October’s almost over, so that means Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and Heisman season is just about to begin. Sure, it looks like Lamar Jackson has all but won the award, but don’t forget what happened last season. Almost everyone was ready to give the award to Leonard Fournette, but a 31-yard effort in a loss against Alabama began his downfall.
Also, Jackson doesn’t really have another chance to shine on the big stage. Louisville has Virginia, Boston College, Wake Forest, Houston and Kentucky left on the schedule, and none of those teams are currently ranked in the AP Poll.
The last Heisman winner to not face a top-25 team in November? Florida’s Tim Tebow back in 2007.
I’m not knocking on Jackson, because he does have a chance to break the NCAA single-season record of 63 touchdowns responsible for. Colt Brennan set that mark in 2006 for Hawaii. But it often comes down to who finishes the strongest. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey broke the single-season all-purpose yards record a year ago, but Derrick Henry won the award because he rushed for 200 or more yards in four of his final six regular season games.
We know that Jackson is the frontrunner. But who are the guys that have the best shot to challenge him in the final month of the season? Here’s five of them. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is in my sixth spot, just on the outside looking in. He’s been great, but the media and public will continue to view the Alabama defense as the main reason it is ranked No. 1.
- Leonard Fournette, LSU RB
It’s been a major turn of events, because this year Fournette is the sleeper to win the award. Despite missing games against Jacksonville State, Missouri and Southern Miss, the junior running back still has games against Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M down the stretch.
And, if LSU beats Alabama both teams will have just one loss in the conference. LSU would own the tiebreaker in that scenario, and it would need to win out and have Alabama beat Auburn. Fournette looks rested and healthy, and he is gaining steam after a 284-yard, three-touchdown performance against Ole Miss. If he puts up big numbers and leads LSU to an SEC title, he will be a finalist for the award.
- Jabrill Peppers, Michigan LB
Michigan is 7-0, and a big part of that has been because of the defense. Peppers leads a unit that ranks first in the nation at 10 points allowed per game, but that’s not the only way he contributes. He is a dynamic punt returner, and coach Jim Harbaugh has even used him on offense. He has returned a punt for a touchdown, and he has two rushing touchdowns on offense.
If Michigan wins the Big Ten title and makes it into the College Football Playoff, Peppers will almost certainly be a finalist.
- Jake Browning, Washington QB
Browning has been phenomenal this year, throwing 26 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He has thrown for 1,709 yards, and he’s leading an offense that ranks 4th nationally with 48.3 points per game.
Washington and Washington State have both started conference play at 4-0, so their meeting on Nov. 25 could potentially be a huge stage for Browning to wow the voters. The Pac-12 Championship Game will be another opportunity for him to get national attention, but the problem is that Washington’s opponent may not be highly-ranked.
- J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB
Barrett’s Heisman stock took a hit with the loss to Penn State, but he has a chance to make up for it down the stretch. There’s the ever-anticipated matchup with Michigan on rivalry weekend, and Ohio State will likely face a highly-ranked Wisconsin or Nebraska team in the conference championship.
His numbers are good: 23 total touchdows and 1,912 total yards. And we can’t forget just how brutal Ohio State’s schedule has been. He defeated Oklahoma in a primetime game, and he played really well in the second half of the comeback victory over Wisconsin on the road.
A one-loss Ohio State will get into the College Football Playoff if it beats Michigan and wins the Big Ten, and that will vault Barrett squarely into the Heisman conversation again. The voters care most about what players have done lately, and Barrett will have his big games in November.
- Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB
It’s true that Watson’s touch and accuracy have been a bit off this season. His rushing totals are down, and he has thrown interceptions at key times in crucial games. But he has found a way to get it done each week, and he currently leads a 7-0 football team into Doak Campbell Stadium to take on the Florida State Seminoles.
Watson’s numbers are still solid this year. He has completed 63.6 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,950 yards and 20 touchdowns. He made big plays in the Auburn game, and he led his team back from an 8-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Louisville. He threw for 306 yards and five touchdowns in that game, and he tossed for a season-high 378 yards in an overtime win over N.C. State.
He has a chance to shine in front of a national audience against Florida State, and Virginia Tech could potentially be ranked in the 10-15 range if it keeps winning. Watson—a finalist for the award last year—will have a great chance to take home the hardware if he leads an undefeated Clemson team into the College Football Playoff.
- Why Clemson’s Deshaun Watson Should Win 2016 Heisman Trophy - December 2, 2016
- What Louisville’s Loss to Houston Means for the College Football Playoff Picture - November 18, 2016
- Let the Chaos Begin: Previewing the College Football Playoff Rankings - November 14, 2016