in three games) at nearly the same rate as he did with Houston in 2018 (50 in 11 games), but that's of little concern when you realize that Miami's offense is so much better because of him.

    The Hurricanes averaged just 25.7 points per game last season, which was their worst scoring rate in over a decade. Their magnum opus of futility was getting shut out by Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl.

    Then King jumps into the fray and all of a sudden we're getting early 2000s vibes from The U.

    Miami's scoring average has increased by 68 percent to 43.3 points per game. The 'Canes are leading the ACC in total yards per game, as King's dual-threat presence has opened up so much more in the playbook.

    In fairness, those three games were against UAB, Louisville and Florida Stateotherwise read as a Conference USA team and two of the worst defenses in the ACC last year. But this week is where the rubber meets the road. Even if Miami is unable to upset Clemson, King could get some serious Heisman style points in a relatively close loss.

    It doesn't need to be a repeat of what Lamar Jackson did against Clemson in 2016 (295 passing yards, 162 rushing yards, three total touchdowns), though King is capable of doing something similar.

2. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida

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    Kyle Trask sure went from "slight preseason afterthought" to "top Heisman candidate" in a hurry, throwing for 684 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first two games for what is surprisingly one of the most potent offenses in the country.

    Trask was solid throughout last season and finished strong, averaging better than 320 passing yards over his final four games for a team that finished at No. 6 in the AP poll. But he is operating at a whole new level of efficiency early on for what looks like a legitimate title contender.

    Sounds pretty similar to the first few acts of Joe Burrow's Heisman campaign, doesn't it?

    It bears mentioning that neither Ole Miss nor South Carolina was particularly adept at defending the pass last season. Thus, it's possible that Trask's hot start is at least partially a product of the secondaries he has faced. But with the next four games coming against Texas A&M, LSU, Missouri and Georgia, it won't be long before we find out how legitimate Trask is as both a Heisman candidate and an NFL draft prospect.

    For Heisman purposes, though, he may want to start spreading the love. Star tight end Kyle Pitts is responsible for 60 percent of Trask's 10 touchdowns and nearly one-third of his passing yards. Even in 2020, the idea of a tight end winning the Heisman is a bit unfathomable. However, if those ratios persist, Pitts is going to get more Heisman respect than his quarterback.

1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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    For Trevor Lawrence, it has never been a question of talent or efficiency, but rather of volume.

    At the time of last year's Heisman vote, Lawrence had a passer efficiency rating of 176.5 and was the starting quarterback of a team that had won 28 consecutive games. He had also already been more or less cemented as the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. But he merely finished seventh in the race for the stiff-armed trophy because of a lack of signature moments or mammoth box scores.

    In short, Clemson was too good and the rest of the ACC was too bad for this star to shine properly. (His slow start of five interceptions in the first three games didn't help matters.)

    But the ACC is vastly improved as a whole, and Lawrence's stat lines are already more impressive than we were used to seeing. That combination of factors should be enough to boost him from seventh place to first place, provided he continues playing well.

    Lawrence only had one game last season with at least 305 passing yards, but he has already had two such performances this fall. If he has a third game like that this weekend in a statement win over a Top 10 opponent (Miami), he could just about put this whole Heisman conversation on ice before Justin Fields even gets the chance to play a game.

Others Legitimately Worth Considering

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    LSU QB Myles Brennan
    LSU QB Myles BrennanGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    K.J. Costello, Mississippi State

    After lighting up LSU for 623 yards and five touchdowns in the season opener, Costello crashed back to earth with 313 yards and three interceptions in a loss to Arkansas. He's still lapping the field in passing yards per game, but that won't much matter if Mississippi State goes .500 or worse. However, Costello does still have massive opportunities to make a positive impression on Heisman voters in games at Alabama (Oct. 31) and at Georgia (Nov. 21).

           

    Myles Brennan, LSU

    While Costello was skyrocketing into the Heisman conversation at LSU's expense, the Tigers quarterback was off to an impressive start of his own. Brennan has thrown for at least 330 yards and three touchdowns in each of his first two starts for LSU. Not quite Joe Burrow numbers, but those will do.

             

    Stetson Bennett, Georgia

    I still think USC transfer JT Daniels eventually becomes the starting quarterback for Georgia, but Bennett has done a fine job of holding down the fort until Daniels is ready to take over. If Bennett does keep the job, though, he'll need to improve his stats to become a legitimate Heisman contender. His line of 451 yards and three touchdowns would be an impressive single-game performance, but that's what he has managed through two games.

             

    Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma

    Back-to-back losses have slightly torpedoed Rattler's Heisman campaign, but don't blame this guy. He's averaging 325 passing yards and has 10 passing touchdowns through three games. Two of his four interceptions were on passes he had to force late in the fourth quarter because Oklahoma's defense and special teams failed to protect leads that Rattler gave them. A big game against Texas this week could put him right back in the mix.

             

    Sam Ehlinger, Texas

    Ehlinger had a dreadful first half in the loss to TCU, completing just 5-of-16 passes. And yet he ended that afternoon with four passing touchdowns and gave the Longhorns a chance to win the game. He has accounted for 15 touchdowns through three games, and like Rattler, Ehlinger could bounce back to rank among the Heisman favorites with a nice showing in the Red River Rivalry.

              

    Ian Book, Notre Dame

    Book hasn't done much of anything thus far with just 406 yards and one touchdown through two games. It's way too early to rule him out, though. Home games against Florida State and Louisville in the next two weeks could be big stat-padding opportunities, and the Nov. 7 showdown with Clemson will be his chance to shine in the spotlight.

            

    Najee Harris (Alabama), Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) and Kyle Pitts (Florida)

    We've already previously mentioned each of these skill-position players, but it's worth reiterating they have a chance to win this award that is usually reserved for quarterbacks. Pitts has made the most noise thus far with six touchdown receptions, but don't be surprised if Harris or Waddle catapults into the top five with a big performance against Georgia on Oct. 17.

             

    Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

    One more non-quarterback to keep an eye on. Hubbard hasn't been quite as dominant as he was while leading the nation in rushing last season, but he had a bit of a breakout last weekend against Kansas and is now averaging 113 rushing yards per game with four touchdowns for an undefeated, AP Top 10 team. The Cowboys are idle this week before a Week 7 road game against Baylor. A repeat of his 2019 performance against the Bears (171 yards, two touchdowns) could put Hubbard right in the thick of this race.

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