Heisman Watch: Top 10 Players Heading Into Week 5

    A Heisman watch looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 5 of the college football season. Lamar Jackson keeps rolling, but some familiar faces are on his heels.

    September 28, 2016

    A Heisman watch looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 5 of the college football season. Lamar Jackson keeps rolling, but some familiar faces are on his heels.


    If there was a Heisman Trophy for the month of September, precocious Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson would win going away. Everyone is chasing the sophomore, who rarely loses footraces. Can he be caught? After just the first turn of 2016, of course. But if Jackson remains on a tear this week in Death Valley, the race in October and November could be to determine who finishes as the runner-up.

    With four weekends now in the books, we break down how the contenders are stacking up for this year’s Heisman Trophy.

    10. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

    In a tougher-than-the-records-indicated trip to Northwestern one week after upsetting Oregon, the Huskers stayed unbeaten in large part because of Armstrong’s versatility. He accounted for almost 400 total yards, leading the Huskers in rushing and throwing a third-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Cethan Carter to give Nebraska a lead it would never relinquish. Armstrong is lurking on the periphery right now, with a chance to ascend when the Huskers travel to Wisconsin and Ohio State later in the year.

    9. Baylor QB Seth Russell

    There’s a void in the Big 12 for a Heisman contender now that Oklahoma’s candidates have drifted back. Russell is ready to fill it. In his team’s first big game of 2016, he played exceptionally well, throwing four touchdown passes and leading the Bears on the ground. Russell was clutch down the stretch, and on a night that Oklahoma State neutralized top receiver KD Cannon, the senior got Ishmael Zamora and Chris Platt more involved with the attack. Baylor will face a lot of soft defenses the rest of the way, and Russell is equipped to exploit them.

    8. LSU RB Leonard Fournette

    Fournette may be one of the four or five most elite players in college football, but he won’t be invited to New York City unless the talent around him improves dramatically. Fournette has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his three games, including Saturday’s loss to Auburn. However, he’s only scored twice this season, and he’s being dragged down by a passing attack that frightens no one. Fournette has yet to capture the imagination of fans or voters, the byproduct of being the centerpiece of a one-dimensional, vanilla system.

    7. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers

    There were no splashy touchdowns through the defense or opposing special teams unit. Still, Peppers remained a terror from his side of the ball, pacing the Wolverines with 11 tackles, four stops behind the line, a forced fumble and a couple of quarterback hurries. He leads the country in stops for minus yards, roaming the field with ideal instincts and athleticism. Peppers is one of the premier players in the country. Unfortunately, widespread recognition among voters requires that defensive stars also contribute with the ball in their hands.

    6. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

    Week 4 at Raymond James Stadium was a case in point why it’s wise to be patient with the Heisman candidacy of players like Cook. In a potential trap game versus motivated South Florida, the junior carried his Seminoles out of the depths of hell they entered last weekend in Louisville. Cook was a one-man juggernaut, rushing for a career-best 267 yards and two scores while adding a team-high four catches for 62 yards. Still, he’ll need similar heroics against the likes of Clemson and Miami to climb back into the upper tier of the race.

    5. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr.

    A trip to San Marcos to play Texas State afforded Ward an opportunity to bolster his statistical resume and shake off some of the rust that formed following a shoulder injury earlier in the month. The senior was crisp in the blowout, accounting for three touchdowns and throwing just six incompletions. Since Ward isn’t posting Case Keenum-like numbers, and won’t face a ranked opponent for at least eight more weeks, his candidacy is firmly rooted in keeping Houston unbeaten an in playoff contention. One loss, regardless of the circumstances, and he’s through.

    4. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

    If his name was Deshaun Williams instead, would he be ranked this high? Doubtful. Watson was just fair in September, including Thursday on The Flats. True, the Tigers remained unbeaten after silencing Georgia Tech, 26-7, but it had much more to do with the team’s stifling defense. Watson needed 48 attempts to account for 304 yards and two scores, which should have been higher if not for some drops. And big plays remain scarce despite the return of WR Mike Williams. However, the slow start goes in the dumpster if he outplays Louisville’s Lamar Jackson in a Clemson win next Saturday.

    3. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett

    The young Buckeye stars have been all the rage throughout a perfect September that was capped by a surprisingly easy blowout of Oklahoma in Norman. Barrett, though, is one of the team’s seasoned leaders and a steadying force in the huddle. He’s also off to a pretty hot start, rushing for three scores and completing 49-of-73 passes for 650 yards, 10 touchdowns and a pick. Plus, Barrett will continue improving as he develops chemistry with budding weapons Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel.

    2. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey

    McCaffrey was workmanlike, pedestrian by his usual standard, in the Cardinal’s comeback win at UCLA. The Bruins succeeded in hemming in the junior, whose longest play from scrimmage was just 13 yards. McCaffrey finished with 138 yards rushing and no scores, as his streak of games with at least 200 all-purpose yards ended at eight. While he remains in that first tier of contenders, he fell a little further behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson in Week 4.

    1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

    Jackson used the Marshall defense to showcase his improved passing skills for a change. The dual-threat lit up the Herd for a career night through the air that included five scoring strikes and more than 400 yards. For good measure, he chipped in with two scores on the ground to run his season tally to 25 total touchdowns. And he’s yet to play a full game. If Jackson does to Clemson next week what he’s done to Louisville’s first four opponents, only an injury will keep him from being a Heisman finalist in December.

    MORE: No. 1-128 College Football Rankings – Week 5

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