Entering last week, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was the far-and-away Heisman frontrunner. He’d guided Louisville to 4-0 and the No. 3 ranking with a blend of passing efficiency and running electricity, with 25 total touchdowns in a month.
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson started the season at 4/1 to win it, tied atop the country with LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Jackson was sitting at 50/1, a total long shot. Before Week 5, Jackson had surged to a 2/5 favorite, with Watson at 9/1, also behind Ohio State's JT Barrett and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey.
Then Watson's team beat Jackson's.
Clemson topped Louisville by a hair on Saturday, 42-36.
Watson had a strong night. He threw three interceptions (at least one of them was tipped), but he also threw five touchdowns and was 20 of 31 for 306 yards. His 181 efficiency rating dwarfed Jackson’s 121. On the ground, Jackson ran 31 times for 162 yards and a couple of scores, while Watson went 14 times for 91.
Both were great, and we’re spoiled to get to watch them share a field with so much on the line. Clemson now has firm control of the ACC Atlantic, and the Tigers can likely lose any one game on their regular-season schedule and still reach the conference title game in Orlando.
That Watson came through in such a big moment will do him plenty of favors in his Heisman bid. After Stanford's loss, expect Barrett and Watson to join Jackson as the clear frontrunners.
But Jackson added to his legend, even in defeat.
A six-point margin on the road against last year’s national runner-up is about as "good" a loss as a team can have, even though Louisville was favored and higher-ranked. Add in that Louisville’s got a soft schedule for the next month or so until Houston, and Jackson’s still got a Heisman chance. If either Barrett or Watson loses and Jackson doesn’t, look out.
Jackson showed all of us something in his first real test of 2016, too. He pulled Louisville back from an 18-point deficit and got the Cardinals within one receiver’s juke move of a massive win. Jackson's hurdled people, bombed on people, and set a top-five (at the time) FSU on fire. But his second-half work against Clemson was the most impressive thing he’s done.
The 38-yard fourth-quarter scramble that set up Jackson’s second touchdown run of the game, when he slithered away from Clemson’s devastating pass rush, seemed to say, "Forget this," and just took off? He scored three plays later, and the game briefly felt over. Jackson was in absolute command. Later, he turned three sure sacks on one play into an end zone throw that came just a couple feet from a potential winning TD.
Let this sum up the performance by the losing team's quarterback:
Boulware's played against Derrick Henry and Todd Gurley and been on the sidelines for a Clemson game against Jameis Winston. High praise.
With Watson almost certainly turning pro after this season, this was likely our only chance to see these two QBs duel.
It was a worthy showdown.
(Some are holding out hope that both can make the Playoff, but there's nothing close to precedent for two teams from a division both making it. We'll start seriously thinking about that in a month or so, when Playoff rankings come out, if both teams keep winning.)
Elsewhere! Here are 25 more things from the college football weekend.
- Georgia and Tennessee traded late Hail Mary scores, with the Vols going last. Their fans got to experience the fullest possible spectrum of emotions. Georgia let this happen by virtue of two needless penalties.
- FSU's out of the Playoff race and pretty much out in the ACC, too, because North Carolina stunned the Noles (and taunted them with a Chop) in the nick of time. FSU's 22-game home winning streak is history.
- Washington, Pac-12 Favorite and Bona-Fide Playoff Threat.
- Stanford, Maker of a Whole Lot of Really Inexplicable Plays.
- LSU set a school record for offensive yards in an SEC game, days after Les Miles and Cam Cameron were fired.
- Iowa's nonsense extension for Kirk Ferentz continues to look like nonsense.
- Michigan State lost to Indiana because of a leaping penalty. The Old Brass Spittoon, a thing you'd spit into, goes to Bloomington.
- Penn State's large adult kicker, Big Toe, had beef with Minnesota.
- Michigan beat Wisconsin, and oh wow this one-handed, diving interception might be the catch of the year.
- Here's Jim Harbaugh cussin' pretty good, and Harbaugh also allowed for a Human Centipede-style huddle formation that set the internet ablaze.
- Division II Wingate also got in on the one-handed INT party.
- Texas A&M-South Carolina was obscured by a delicious CINNAMON GLAZED NUTS sign, which is very good.
- Texas' defense is a car fire, and Charlie Strong's about out of options.
- It's so bad, ESPN's having to report Strong won't be fired midseason.
- Texas' extra point unit managed to get three kicks blocked in just the first half.
- Even more amazing: remember how Notre Dame ran back a Texas blocked XP in Week 1? Notre Dame did that again this week, and Texas had it happen again this week.
- ECU fans booed their own student band members for exercising their right to peacefully protest.
- Clemson fans booed and chanted at Lee Corso after he picked their team to win. You read that correctly. He was right, though!
- A Clemson player put Lamar Jackson into a choke hold, which we didn't like.
- Bama did to Kentucky what you knew Bama would do to Kentucky, but let's talk about the season's worst punt downing.
- BYU and Toledo played a 108-point Friday night thriller that lasted so long Mack Brown had to leave the TV booth to get to his weekend traveling.
- Cal's defense is verifiably awful, but Utah lost because it couldn't score on seven snaps inside the Bears' 10-yard line.
- Teams have done lots of really nice things for Nebraska and the memory of fallen punter Sam Foltz. Illinois is the latest, gifting the Huskers a Foltz Illinois jersey signed by much of the team.
- Clemson's College GameDay signs were pretty good.
- And a freaking geyser of water opened up on UNLV's sideline. No, that's what happened.