Last season, Lamar Jackson ran away with the Heisman Trophy, all but winning the award by midseason. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, after suffering two early season losses to Houston and Ohio State, rallied through a tremendous 2016 season but still couldn’t come close to catching Jackson.
Now, it’s Jackson’s turn to chase Mayfield. After a brutal loss to Clemson, Jackson slips back in Heisman projections, giving voters the reason they needed to prevent him from attaining Archie Griffin status (that is, winning the award twice). Plus, Mayfield continues to shine as the Heisman favorite for the 2017 season.
Here's a breakdown of the top five candidates for the trophy, as well as the guys still in the mix:
Players in the mix
Trace McSorley, Penn State
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Luke Falk, Washington State
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Jake Browning, Washington
Jalen Hurts, Alabama
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech
Steven Montez, Colorado
Tyler Huntley, Utah
Quinton Flowers, South Florida
Christian Wilkins, Clemson
5. Josh Rosen, UCLA
Why he's top-five: Rosen entered Saturday's games firmly in the top-three discussion, but UCLA’s loss to Memphis certainly forces Rosen to take a step back in Heisman projections. Still, his 1,283 passing yards tops all quarterbacks through three games, and his 13:2 touchdown to interception ratio takes some of the blame off of him for UCLA's loss to Memphis (though he benefited from multiple dropped interceptions against Texas A&M).
What he has to show: There’s still a path to a Heisman victory for Josh Rosen, but it’s a slim one. His team currently isn’t ranked, and plays its four toughest remaining games on the road, starting with Stanford next week. If he can continue to put up gaudy passing numbers and get some help from his defense to pull off a victory against the Cardinal, he could prolong his stay among the top contenders.
4. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Why he's top-five: The Cowboys entered the year as a top-10 team, and after three straight 40-plus point performances, it’s clear they’ll be a force all season. Rudolph, following a near 500-yard performance on just 32 dropbacks, will have the numbers all season to earn Heisman votes, and his NFL future may help voters appreciate his talent.
What he has to show: His game against TCU this week will matter, but I don’t foresee much issue with a vastly overrated Horned Frogs team. He should win every other game, but his battles against Texas and Oklahoma will be major factors. Texas should be an easier win, despite being a road game for the Cowboys, but by the time Oklahoma comes to town on Nov. 4, Rudolph could be in a Heisman Trophy-deciding battle with Mayfield.
3. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Why he's top-five: Clemson surprisingly got the best of Lamar Jackson, and unlike last year, shut him down enough for a substantial win over the most talented quarterback in the country. But Jackson still has — and will continue to put up — video game numbers, especially against two cupcakes in Kent State and Murray State before he gets back into ACC play.
What he has to show: Unfortunately, this loss to Clemson might be it for Jackson's hopes to repeat as Heisman-winner. I wish it weren’t the case, but voters have routinely shown they’d rather vote a new Heisman than rehash a previous winner. Now, with a loss, they have a set rationale for passing on Jackson. He’ll need massive numbers, a huge win at Florida State, and help through USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State losses.
2. Sam Darnold, USC
Why he's top-five: Darnold is here simply because he’s Sam Darnold of USC. With so much future NFL hype and playing quarterback for the Trojans, Darnold has captured the attention of media as they routinely look to thrust him into the spotlight. He hasn’t been overly impressive (throwing multiple interception in each of his three games) but he leads a top-five Trojans team. He now has strong victories over Stanford and Texas, and is a USC quarterback, so he’s in the mix.
What he has to show: Darnold has plenty of time to show his true colors — good or bad — in a loaded Pac-12 Conference slate, not to mention a trip to Notre Dame in October. No quarterback since Danny Wuerfful in 1996 has had more than 10 interceptions in a Heisman-winning season. Darnold is on pace to hit 10 interceptions before October starts.
1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Why he’s No. 1: Mayfield has been completely dominant to start 2016. His destruction of Ohio State’s defense in Week 2 reminded everyone why he was a Heisman finalist a year ago, and he didn’t slow down his production against Tulane, passing for 331 yards and four touchdowns on 17-of-27 passing. He now has 10 touchdowns to no interceptions, and there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down.
What he has to show: Mayfield shouldn’t have trouble with much of the Big 12 schedule, and his production should remain steady all season long. The two games he’ll need to truly worry about are Texas, of course, and that away game at Oklahoma State. But for now — and likely for the rest of the season — it’s Mayfield’s Heisman to lose.