Hunting the Heisman: Mariota and Winston separating themselves
Many of the nation's "premier" teams went down over the weekend, including a handful of Heisman-hopeful quarterbacks. Tajh Boyd looked like a completely different player against Florida State, Johnny Manziel was great but couldn't lead a last-minute comeback vs. Auburn, Brett Hundley was downright awful and Teddy Bridgewater (and his defense) couldn't hold off Central Florida.
One player doesn't win games, but he can definitely make the biggest impact in either a positive or negative way—that seemed to be the case in Week 8, especially from the quarterback position.
Keeping their head above water is Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, who continued to be dynamic in blowout wins. Oregon took care of an improved Washington State squad, while the Seminoles had no issue putting away Clemson on the road.
It's still anyone's game, but at this point in the year we now have something to work with. Here are your current leaders for the Heisman race.
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
vs. Washington State: 23-of-32 (71.9 percent), 327 yards, 2 TDs ... 8 carries, 67 yards, TD
2013: 123-of-197 (62.4 percent), 2,051 yards, 19 TDs ... 49 carries, 493 yards, 9 TDs
Why: He's one of the most explosive players in the country playing for arguably the most explosive offense in the country. Add the two together and you have some pretty fun football. Mariota has been lights out this year moving the chains and hasn't thrown an interception through 197 attempts. He'll be tested against a good UCLA defense, but odds are he'll pass with flying colors.
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
at Clemson: 22-of-34 (64.7 percent), 444 yards, 3 TDs, INT ... 7 carries, 2 yards, TD
2013: 112-of-157 (71.3 percent), 1,885 yards, 20 TDs, 3 INTs ... 43 carries, 137 yards, 3 TDs
Why: A redshirt freshman right in the thick of things with the Heisman race? Unheard of (sarcasm). You'd think there'd be a moment through six games where you could sit and say, "he looked like a freshman right there," but you can't. Winston is giving Florida State fans and voters a reason to believe that Florida State football is for real this season, and that is a story in itself.
3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
vs. Iowa State: 23-of-31 (74.2 percent), 343 yards, 2 TDs ... 1 carry, 6 yards, TD
2013: 102-of-144 (70.8 percent), 2,023 yards, 15 TDs, INT ... 24 carries, 51 yards, 5 TDs
Why: Many will make the argument that a Baylor quarterback doesn't deserve to be in the Heisman race because he "benefits from the system." That makes no sense. For one, I believe a "systematic" quarterback (whatever that means) has to rely on the passing game. Petty throws the ball just 24.0 times a game and is extremely efficient when doing so, from screen plays to downfield passes (and he loves to go deep). Besides, I think anyone who leads an offense to at least 69 points in five of six games should receive some accolade.
4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
vs. Central Florida: 29-of-38, 341 yards, 2 TDs
2013: 154-of-214 (72.0 percent), 2,213 yards, 20 TDs, 2 INTs
Why: Teddy Bridgewater did not lose to UCF. Louisville did. In fact, he was having arguably his best game of the season before his defense collapsed. The Knights have an underrated defense—remember, they looked very impressive vs. South Carolina—and Bridgewater almost single-handedly put up 35 points on the board. That should be enough to win. Either way, he's still going to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and I think that means something.
5. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
vs. Arkansas: 15-of-21 (71.4 percent), 180 yards, 3 TDs
2013: 126-of-182 (69.2 percent), 1,587 yards, 14 TDs, 3 INTs
Why: At some point, we have to give this guy some credit. Holding 32-2 record as a starter with two rings (three overall) is pretty solid.
Also in the hunt: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M; Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State; Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin; Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State; Brandon Cooks, WR, Oregon State.
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