RB Todd Gurley, Georgia Bulldogs
Last Week: 25 carries, 163 yards, two TDs; two catches, 24 yards; 1-for-1, 50 passing yards; defeated Vanderbilt, 44-17
2014 Season: 94 carries, 773 rushing yards, eight TDs; 147 kick return yards, TD
Current Odds: 8/5
Todd Gurley did this last week:
And we already know he's the best running back in a conference full of excellent ones, and is putting up his numbers against theoretically stiff competition (though the best run defense he's seen is Clemson's, ranked 33rd nationally in yards per carry allowed), and is the best reason a Georgia team that can't stay healthy or play pass defense for a full game is still the favorite in the SEC East.
But we also know the Heisman goes, of late, to a running back only when that back is the best candidate in a weak field (Mark Ingram, Eddie George, Rashaan Salaam), a transcendent playmaker (Reggie Bush), or a record-breaking statistical marvel (Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, George, Salaam). Tailbacks just don't top quarterbacks.
And Gurley's going to have to help Georgia top two quarterbacks on his tail to stay in the lead. Maybe he should work on that throwing motion?
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last Week: 20-for-26, 268 yards, two TDs; 23 carries, 77 yards, three TDs; one catch, 11 yards; defeated Texas A&M, 48-31
2014 Season: 77-for-121, 1,223 passing yards, 13 TDs, two INTs; 85 carries, 455 yards, six TDs; receiving TD
Current Odds: 5/2
Last Week: 20-for-32, 276 passing yards, two TDs; one catch, 26 yards, receiving TD; lost to Arizona, 31-24
2014 Season: 91-for-128, 1,411 passing yards, 15 TDs, zero INTs; 215 rushing yards, three TDs; receiving TD
Current Odds: 8/1
The two candidates in the pack chasing Gurley that aren't just figureheads, Prescott and Mariota, each played well last week.
Prescott played really well — Texas A&M's defense has been bad since losing a ton of talent after 2012, sure, but the Dak-led Mississippi State attack put up the most yards per play the Aggies have yielded this year, and incrementally more than Auburn did last year, even though the Bulldogs gained just 56 yards on their final 14 plays with the game decided. Mariota played reasonably well, having a hand in all three Oregon touchdowns and doing enough to keep the Ducks in their loss to Arizona, if not enough to win it. Mariota's fumble to essentially end the game was the memorable moment from that contest, but he wasn't all that bad apart from that mistake, and his stats are still gaudy.
The loss was what dropped Mariota from the top spot, not his performance. And though he's yielded pole position, he'll have a chance to make a run down the backstretch ... if Oregon's offensive line gets better.
Prescott, though, might be able to charge home. Mississippi State still has Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi to play (in a potentially colossal Egg Bowl), and Prescott, thanks to his Tebow-like statistics under Dan Mullen, should be in great shape even if the Bulldogs lose one of those three potential top-10 matchups.
And if he's undefeated, and keeps his statistical pace, I'd expect him to pass Gurley eventually.
QB Nick Marshall, Auburn Tigers
Last Week: 14-for-22, 207 passing yards, two TDs; 16 carries, 119 rushing yards, two TDs; defeated LSU, 41-7
2014 Season: 55-for-95, 755 passing yards, eight TDs, one INT; 58 carries, 392 rushing yards, four TDs
Current Odds: 11/2
QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last Week: 20-for-43, 241 passing yards, two TDs, one INT; 34 rushing yards; defeated Stanford, 17-14
2014 Season: 114-for-178, 1,383 passing yards, 13 TDs, three INTs; 138 rushing yards, four TDs
Current Odds: 10/1
And then there are the figureheads.
Connor Halliday has thrown for more yardage in his past two games than Marshall has accounted for in total this season. Golson's full season is less than the last three Halliday performances, and he struggled against Stanford -- though, to be fair, many would -- before throwing the late touchdown pass to beat the Cardinal.
But these are the quarterbacks of undefeated top-10 teams, and this Heisman field is looking remarkably weak right now.
Both Marshall and Golson are fine players, of course, and they're important ones for their teams. It's just that Marshall's no more and no less than the cog that keeps Auburn's machine running, more Eric Crouch or Mark Ingram than Cam Newton or even Tre Mason. Golson isn't particularly exciting, and plays for a team that will win with defense. Both players have the nebulous "character concerns" -- Golson's significantly more serious than Marshall's, in my view -- that would get Heisman voters to think twice.
If Gurley, Prescott, and Mariota all lose games, I could see Marshall or Golson sneaking into the lead (and Marshall can help knock off one on the field, mind), but I just don't see them getting there on their own.
The dark horse
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State Seminoles
Last Week: 23-for-39, 297 passing yards, one TD, one INT; 36 rushing yards, one TD; defeated Wake Forest, 43-3
2014 Season: 96-for-144, 1,288 passing yards, eight TDs, five INTs; two rushing TDs
Current Odds: 20/1
I'm going to write the same things about Winston for the next eight weeks, I think. He's going to be ahead of where he was statistically last season for a while, because he actually started slowly in 2013 after that scintillating career-opening performance against Pittsburgh, but might not keep pace with where he was. He's going to keep running up numbers and wins against the ACC. He's going to throw picks this season that he didn't last year. He might have just one spotlight game left against Notre Dame. And he's got more "character concerns" than anyone else in the race, though his voter issue is fatigue more than anything else.
Is this exciting for you? No? So you get why Winston needs to either step up his own game significantly or have everyone ahead of him falter, right?
The long shot
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 27 carries, 259 yards, one TD; lost to Northwestern, 20-14
2013 Season: 105 carries, 871 rushing yards, nine TDs; one receiving TD
Current Odds: 20/1
Gordon is only arguably not the best back in America because Gurley exists; if not for Gurley, we would have no doubt about Gordon deserving that title. He's a bit ahead of Gurley on yards per carry and touchdowns, too, and that's despite running for "just" 140 yards in essentially one half of action against LSU and getting just 38 yards against Western Illinois in a snoozer of a blowout. Over his last three games, Gordon's average stat line is 24 carries, 231 yards, and three touchdowns per contest.
It's gonna be pretty tough to keep that up, and he has no shot at being the best player on a really good team, because really good teams don't lose to the 2014 version of Northwestern. But seven more games of production like that would make Gordon entirely unignorable.
RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last Week: 24 carries, 45 yards, two TDs; lost to Michigan State, 27-22
2014 Season: 138 carries, 878 rushing yards, 10 TDs; 130 receiving yards, two TDs
Current Odds: 16/1
QB Kenny Hill, Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: 37-for-62, 365 passing yards, four TDs, three INTs; 35 rushing yards; lost to Mississippi State, 48-31
2014 Season: 155-for-242, 2,110 passing yards, 21 TDs, five INTs; 171 rushing yards
Current Odds: 20/1
QB Blake Sims, Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 19-for-31, 228 passing yards, one INT; rushing TD; lost to Mississippi, 23-17
2014 Season: 90-for-128, 1,319 passing yards, eight TDs, three INTs; 149 rushing yards, three TDs
Current Odds: Not listed
I watched basically every snap of Michigan State-Nebraska last week. Abdullah, whose longest run was 9 yards, was not a factor, except for a 2-yard touchdown and three fumbles. One of those fumbles cost the Huskers a red zone possession, one was on a kickoff return and recovered by Nebraska, and the final one cost the Huskers a two-point conversion. Unless Abdullah goes bonkers down the stretch, that performance will be why he doesn't win the Heisman.
Hill was fine, statistically ... but once you realize that he threw for 80 yards and two touchdowns after the score was 48-17 in Mississippi State's favor, those stats matter a little less.
And Sims was outplayed by Bo Wallace, and threw the game-ending pick, against Mississippi. It's not gonna happen for him this year.
The FBS Steed of the Week
QB Connor Halliday, Washington State Cougars
The Line: 49-for-70, 734 yards, six TDs
I mean, come on. (Also, Cal's Jared Goff had a higher QBR than the guy who set the Divison I record for passing yards in a game, in case you needed another reason to disdain proprietary stats.)
The FCS Steed(s) of the Week
QB Morgan Roberts, Yale
The Line: 26-for-30, 312 passing yards, five TDs
Throw more touchdowns than incompletions while completing 25 or more passes and you will show up in this column.
RB Connor Kacsor, Dayton
The Line: 47 (!) carries, 213 rushing yards, five TDs
Kacsor's yards-per-carry average is pitiful, and his longest run covered 16 yards. But he also scored four touchdowns in a quintuple-overtime win, and was the only person to score a touchdown for Dayton in overtime.
QB Garrett Safron, Sacramento State
The Line: 27-for-39, 463 passing yards, five TDs, one INT; 11 carries, 146 rushing yards
Oh, ya know, just a cool 609 yards of total offense. It's only a pity Safron doesn't play defense: He led the Hornets to four touchdown drives in the fourth quarter ... and they still lost to Montana State, by a 59-56 count, because the Bobcats scored their third touchdown of the quarter with four seconds left in the game. (Also, incredibly, neither team scored in the second quarter of that game).