Each week throughout the season, Dr. Saturday will highlight the five players we think are the top Heisman contenders. The list will change often early in the season before the true candidates separate themselves from the pack.
With Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both in the top six of the Associated Press Top 25, the state of Oklahoma is the capital of college football right now. A big reason for that is the star quarterbacks for those teams, who now top our Heisman Watch after three weeks of play. Oh, and another running back has entered the mix, too.
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1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: The Sooners senior just continues to tear up opposing defenses at an extremely efficient rate. Mayfield added to his torrid start to the season in Oklahoma’s 56-14 win over Tulane by throwing for 331 yards and four touchdowns. Through three games, Mayfield has thrown for 1,046 yards and 10 touchdowns without throwing an interception. He’s also completing a ridiculous 76.8 percent of his passes — a figure that actually dipped when he went just 17-of-27 (63%) against the Green Wave.
Now that the third-ranked Sooners are 3-0 through the non-conference slate, the Big 12 fun will begin with a trip to Waco to face winless Baylor on Saturday. The Bears looked better over the weekend against Duke, but shouldn’t pose much of a threat to Mayfield and company.
2. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Rudolph and the Cowboys made Pitt look like a junior varsity high school team in the first half on Saturday. OSU stormed out to a 49-14 halftime lead at Heinz Field behind a whopping 423 yards and five touchdown passes from Rudolph. Rudolph completed 20-of-28 passes in the half with touchdown passes of 54, 69, 8, 40 and 48 yards. He finished the game 23-of-32 for 497 yards, five touchdowns and one interception and was taken out in the third quarter.
Rudolph, in about seven quarters so far this year, has thrown for 1,135 yards and 11 touchdowns with only one interception. Things get tougher on Saturday with No. 16 TCU coming to Stillwater. Rudolph, with his array of stud receivers, should be up to the challenge.
3. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Penn State didn’t meet much resistance in a 56-0 win over Georgia State on Saturday night, but junior Saquon Barkley added another incredible play to his Heisman highlight reel. Late in the first quarter, Trace McSorley felt some pressure, stepped up in the pocket and dumped it off to Barkley. It looked like a play that may go for 25 yards or so, until Barkley kicked it into another gear.
There might not be another player in the country who could have turned that into an 85-yard catch-and-run TD. Through three games, Barkley has 307 yards rushing on 38 carries, an 8.1-yard average. He also has 11 catches for 241 yards (21.9 ypc) and five total touchdowns for the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions.
4. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: We bumped down Jackson, last year’s Heisman winner and No. 1 in Week 2’s Heisman Watch, after an up-and-down performance against Clemson. Jackson emerged from the game with 317 passing yards, 64 rushing yards and three touchdown passes, but he completed only 50 percent of his passes and had a costly pick-six (his only INT so far this season) in the third quarter of the 47-21 loss.
Clemson has quickly shown it has one of the best defenses in the country, especially on the defensive line. Jackson was bottled up early and put up most of his passing production late when the game was already in hand for the Tigers. Jackson did all he could, but his offensive line was overmatched from the jump. One game won’t knock him out of the Heisman race by any means, especially when you look at his numbers so far this season: 1,088 passing yards, 303 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns.
5. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: Penny’s performance in San Diego State’s upset over Stanford vaults him past a few quarterbacks from Week 2 of Heisman Watch. Penny, a two-time Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year, rushed for 1,005 yards last year even with all-time NCAA rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey ahead of him on the depth chart. Through three games this year, he already has more than half of that total — an FBS leading 588 yards on 71 carries. In SDSU’s win over Stanford, Penny had 175 yards and a touchdown rushing to go with five receptions.
Penny is a big reason why the Aztecs have started 3-0, with wins over two Pac-12 squads — Stanford and Arizona State. SDSU is ranked No. 22 entering Mountain West play. Penny will keep putting up big numbers, but will his Group of Five competition ultimately hamper his Heisman candidacy like it did Pumphrey’s?
Sam Darnold, QB, USC: Darnold keeps making big plays — that jump pass was awesome — but still needs to cut down on the turnovers. He threw for 397 yards and three touchdowns, but also tossed two picks and completed only 28-of-49 passes in the double-OT win over Texas.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: Like Darnold, Rosen is putting up huge numbers (he leads the country in passing yards) but his propensity for risk-taking proved costly. Rosen threw 463 yards and four touchdowns against Memphis, but his two interceptions (his first two of the season) played a big part in the Bruins dropping the game 48-45 on the road.
Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: With 524 rushing yards, Love is second nationally to Penny in rushing yards but has done it on 28 fewer carries. Love has four touchdowns on the year and three are from 50 yards or longer (51, 53, 75).
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: Freeman, a senior, is third in the nation with 460 yards and has rushed for at least 150 yards in all three of Oregon’s games. With 4,606 career yards, he is quickly closing in on the Oregon all-time rushing record (5,082 yards) set by LaMichael James.
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