RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
The Heisman Trophy race, much like the playoff chase, took a detour last weekend. The presumptive favorite, Marcus Mariota of Oregon, was unable to prevent his team from being upset. Dak Prescott emerged as a legitimate contender for Mississippi State and a couple of guys who were trending in September — Kenny Hill of Texas A&M and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska — cooled off.
And now Jameis Winston isn’t the only candidate to be suspended.
As the season hits the midway point, a Heisman edition of things to watch for this weekend.
WHAT TO DO WITH JAMEIS?
Winston’s quest to become the second player to win two Heisman trophies might already be over. Before he ever played a down the Florida State quarterback had two things working against him. First, he probably had to be at least as good, if not better, than last year, when he had one of the best seasons a college quarterback has ever had. Second, Winston came into the season carrying the baggage of off-the-field issues, and then added more with a one-game suspension.
Charles Davis, an analyst for Fox and Heisman voter, said he hasn’t eliminated Winston, but he thinks other voters might be leaning that way already.
“My sense is that most voters will look for an alternative,” Davis said in an email.
“As a colleague said to me recently: ‘I’m tired of having to defend my Heisman vote for things that are non-football related.'”
Winston and the top-ranked Seminoles are at Syracuse on Saturday.
Preseason Heisman hype hasn’t meant much in recent years, but Mariota looked to be a player who could buck that trend and go from preseason favorite to runaway winner. And then Arizona upset the Ducks. Mariota wasn’t bad in the game and his overall numbers are still impressive (15 touchdown passes and no interceptions). He did fumble twice versus the Wildcats and despite Oregon’s offensive line problems those turnovers have to go on his resume.
“Mariota was my leader until Oregon lost,” said voter Bob Asmussen of the Champaign (Illinois) News-Gazette. “It hurt him, but he is still a strong candidate.”
Mariota gets a chance for quick redemption on Saturday when the 12th-ranked Ducks play at No. 18 UCLA. It’s also an opportunity for Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley to get back into the mix.
Prescott has overtaken Mariota and Hundley as the hot dual-threat quarterback, helping the Bulldogs bolt up the rankings to No. 3 in the country. The Tim Tebow comparisons help his cause, too. But things can change fast at this time of year. Great games against LSU and Texas A&M can be quickly overshadowed if Prescott plays a clunker against No. 2 Auburn.
“Early favorite in my book, based on games played, is Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott,” said voter Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
RUNNING IT UP
Since 2000, only two running backs have won the Heisman (USC’s Reggie Bush in 2005, since vacated, and Alabama’s Mark Ingram in 2009). The running backs have returned this season: Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (174 yards per game, tops in the nation) and Georgia’s Todd Gurley (155 ypg, third in the country) all look capable of making a run at the Heisman. Both are averaging more than 8.0 yards per carry.
The Badgers are off this week, and now Gurley most likely is, too. The Bulldogs star was suspended indefinitely while the school looks into allegations of NCAA violations. Meanwhile, No. 13 Georgia faces a key SEC East matchup at No. 23 Missouri.
A player who won’t get as much attention as he probably should: Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (168 ypg, second in the country). The Hoosiers are at Iowa.
Only two wide receivers have ever won the Heisman (Notre Dame’s Tim Brown in 1987 and Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991). Both also returned kicks. Alabama’s Amari Cooper doesn’t return kicks, but he’s a good enough receiver to make history. He leads the nation in catches per game (10.4) and is second in yards per game (149.2). The seventh-ranked Tide is at Arkansas on Saturday.
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