Heisman Watch Week 5: Kyler Murray begins his climb

Sam Cooper

Each week through the rest of the season, we will highlight the five players we think are the top Heisman Trophy contenders. The list will likely change often before the true candidates separate themselves from the pack.

Previously: Week 4

It can’t be easy to succeed one of the best quarterbacks in recent memory, but Kyler Murray has done that with flying colors at Oklahoma.

With Baker Mayfield, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, now starting for the Cleveland Browns, Murray has stepped in and lit up opposing defenses in his first year as a college starter. Murray was Mayfield’s backup in 2017, so folks at OU knew how skilled he is, but his early season output — 1,460 yards and 17 touchdowns passing along with 285 yards and four TDs rushing — has to have exceeded the expectations of most in Norman.

Through five games, Murray is ahead of the pace Mayfield set in his Heisman-winning season. At this time last year, Mayfield had 1,709 total yards (1,635 passing, 74 rushing) and 16 total TDs. Murray has 1,745 yards and 21 total touchdowns.

If Murray can somehow maintain this torrid pace, we could see another Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma before Murray moves on to his professional baseball career.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

If the September Heisman were a thing, it would go to Tua Tagovailoa. But if recent history has shown us anything, it’s that the September favorite (see: Barkley, Saquon) may not keep up such a torrid pace throughout the entire season.

The sophomore didn’t have to break much of a sweat in Alabama’s win over Louisiana-Lafayette over the weekend. In a 56-14 win, Tagovailoa completed all eight of his passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He now has 1,161 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year and is completing exactly 75 percent of his passes without a single interception. If the season ended today, his quarterback rating (238.3) would break an NCAA record — 198.9, set by Baker Mayfield just last year — by nearly 40 points.

Tagovailoa was on the field for just four series on Saturday and they all ended in touchdowns. In fact, Alabama has won all five of its games so comfortably that he hasn’t thrown a single pass in a fourth quarter this season.

2. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

The man replacing Mayfield at Oklahoma, Kyler Murray, has been remarkably efficient as well. His 230.9 rating is way ahead of Mayfield, too. That’s likely because of his sparkling Week 5 performance against Iowa State — a performance that moved up two spots on this list.

In Oklahoma’s 66-33 win over Baylor, Murray completed 17-of-21 passes for a whopping 432 yards and six touchdowns. That’s a passer rating of 348 and an average of more than 25 yards per completion, thanks in part to touchdown passes of 86, 50, and 43 yards. Murray also ran for 45 yards and a score. His seven total touchdowns tied an Oklahoma record set by, you guessed it, Mayfield.

(Last week: 4)

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray threw for 432 yards and six touchdowns against Baylor. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray threw for 432 yards and six touchdowns against Baylor. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

3. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

Another week, another big-time performance from Will Grier as he’s lighting up Big 12 defenses yet again. In West Virginia’s road win over No. 25 Texas Tech, Grier tore up the Red Raiders’ defense for 370 yards and three touchdowns. Through four games, Grier has 1,487 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 72.1 percent of his passes.

Grier will have opportunities to continue putting up big numbers to add to his Heisman résumé throughout the month of October with games against Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor. But he can really stake his claim once the Mountaineers get into November. That’s when the Big 12’s other top teams, including Oklahoma and Texas, arrive on the schedule.

(Last week: 3)

4. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

Dwayne Haskins had his worst game of the year on Saturday night. He threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Penn State in one of the most raucous road environments in the country. The fact that was his worst game of the year — he played relatively well — is a testament to how good he was in Ohio State’s first four games.

Haskins, now with 1,464 yards and 19 TDs, looked a bit shaky early. He threw a rough interception and completed only 56 percent of his passes. But he got settled in the second half to help the Buckeyes pull out a comeback victory. The experience will pay dividends for him as the season progresses, especially if OSU reaches the biggest stages of college football. It’s unlikely any those environments will be as loud as Beaver Stadium.

(Last week: 2)

5. Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State

McSorley, Penn State’s accomplished senior quarterback, had a tremendous game against Ohio State on Saturday night, but his performance was overshadowed by a questionable play call in the game’s final minutes. Trailing OSU by a point, PSU coordinator Ricky Rahne decided to hand the ball to running back Miles Sanders on a fourth-and-5 near midfield. It went nowhere, leaving the country wondering why McSorley, who had 286 passing yards and 175 rushing yards, was not given a chance to make a play.

If Penn State, which blew a two-score fourth-quarter lead in the 27-26 loss, had pulled out a win, McSorley’s performance may have been the talk of college football this week. Instead, folks are still scratching their heads about that play call.

(Last week: Unranked)

Also considered:

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: Herbert had another efficient performance over the weekend, but this time it came in a win. He completed 16-of-22 passes for 225 yards and two scores in the 42-24 victory over Cal to help the Ducks improve to 4-1. After a bye, Herbert has the chance to make a statement against Washington.

Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky: Kentucky keeps riding Snell to wins. The Wildcats improved to 5-0 with a win over South Carolina behind 99 yards and touchdown from Snell. He’s got 639 yards and eight TDs on the year, both fourth-most in the nation.

McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF: UCF just keeps on winning and Milton just keeps on scoring touchdowns. In the Knights’ 45-14 win over Pitt, Milton threw for 328 yards and four TDs while rushing for 51 yards and two more scores.

Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State: Benjamin, sixth in the country in rushing, had a huge night against Oregon State on Saturday, putting up 312 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-24 win. A performance like that is worthy of praise.

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