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The Heisman Horse Race, Week 8: Dak Prescott leads, but watch for Marcus Mariota

A Mississippi State quarterback is rightfully the Heisman favorite. What a world.

Kevin C. Cox


QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State Bulldogs

Last Week: 18-for-34, 246 yards, one TD, two INTs; 21 carries, 121 yards, two TDs; defeated Auburn, 38-23
2014 Season: 96-for-156, 1,478 passing yards, 14 TDs, four INTs; 106 carries, 576 yards, eight TDs; receiving TD

Current Odds: 9/4

Until (unless?) Mississippi State loses, Prescott is going to look like the best bet in this Heisman race because of two things: His pedigree and his position.

Prescott is Dan Mullen's latest star pupil, following Tim Tebow and Cam Newton — who would have been a Mullen recruit twice had he not spurned Mississippi State for Auburn because ... well, anyway — and his stats are substantial.

Statistically Impressive SEC QB is a really good look for Heisman purposes.

But Prescott's also in better shape than his conference predecessors. He's ahead of Newton's 2010 pace as a passer -- Cam had just 70 completions through six games, and wouldn't have a 20-completion performance until the national title game. He's played much better competition than Johnny Manziel did in 2012 -- Johnny Football's first six games included just one team that would go on to win 10 games, while Mississippi State has played three "top-10" teams. To top it off, Prescott is the leader of the undefeated No. 1 team in the country, something that Manziel and Tebow couldn't boast, and that Newton didn't until late in the year.

It makes sense that Dak's leading this race, even at a point when those other SEC QBs who won the Heisman weren't. His odds actually rose after the weekend, after falling to 2-1 on Friday, after Todd Gurley's suspension broke. And it will make copious sense, if he stays on track statistically and leads Mississippi State to the College Football Playoff, for him to win the Heisman this season.


QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks

Last Week: 17-for-27, 210 passing yards, two TDs; seven carries, 75 rushing yards, two TDs; defeated UCLA, 42-30
2014 Season: 108-for-155, 1,621 passing yards, 17 TDs; 290 rushing yards, five TDs; receiving TD

Current Odds: 3/1

Mariota didn't drop very far last week after being only a small part of Oregon's upset loss to Arizona, and he more than redeemed his position this weekend against UCLA, julienning the Bruins' defense. The score was 42-10 in the fourth quarter before UCLA scored the game's final 20 points, and Mariota's only statistical contribution in that quarter was a 31-yard pass on the frame's first play.

Also, he proved that he recovers even when he literally drops the ball.

The athleticism we can see on that play is what will have NFL scouts drooling over Mariota, but it's also a reminder that he's the player most capable of a spectacular SportsCenter highlight in this Heisman field. He touches the ball more than running backs, plays for a more prominent team than most and he gets open lanes like this one because of Oregon's offense.

The Ducks still have Stanford's superb defense to crack, but apart from that game, Oregon's toughest test before the Pac-12 title game is a road trip to Utah. That slate should help bring Mariota back to New York — and it might help him hoist the Heisman if Prescott stumbles.

The second pack

QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Last Week: 21-for-38, 300 passing yards, three TDs, one INT; 12 carries, 71 rushing yards; defeated North Carolina, 50-43
2014 Season: 135-for-216, 1,683 passing yards, 16 TDs, four INTs; 209 rushing yards, four TDs

Current Odds: 11/2

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor Bears

Last Week: 28-for-55, 510 yards, six TDs, two INTs; defeated TCU, 60-58
2014 Season: 101-for-178, 1,534 passing yards, 15 TDs, three INTs; three rushing TDs

Current Odds: 11/2

I called Golson and Nick Marshall figureheads last week, and while the epithet's not quite fair for Petty (especially after he led a stunning Baylor comeback over TCU), both of these players will go as far as their teams can without a loss, and not much further.

Golson is maybe the best player Notre Dame has, but the Irish needed 50 points to beat North Carolina by seven at home this weekend, and now must travel to Florida State. Consider me pessimistic about near-term returns.

Petty threw for gaudy numbers against TCU, but the Bears' defense looked much more like the unit that has betrayed Baylor time and again in the past. Plus, Petty lives in the shadow of the other Baylor QB to win the Heisman Trophy in the last five years, and can't win a comparison with Robert Griffin III, who had almost the perfect confluence of factors in his favor. Unless Petty hits a nitro, or a series of stumbles occurs, his ceiling is almost certainly being a finalist.

RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers

Last Week: 27 carries, 215 yards, four TDs; defeated Illinois, 38-28
2013 Season: 105 carries, 871 rushing yards, nine TDs; one receiving TD

Current Odds: 11/2

Gordon's odds just keep falling as his numbers keep stacking. But he's right where he'll stay without shakeups or a deviation from his sick statistical pace: at the back of the pack of chasers.

The dark horse

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State Seminoles

Last Week: 30-for-36, 317 passing yards, three TDs; defeated Syracuse, 38-20
2014 Season: 126-for-180, 1,605 passing yards, 11 TDs, five INTs; two rushing TDs

Current Odds: 20/1

A Florida State game against Syracuse in which Winston played brilliantly was opened by broadcasters talking about the "firestorm" around FSU, and the game happened less than 24 hours after two separate outlets published investigative pieces about the football culture in Tallahassee, as well as a report that Winston would face an FSU disciplinary hearing.

That all happened before Monday's reports that FSU is looking into Winston potentially signing autographs for money.

Winston's far from the only player in this race with "character concerns": Golson spent 2013 in academic exile from Notre Dame, and never said what, exactly, he did. Nick Marshall was cited for possession and suspended to begin this season. Todd Gurley's autograph situation is the second thing I think of with him, after his unpenalized swing at a Florida playerKenny Hill was arrested earlier this year.

But Winston's cloud, for a variety of reasons, is the largest and the darkest, and has loomed the longest. The Heisman Trust can excise "integrity" from its mission statement, but voters aren't going to ignore the critical mass of his headlines.

The long, long shot

RB Tevin Coleman, Indiana Hoosiers

Last Week: 15 carries, 219 yards, three TDs; lost to Iowa, 45-29
2014 Season: 120 carries, 1,060 rushing yards, 11 TDs

Current Odds: Off the board

Is it a pipe dream for an Indiana running back to be in Heisman contention? Sure. But this Indiana running back leads the nation in rushing and is averaging almost a full yard per carry more than Gordon, and more than half a yard per carry more than Gurley.

I'd also like to know the last time a player whose team lost to Iowa won the Heisman. I bet it's been a while!

Pulled up lame

RB Todd Gurley, Georgia Bulldogs

Last Week: Suspended; Georgia beat Missouri, 34-0
2014 Season: 94 carries, 773 rushing yards, eight TDs; 147 kick return yards, TD

Current Odds: Off the board

Todd Gurley probably lost the Heisman on Thursday night.

It's not that his suspension for potentially being paid for autographs is a huge character flaw. In 2014, that probably isn't the case, and Newton won the Heisman going away four years ago despite being suspended (for a shake and a half of a lamb's tail) for what basically amounted to implicit admission that his family was party to a much higher crime. It's that Gurley needed to stay out in front of every other player, and that he can't do that while off the field.

Gurley won't win the Heisman with 11 (or 12, if Georgia makes the SEC Championship Game) games to compile stats, especially having missed one in which his backup, Nick Chubb, ran the ball 38 times and still couldn't break the 150-yard mark. This should've been a prime opportunity for Gurley to roll up numbers; instead, his weekend was spent at home, with speculation about his role in numbers changing hands clouding his narrative.

Should Gurley come back soon, he'll have an outside chance of hawking down the field, but he needs some serious stumbles. If he doesn't come back, well, this entire argument is moot.

QB Nick Marshall, Auburn Tigers

Last Week: 17-for-35, 209 passing yards, two TDs, two INTs; 17 carries, 100 rushing yards; lost to Mississippi State, 38-23
2014 Season: 72-for-130, 964 passing yards, 10 TDs, three INTs; 75 carries, 492 rushing yards, four TDs

Current Odds: 20/1

Why are Marshall's odds still this good? He was outplayed and out-statted by Prescott on Saturday, and was wildly inaccurate in the game. Not to mention the schedule: Auburn still has to play Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama on the road.

Quarterbacks who throw for 200 yards and run for 100 in power-conference play are rare, to be fair, but Marshall's well behind two other guys who do this in this race, and there's no question that both are better passers than he is. Saturday's game was more or less a battle for the lead in this race, and Prescott won it. Marshall, though, lost it, and that should be reflected in his odds, which are inexplicably the same as Winston's.

The FBS Steed of the Week

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor

The Line: 28-for-55, 510 yards, six TDs, two INTs

Sure, Petty was only slightly more accurate than Marshall. He also put up Connor Halliday Numbers™ against a pass defense allowing QBs to complete 47.4 percent of their passes even with his own performance factored in.

The FCS Steed of the Week

QB Dakota Prukop, Montana State

The Line: 17-for-22, 361 passing yards, four TDs; 14 carries, 148 rushing yards, two TDs

Montana State beat UC Davis 77-37, but never led by more than 40. The Bobcats faced eight third downs on 12 drives, scored 10 touchdowns on offense, marched at least 67 yards on nine of those drives, and went at least 77 yards on all five of their drives in the first half.