Each week throughout the season, Dr. Saturday will highlight the five players we think are the top Heisman contenders. The list will change often early in the season before the true candidates separate themselves from the pack.
In terms of his place in the Heisman race, it was a rough week for Bryce Love to be injured.
Stanford showed how much it relies on Love last Thursday when it barely squeaked past lowly Oregon State 15-14 in Corvallis. Stanford was coming off a bye but its offense looked miserable without Love, who sat out with an ankle injury.
Meanwhile, almost every other Heisman contender had a big performance on Saturday save for Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Barkley had a few big plays but was largely bottled up by Ohio State.
Barkley and Love seemed like the clear favorites for September and October, but a few others have emerged as serious contenders entering November.
This thing is wide open.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Barkley had another underwhelming game statistically in Penn State’s heartbreaking loss at Ohio State and his lead in the Heisman race continues to shrink. He had a sweet 36-yard touchdown run, but finished the game with only 44 yards on 21 carries to go with four catches for 23 yards. A lot of credit here goes to Ohio State’s defensive line which smothered the overmatched Penn State offensive line for most of the game. More often than not, there would be an Ohio State defender closing on Barkley just as he touched the ball. That’s not a recipe for success.
While running the ball was a struggle, Barkley showed why he is the best all-around back in the country. He returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and Buckeyes didn’t kick the ball to him again. With OSU squib kicking, PSU had great field position to start many of its drives.
2. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Love on the field. Love was injured early in the second half of Stanford’s rout over Oregon a few weeks ago. The team had a bye the following week and then Love sat out against Oregon State. Without Love, yards were hard to come by for Stanford even against a bad team like the Beavers. It really showed how much Love means to his team.
Even with one fewer game under his belt than most of the country, Love leads the nation with 1,387 rushing yards. He has 19 more yards than San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, but Penny has carried the ball 74 more times. Love still leads all running backs with a 10.3-yard average.
3. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State: It really can’t be overstated how good J.T. Barrett was against Penn State on Saturday. The Buckeyes trailed the then-unbeaten Nittany Lions for the first 58 minutes of regulation, but Barrett just kept making throws to keep his team within striking distance. And finally, in a nearly flawless fourth quarter, he put his team ahead with under two minutes to play in an eventual 39-38 win.
Barrett finished the game 33-of-39 passing for 328 yards and four touchdowns. He completed all 13 passes he threw in the fourth quarter, three of which went for touchdowns. For all the talk of his demise early in the season, Barrett, a fifth-year senior, has never played better football than he has in recent weeks. With the accomplishments he has under his belt (he passed Drew Brees for a Big Ten TD record vs. PSU), that’s saying something.
For the season, Barrett has thrown for 2,166 yards, 25 touchdowns and just one interception while completing 69.5 percent of his passes to go with 454 yards and four scores rushing. As the Buckeyes climb in the rankings, Barrett’s Heisman candidacy will likely do the same.
4. Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame: Notre Dame’s ascent up the rankings has been really impressive, and the team’s rushing attack has been a key component. Josh Adams, a bruising 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior, went over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career Saturday in the Irish’s 35-14 win over NC State. The Wolfpack are known for a strong defensive line, but Adams and his offensive line were up to the task. The Irish finished the game with 318 rushing yards, 202 of which came from Adams.
Adams now has 1,169 yards and nine touchdowns on 132 carries — a clip of 8.9 yards per carry. Adams continues to break off long runs. In four straight games, he has a run of at least 73 yards. His 77-yard scoring burst in the third quarter on Saturday was his seventh run of at least 60 yards and put the bow on an impressive victory for the Irish.
5. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Baker Mayfield has fallen slightly behind UCF’s McKenzie Milton in both completion percentage and passer rating, but the Oklahoma senior continues to tear up Big 12 defenses on a weekly basis. On Saturday, he torched Texas Tech, his former team, for 281 yards and four touchdowns as OU improved to 7-1. For the year, Mayfield hs completed 72.5 percent of his passes for 2,628 yards and 23 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
One thing to keep in mind with Mayfield is how he outperformed Barrett when the Sooners beat the Buckeyes in Columbus earlier in the year. That could pay off in the long run for Oklahoma in the CFP rankings and for Mayfield’s Heisman candidacy.
Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona: We held off on including Tate in here because of his small sample size, but we can’t discount what the Arizona QB is doing any longer. Since taking over as the Wildcats’ starter, Tate has been putting up insane numbers, especially on the ground. Tate has only started four games, but he has 926 rushing yards on 69 carries with a rush of at least 70 yards in all four of those games. He showed in Saturday’s win over Washington State that he can throw, too, by putting up 275 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He’s especially looked good on deep balls with defenses devoting so much attention to his skills as a runner.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: The 2016 Heisman winner keeps putting up huge numbers, but doesn’t have a lot of help, especially from his defense. In a 42-32 loss to Wake Forest, Jackson threw for 330 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 161 yards and three more scores. He now has 2,808 yards (No. 2 in the nation) and 18 touchdowns passing to go with 1,029 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: In Wisconsin’s 24-10 win over Illinois, Taylor, a true freshman, left early with a leg injury and is now questionable to play against Indiana. Before exiting, he had 73 yards (his lowest total of the year) on 12 carries. For the year, Taylor is fourth nationally in rushing with 1,185 yards to go with 11 touchdowns.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Rudolph only had 216 yards in Saturday’s win over West Virginia, but is ahead of Jackson to lead the nation with 2,866 passing yards. Rudolph added three more passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown to his stats in the win, giving him a total of 29 — 22 passing, 7 rushing — on the season for the Cowboys.
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