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Heisman Watch: Johnny Who?
By Matt Horkman

This is my ninth year covering the Heisman race. As long-time readers surely know, I don’t overreact to a single week. Most media organizations need to develop a story on a week-to-week basis, so they glorify every single play or victory. However, that type of coverage doesn’t really paint a broad picture of the Heisman race.

The season is long, not short. A strong November can erase an average September. That’s why my goal is to bring you the overall big picture. Yes, I’ll recap what a player did the previous week, but I’ll also examine the challenges ahead for the candidates. Remember, the greater the hurdle and the greater the fall or reward.

Stay with Row12 throughout the year, as we provide you with a weekly Heisman report.

1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Last Week: 293 all-purpose yards (100 return) & 4 touchdowns (1 return) in win vs. No. 16 Clemson

Outlook: A national audience watched Gurley make the difference in Georgia’s victory over Clemson. He set a school record with 293-puprose yards, scored four touchdowns, including a 100-yard kickoff return that broke a 21-21 score. The numbers don’t tell the full story, though. Gurley, who is coming off an ankle injury, demonstrated the kind of speed and power that will have NFL scouts fawning over him. With South Carolina looking like an SEC pretender, the door opens for Georgia to make a run at the SEC championship. Such a result would certainly keep Gurley near the top of the Heisman race.

Stock: Up

2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Last Week: 310 total yards (43 rushing) & 4 touchdowns (1 rushing) in win vs. South Dakota

Outlook: Playing just the first half, Mariota made short work of South Dakota. He operated mostly from the pocket, completing 14-of-20 passes for 267 yards. This game served as a tune-up ahead of next week’s contest against Michigan State. We’ll know more about Mariota’s early-season Heisman standing next Saturday.

Stock: Steady

3. Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M
Last Week: 511 passing yards & 3 touchdowns in win at No. 9 South Carolina

Outlook: It took exactly one game for Hill to make Texas A&M fans forget about Johnny Football. It’s somewhat remarkable to think head coach Kevin Sumlin considered starting true freshman Kyle Allen over Hill. In fact, prior to Hill‘s Heisman-like performance against South Carolina, Allen was probably the favorite to finish the season as the starter. Those plans are on indefinite hold. Regardless, Hill’s dominance on a national stage makes him an intriguing early-season Heisman candidate. 

Stock: Up

4. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Last Week: 182 total yards (21 rushing) & 3 touchdowns (1 rushing) in win vs. SMU

Outlook: How do you account for 46 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions, while leading your team to its first ever share of the conference championship and not receive an invite to the Heisman ceremony? Petty was a major snub last season and I hope that he receives more Heisman consideration in 2014. He may have to overcome cracked bones in his back in order to get to New York.

Stock: Steady

5. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Last Week: 232 rushing yards and 1 touchdown in win vs. Florida Atlantic

Outlook: Nebraska decimated a Florida Atlantic team that many (myself included) expect to see reach bowl eligibility. The Cornhuskers set a new Big Ten record for most total yards in a game with 784. Leading the way was Abdullah, who rushed for career-high 232 yards before Nebraska shut him down in the third quarter. Within the Big Ten, the Nebraska running back entered the season a bit overshadowed by Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, but Abdullah separated himself on Saturday.

Stock: Up

6. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Last Week: 113 rushing yards and 1 touchdown in win vs. West Virginia

Outlook: While Alabama didn’t blowout the Mountaineers as I thought they would, they did run all over them. Henry and T.J. Yeldon combined for 239 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Potential is so important in college football, and Henry’s potential was on full display against West Virginia on Saturday afternoon. Because of his potential, I’m giving him an edge over Yeldon in the Heisman race.

Stock: Steady

7. Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall
Last Week: 264 passing yards and 4 touchdowns (1 rushing) in win vs. Miami (OH)

Outlook: An easy schedule gives Marshall a realistic shot at positioning themselves to receive a bid to one of the major bowl games, dubbed the New Year’s Six. If Marshall finishes as the highest ranked program from one of the non-power five conferences, they receive an automatic invite to one of the major bowls. Projecting a loss is difficult when looking at their schedule, so Cato should rack up a ton of stats and wins this season. Those are two of the major attributes to have when attracting Heisman votes.

Stock: Steady

8. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Last Week: 370 passing yards, 2 touchdowns (2 rushing), & 2 interceptions in win vs. Oklahoma State
Jameis Winston
Outlook: A sloppy performance by Winston will open the floodgates. The media is waiting to pounce. They build players up only to tear them down. I’d be surprised if Winston wasn’t next. Still, it’s important to ignore the background noise and keep an eye on the long game. Despite the underwhelming performance against Oklahoma State, the Seminoles still won. Additionally, the schedule lines up well for them. Perhaps they slipup and lose once, but at the end of November, they’re going to be in the conversation as the best team in college football. Winston will have a crack winning his second Heisman, as a result. 

Stock: Down

9. Brandon Doughty, QB, Western Kentucky
Last Week: 569 passing yards & 6 touchdowns in win vs. Bowling Green

Outlook: Making their Conference USA debut, Western Kentucky gave Bowling Green a beating they aren’t likely to forget. It’s worth noting that this was a surprising result. Bowling Green, coming off a 10-win season, was around a touchdown favorite entering the game. As the numbers suggest, they were know match for Doughty. He remains the longest of long shots to win the Heisman, but his performance does make him worth monitoring in September.

Stock: Up

10. Cody Kessler, QB, USC
Last Week: 422 total yards (28 rushing) & 5 touchdowns (1 rushing) in win vs. Fresno State

Outlook: Against Fresno State, Kessler and the Trojans took care of business. The Bulldogs won’t be as good as they were last year, though, and USC did hammer them in the 2014 Las Vegas Bowl. Nonetheless, compared to a season ago, the USC quarterback looked like a completely different player. He was confident, precise with his throws, and was in complete control of the offense. Next week, we’ll find out whether he’s a contender or pretender, as the Trojans host Stanford. The rugged Cardinal defense should be an excellent early-season test for Kessler. A performance similar to the one he gave against Fresno State would certainly force the college football world to take notice.

Stock: Up

On the Bubble
Melvin Gordon III, RB, Wisconsin
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

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