College football: Midseason Heisman talk (Barkley, Love, Mayfield in '17) sometimes prescient, sometimes not
Week 6 of the college football season is in the rearview mirror, which means we're roughly halfway through the regular season. Now is as good a time as ever to check in on the Heisman Trophy talk.
We examined a handful of this season's Heisman candidates, as identifited by various media outlets, and compared how their production through Week 6 compared to the top three finishers in the Heisman Trophy voting from the last five years.
We also took a look at midseason Heisman Trophy rankings since 2012 — again, from various media experts — to see how they stacked up to the final results. Is it a good sign to be a Heisman front-runner in mid-October? Or does the winner usually rely on a strong second half to leapfrog early season favorites?
Ten of the 15 players that finished in the top three in Heisman voting since 2012 were quarterbacks, three were running backs, one was a wide receiver and one was a linebacker. Because quarterbacks and running backs so often win this award, let's look at them, first.
Here's a look at this year's top quarterbacks compared to QBs in the top three of Heisman voting in the last five years (listed in descending order of combined passing and rushing yards through the first six games of the season):
|Player||School||Year||Passing Yards Through Six Games||Rushing Yards Through Six Games||Total TDs Through Six Games||Finish in Heisman Voting|
|Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M||2012||1,680||676||24||1st|
|Jameis Winston||Florida State||2013||1,885||137||23||1st|
|Mason Rudolph*||Oklahoma State||2017||1,909||63||21||N/A|
|Jordan Lynch||Northern Illinois||2013||1,333||616||17||3rd|
|Luke Falk||Washington State||2017||2,000||-73||19||N/A|
|Collin Klein||Kansas State||2012||1,074||510||17||3rd|
* = player has appeared in only five games, not six, in 2017
And here are the running backs who could be in contention for the Heisman Trophy this season, and how they stack up against Heisman-contending running backs in the last five years:
|Player||School||Year||Rushing Yards Through Six Games||Receiving Yards Through Six Games||Total TDs Through Six Games||Finish in Heisman Voting|
|Rashaad Penny||San Diego State||2017||993||127||12||N/A|
|Saquon Barkley||Penn State||2017||649||395||10||N/A|
The two outliers in Heisman voting in the past five years are former Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, currently of the Oakland Raiders, and former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, currently of the New Orleans Saints. In the last five years, they are the only players at their positions to finish in the top three in Heisman Trophy voting. Michigan's Charles Woodson was the last non-quarterback/running back to win the award. He won in 1997 as a cornerback who also saw time as a wide receiver and returner.
Here's a year-by-year breakdown of how the Heisman race has looked at midseason for the past five years, and how it eventually worked out:
Through six weeks of this season, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley appears to be nearly a consensus favorite to win the Heisman. Stanford's Bryce Love, another running back, is on his heels, followed by quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Luke Falk.
Regardless of who's ahead, prognosticators like running backs this season: Three of the top-five Heisman candidates at this point in the season are running backs. There weren't any running backs in the top five last year, and we haven't seen that many among the top-five finishers since 2006.
Recent history shows that being the midseason Heisman frontrunner is a double-edged sword. It paid off for Lamar Jackson last season. He got off to an electric start and never loosened his grip on the trophy. As you'll see below, other October Heisman favorites weren't as lucky.
2017 Heisman Trophy Rankings after Week 6
|1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State||1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State||1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State||1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State||1. Bryce Love, Stanford|
|2. Bryce Love, Stanford||2. Bryce Love, Stanford||2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma||2. Bryce Love, Stanford||2. Saquon Barkley, Penn State|
|3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma||3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma||3. Bryce Love, Stanford||3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma||3. Luke Falk, Washington State|
|4. Luke Falk, Washington State||4. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama||4. Rashaad Penny, San Diego State||4. Luke Falk, Washington State||4. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma|
|5. Rashaad Penny, San Diego State||5. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin||5. Jalen Hurts, Alabama||5. Rashaad Penny, San Diego State||5. Rashaad Penny, San Diego State|
Jackson had moved into the pole position by Week 6 as the Heisman favorite and his production remained strong in the second half of the season. He won the award even as Louisville suffered a couple of late-season losses.
Future Heisman prognosticators will be hard-pressed to be as clairvoyant as they were in 2016. Not only did Jackson win, but Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson finished second, matching what many expected through the first month and a half of the season. Michigan's do-it-all defender/returner/offensive utility player Jabrill Peppers was a longshot to win the award, but his fifth-place finish generally matched expectations.
Midseason Heisman Trophy rankings (Oct. 10-12, 2016)
|NFL.com||247Sports||SI.com||Chat Sports||College Football News||Actual Finish|
|1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville||1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville||1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville||T-1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville||1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville||1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville|
|T-2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State||2. Jake Browning, Washington||2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State||T-1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson||2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson||2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson|
|T-2. Jake Browning, Washington||3. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan||3. Jake Browning, Washington||3. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State||3. Jake Browning, Washington||3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma|
|T-2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson||4. Dalvin Cook, Florida State||4. Deshaun Watson, Clemson||4. Jake Browning, Washington||4. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State||4. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma|
|5. Greg Ward Jr., Houston||5. Dalvin Cook, Florida State||5. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan||5. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan||5. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan|
Two seasons ago, there was a clear pecking order among the Heisman Trophy favorites at midseason: LSU running back Leonard Fournette, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. None finished among the top five in Heisman votes by the season's end. They finished sixth, 10th, and eighth, respectively.
A pair of running backs — Alabama's Derrick Henry and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey — who were largely absent from the Heisman radar at midseason, finished 1-2.
Fournette, a unanimous pick to win the Heisman at midseason by major outlets, fell out of the race when LSU lost three games in a row in November, including back-to-back weeks in which he was held to less than 100 rushing yards. A four-interception performance by Boykin in a 57-35 loss to Oklahoma State, followed by an ankle injury the following week, ended the TCU quarterback's Heisman hopes.
Midseason Heisman Trophy rankings (Oct. 18-21, 2015)
|ESPN||SI.com||Bleacher Reporter||CBS Sports||Athlon Sports||USA Today||Actual Finish|
|1. Leonard Fournette, LSU||1. Leonard Fournette, LSU||1. Leonard Fournette, LSU||1. Leonard Fournette, LSU||1. Leonard Fournette, LSU||1. Leonard Fournette, LSU||1. Derrick Henry, Alabama|
|2. Trevone Boykin, TCU||2. Trevone Boykin, TCU||2. Trevone Boykin, TCU||2. Trevone Boykin, TCU||2. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State||2. Trevone Boykin, TCU||2. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford|
|3. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State||3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State||3. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State||3. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State||3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State||3. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State||3. Deshaun Watson, Clemson|
|4. Dalvin Cook, Florida State||4. C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame||4. Corey Coleman, Baylor||4. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M||4. Trevone Boykin, TCU||4. Dalvin Cook, Florida State||4. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma|
|T-5. Devontae Booker, Corey Coleman||5. Seth Russell, Baylor||5. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M||5. Jared Goff, California||5. Derrick Henry, Alabama||T-5. Josh Doctson, Seth Russell||5. Keenan Reynolds, Navy|
All things considered, midseason Heisman projections in 2014 weren't terribly inaccurate. Marcus Mariota and Dak Prescott, who have both continued their college stardom in the NFL, were viewed as the front-runners, but the order may have varied depending on who you asked. Mariota ended up winning as Oregon rolled off a nine-game winning streak behind its quarterback's 42:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon finished a distant second. He was the fourth or fifth favorite around midseason.
Midseason Heisman Trophy rankings (Oct. 13-16, 2014)
|SI.com||Grantland.com||Heisman Pundit||ESPN||NFL.com||Actual Finish|
|1. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State||1. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State||1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||1. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State||1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon|
|2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||2. Bryce Petty, Baylor||2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State||2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||T-2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State||2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin|
|3. Bryce Petty, Baylor||3. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||3. Everett Golson, Notre Dame||3. Jameis Winston, Florida State||T-2. Everett Golson, Notre Dame||3. Amari Cooper, Alabama|
|4. Everett Golson, Notre Dame||4. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin||4. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin||4. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin||4. Trevone Boykin, TCU|
|5. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin||5. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss||5. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska||5. Bryce Petty, Baylor||5. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State|
By mid-October, the Heisman appeared to be a two-horse race between Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota. Manziel won the award as a redshirt freshman the previous year and was attempting to join Archie Griffin as the only players to win the trophy twice. Mariota ultimately won the Heisman in 2014 but didn't finish in the Top 10 in 2013; Oregon's final six regular-season games included two losses, a pair of two-interception games by Mariota and the quarterback's declining production as a runner.
Jameis Winston was on the Heisman Trophy midseason radar in 2013 but largely viewed as an outside candidate behind Mariota, Manziel and Clemson's Tajh Boyd. Florida State had played only five games through Oct. 18, 2013 and only one was against a ranked opponent — a 63-0 drubbing of then-No. 25 Maryland. Winston's candidacy gained momentum as the Seminoles defeated No. 3 Clemson on the road, along with blowout wins over No. 7 Miami (Florida) and No. 20 Duke.
Jameis Winston wins the 2013 Heisman Trophy! pic.twitter.com/JvMo0l0PCK— FSU Seminoles (@Seminoles) December 15, 2013
The second- through fourth-place finishers in Heisman voting were nowhere to be found at midseason. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron finished second as the Crimson Tide rolled all season before suffering back-to-back losses to Auburn and Oklahoma. Northern Illinois signal caller Jordan Lynch made a run at it, and Boston College running back Andre Williams' 2,177 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns fueled a top-five finish.
Midseason Heisman Trophy rankings (Oct. 13-18, 2013)
|NFL.com||Heisman Pundit||Toronto Sun||CBSDFW.com||National Football Post||Actual Finish|
|1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M||1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||1. Jameis Winston, Florida State|
|2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon||2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M||2. Tajh Boyd, Clemson||2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M||2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M||2. A.J. McCarron, Alabama|
|3. Tajh Boyd, Clemson||3. Jameis Winston, Florida State||3. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M||3. Tajh Boyd, Clemson||3. Tajh Boyd, Clemson||3. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois|
|4. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville||4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State||4. Jameis Winston, Florida State||4. Jameis Winston, Florida State||4. Jameis Winston, Florida State||4. Andre Williams, Boston College|
|5. Bishop Sankey, Washington||T-5. Tajh Boyd, Bryce Petty, Duke Johnson||5. Brett Hundley, UCLA||5. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville||5. Brett Hundley, UCLA||5. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M|
Midseason projections from 2012 proved harder to find, but the ones available showed a trio of quarterbacks — West Virginia's Geno Smith, Kansas State's Collin Klein and Ohio State's Braxton Miller — as the favorites, with Smith being the front-runner. A quarterback won the award, just not the one most people expected in early-to-mid-October.
Texas A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, ranked fifth among Heisman contenders by USA Today and Sporting News at the midseason point five years ago, led the Aggies to a No. 9 ranking in the AP poll after road wins over No. 23 Louisiana Tech, No. 17 Mississippi State and, most notably, No. 1 Alabama.
Smith's candidacy quickly faded as the Mountaineers suffered five consecutive losses.
Midseason Heisman Trophy rankings (Oct. 14-18, 2012)
|USA Today||Sporting News||Campus Insiders||CBS Sports||Scout.com||Actual Finish|
|1. Geno Smith, West Virginia||1. Geno Smith, West Virginia||1. Geno Smith, West Virginia||T-1. Geno Smith, West Virginia||1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State||1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M|
|2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State||2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State||2. Collin Klein, Kansas State||T-1. Collin Klein, Kansas State||2. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame|
|3. Collin Klein, Kansas State||3. Collin Klein, Kansas State||3. Collin Klein, Kansas State|
|4. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame||4. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame||4. Marqise Lee, USC|
5. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
|5. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M||5. Braxton Miller, Ohio State|