NCAAF Heisman Watch: Week 1

It's far too soon to be ranking anyone right now, but how did the main preseason contenders for the trophy get on in their 2017 opening performances?

Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. It’s far too early to be giving any actual rankings of favorites for the Heisman Trophy. Nor is it appropriate to rule anyone out who hasn’t started well (though Quinton Flowers’ first two games might have greatly hurt his outside chances; he had to deliver all year long).

Still, we can take note of how some of the preseason contenders fared in their opening game:

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

The Heisman award currently favors quarterbacks, but one of the leading non-QB contenders could be Penn State junior Saquon Barkley. He may only have carried the ball 14 times, but he looked sensation in piling up 172 rush yards (12.29 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, while also adding another 54 yards on three receptions, an area where he excels as a superb route runner. He and the Nittany Lions may have been facing mostly over-matched opposition in the Akron Zips, but the explosiveness and sharpness in Barkley’s game still spoke volumes about the mood and shape he is in this year.

One moment that was really noteworthy, was seeing Barkley lining up back to return the second half kickoff on special teams, despite the game being well in hand at 35-0 at the time, returning the ball for 20 yards. Risky in terms of a potential unnecessary injury, but it says a lot about the star runner’s mentality. He’s not the only contender on Penn State’s offense though, and quarterback Trace McSorley looked excellent as well in completing 18 of 25 passes (72.0%) for 280 yards and a pair of TDs (one interception), and ran in another score.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

The result might have seen the Cardinals secure a narrow win over Purdue by a score of 35-28, but Jackson himself was spectacularly productive once again. Winning the trophy for a second time won’t be easy, but if he puts up big numbers like last season, and with fewer of the costly mistakes he made late in the year, he will be hard to over-look. He completed 30 of his 46 passes, good for a 65.2% completion rate, with two touchdowns and no picks. No surprise either that he was dynamic on the move as well, totaling 107 yards on the ground.

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

The media often like to refer to a signature “Heisman moment” that helps the case for an eventual winner.  hile having such a moment later in the season allows it to be fresh in the mind of voters, it shouldn’t matter for Josh Rosen, as his comeback performance in the insane 45-44 win over Texas A&M on Sunday night is unforgettable. A 34-point deficit was overcome, and finished off with a fake spike touchdown completion with around 40 seconds left on the clock. Incredible.

Overall, there were some great numbers, such as totaling 491 pass yards, and putting up four TDs without any interceptions. That said, a 59.3% completion rate on his 59 attempts doesn’t read quite so well, even if not every incompletion is on him. After his injury issues, the Bruins quarterback will be motivated to continue to have a big year, and has to be included in way-too-early award discussions.

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State & Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Both quarterbacks, both playing in the same state for Big 12 teams, and both playing teams that were ideal for taking advantage of as a season opening opponent. Still, regardless of who you are playing, Mayfield could not have been much sharper during the Sooners’ 56-7 win over UTEP. He completed his first 16 attempts, and ended the game 19 of 20. Despite only 20 passes, they resulted in 329 pass yards, three scores and, unsurprisingly, no picks. With his work done, he was able to take it easy on the sidelines for the second half.

Rudolph meanwhile, has an advantage over Mayfield, in terms of still having the services of his best wide receiver available again this year. One of the best in the nation, James Washington is going to be the man that the senior looks to very often in 2017. Highly efficient as well, Rudolph completed 83.3% of his throws for 303 yards, three TDs with no interceptions, and ran in another touchdown for good measure. Expect huge statistical totals by the end of the season once again.

Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State

Don’t sleep on Fitzgerald for the trophy this year. If the second-year starter at quarterback can lead his team to overall success, the numbers will be there to back it up.  Last season the 6’5”, 230lb QB threw 21 touchdowns, but also ran for 1,375 yards and a further 16 touchdowns on the ground. The Bulldogs may have had a simple task in wrapping up a 49-0 win over FCS school Charleston Southern, but is someone to keep on the radar. He began by throwing for 239 yards (albeit for a rather unimpressive completion rate of 55.2%), with two pass TDs and one rush TD.

Sam Darnold, QB, USC

A very popular preseason favorite for the Heisman, he is one of the main contenders not to have a generally positive opening performance. USC had some difficulties getting past Tim Lester’s Western Michigan before securing a 49-31 win that was closer throughout than the final score suggested. The offense struggled for consistency and execution, and while totaling 289 yards through the air and running in for a score, Darnold had no touchdown passes while being picked off twice. It’s the first time since the Utah game back in September of last season that he’s finished a game without a TD throw.  It’s early days though, and we should expect improvement going forward.

Luke Falk and Bryce Love are among the many, many others to keep a watch of during these opening weeks of the season; who has impressed you so far? Comment below!

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