Heisman Watch: Top 10 Players Heading Into Week 4

    A Heisman watch, looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 4 of the college football season. There is now a clear frontrunner, and he's out of the ACC.

    September 18, 2016

    A Heisman watch, looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 4 of the college football season. There’s now a clear frontrunner, and he’s out of the ACC.

    In a year that a handful of high-profile contenders were expected to run away with the Heisman Trophy, many of the favorites, like Dalvin Cook, Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield, are struggling to gain a foothold. And a precocious sophomore from Louisville is filling the void with a torrid start that’s pushed his Cards into improbable playoff contention.

    With three weeks down, there are hints of separation beginning to develop in another hotly-contested Heisman Trophy race.

    10. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

    The Huskers are unbeaten and fresh off a stirring victory over Oregon. And no one is more responsible for the clean start than the team’s senior leader under center. Armstrong has accounted for four scores in each of the last two games, tossing three Saturday against the Ducks. Even dehydration and the need for a sideline IV couldn’t prevent No. 4 from running in the game-winner from 34 yards out with 2:29 left.

    9. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

    Like his Seminole team, Cook is on the verge of falling completely out of contention after just three weeks of the season. The junior star, who’s getting no help from his offensive line, was rendered completely ineffective by Louisville in Saturday’s rout. Cook has failed to reach his potential in either of his two big games this month, including the opener with Ole Miss. And he’ll now need to shred the likes of Miami, Clemson and Florida just to get back into striking distance.

    8. Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer

    Kizer has done all he could this month to get the Irish to 3-0. But his defense is awful, and thus, his team is 1-2. And when a team is out of the playoff hunt before the final day of summer, individual honors are tougher to come by for quarterbacks. Kizer nearly rallied Notre Dame all the way back from a 36-7 deficit against Michigan State, but his four total touchdowns weren’t enough. He won’t get another shot to wow voters until next month’s visits from Stanford and Miami, so he’ll be in neutral for a while.

    7. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers

    Now that Peppers has scored for the first time in 2016, a 54-yard punt return to close the scoring, he’ll begin getting more attention in the Heisman race. He did a little bit of everything in the comeback win over Colorado, amassing 204 all-purpose yards to go along with nine tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and a sack. Peppers is Christian McCaffrey, with good open-field tackling skills. Fair or not, his ceiling here hinges on how often he produces highlight reel sprints to the end zone.

    6. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr.

    Ward was gutsy in his return from a shoulder injury that sidelined him in Week 2. But gutsy only gets a kid so far in this race. Ward accounted for 399 total yards and three scores in Thursday’s affair with Cincinnati. But he also threw a pair of picks, took a backseat to his D and didn’t fully capitalize on the primetime moment. There’s also the competition issue. It’ll be tough for Ward to gain ground versus seven straight unranked opponents, especially when he’s less than 100 percent.

    5. LSU RB Leonard Fournette

    Fournette rebounded well after sitting out last week’s game with Jacksonville State. He carried the LSU offense with 147 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries in a win over Mississippi State. The Tigers’ star running back was back to his old self, running through arm tackles and stiff-arming Bulldogs into the grass. Quarterback Danny Etling has brought stability to the quarterback position in Baton Rouge, but the Tiger attack will only go as far as Fournette can take it.

    4. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

    Watson did what he was supposed to do against South Carolina State, completing 12-of-15 passes for 152 yards and three scores. But Week 3 was little more than a chance to pad the numbers for a serious contender off to a slow start in 2016. If Watson wants to recapture some of last year’s mojo, he’ll get his opportunities in the next two games: Thursday at Georgia Tech on national TV and a week later versus Lamar Jackson and streaking Louisville.

    3. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett

    Barrett is the veteran leader of a young Buckeyes team that just torched Oklahoma in Norman. Facing his toughest test of the season so far, Barrett threw four touchdown passes to Noah Brown and added another 74 yards on the ground. He’s only thrown one interception in three games, and he’ll continue growing within the offense as his young receivers do as well over the next few months.

    2. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey

    There’s something about USC that brings out the best in McCaffrey. He, once again, vexed the Trojans in the Pac-12 opener for both teams, amassing more than 200 all-purpose yards for an eighth straight game. He rushed for 165 yards and a score while adding 73 additional yards and a touchdown on four receptions. While McCaffrey hasn’t been as trendy or as prolific as Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson this month, he has outplayed the other preseason favorites, like Deshaun Watson, Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette, thus far.

    1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

    If there were doubts about Jackson’s early-season competition and Heisman ceiling prior to Saturday’s showdown with Florida State, they’ve now been addressed. The sophomore raised his national profile by rushing for four scores and throwing a fifth in a stunningly easy 63-20 demolition of the No.2-ranked Seminoles. Having aced the toughest test of his young career, Jackson ought to be no lower than No. 2 on everyone’s Heisman short list.

    MORE: No. 1-128 College Football Rankings – Week 4


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