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1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Last Week: 406 total yards (39 rushing) & 6 touchdowns (2 rushing) in win at Oregon State
Outlook: Entering Thanksgiving weekend, Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon III were about even in the Heisman race. However, a stellar performance by Mariota against Oregon State gives him a clear advantage heading into Championship Week. His six total touchdowns and 406 total yards were good enough to ensure himself a spot in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
The Ducks play Arizona for the Pac-12 championship on Friday night. The Wildcats are the only team this season to defeat them, and they did it in Eugene. Mariota played well in the game, throwing for 276 passing yards and two scores. He did very little with his legs, though. He finished with just one-yard on the ground, his second lowest of the season. Look for that number to rise significantly, as he has relied more on his legs in recent weeks.
2. Melvin Gordon III, RB, Wisconsin
Last Week: 151 rushing yards & 2 touchdowns (1 receiving) in win vs. No. 18 Minnesota
Outlook: Minnesota’s defense did a decent job against Gordon, though he did reel off a couple of big fourth-quarter runs. Nonetheless, his 5.2 yards per carry was his second lowest of the season. If there was ever a workmanlike 151-yard effort, then this was it.
Wisconsin clinched the Big Ten West with their victory, setting up a showdown with Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes will be without quarterback J.T. Barrett, who fractured his ankle against Michigan. Barrett, a Heisman candidate himself, has been playing phenomenal since October. For Gordon to capture the Heisman, he’ll need a dominate performance and a Wisconsin victory on Saturday. Barrett’s injury increases the odds of that happening.
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Last Week: 13 receptions, 224 receiving yards, & 3 touchdowns in win vs. No. 15 Auburn
Outlook: After underwhelming in his last three games, Cooper went off against Auburn. His performance Saturday night was among the greatest in the history of the Iron Bowl. Alabama needed nearly every yard, as the Tigers played well enough to pull the upset. In fact, they were leading going into the fourth quarter.
Up next for Alabama is Missouri in the SEC championship. While Cooper might be the best overall player in the country, he does face a bit of a disadvantage entering this weekend. Mariota touches the ball on every play for Oregon, and Gordon will receive 20-30 touches against Ohio State. In fact, depending on the flow of the game, I expect the Badgers to go out of their way to get him the ball. The Crimson Tide won’t be as gracious to Cooper. It’s incredibly difficult for receivers to win the Heisman, especially with strong contenders at quarterback and running back. Nonetheless, voters could have their hands forced if Cooper plays well in victory, while Mariota and Gordon go down in defeat.
4. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Last Week: 283 total yards (50 rushing), 3 touchdowns (1 rushing), & 1 interception in win at Texas
Outlook: The Horned Frogs 48-10 thumping of Texas on Thanksgiving night puts them one step closer to the playoff, especially after Mississippi State’s loss to Ole Miss on Saturday. They still need to fend off Baylor and Ohio State, a task more difficult than it sounds. Baylor defeated them earlier this season, but the playoff committee has stubbornly ranked them ahead of the Bears.
Regardless, unless Iowa State somehow upsets them on Saturday, Boykin seems like a safe bet to receive an invitation to New York. The odds of him winning the Heisman are slim, though. He just didn’t have a moment as Gordon did, and he doesn’t have the pedigree of Mariota. He’ll finish No. 3 on many ballots.
On the Bubble
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State