Heisman Watch Week 7: J.T. Barrett continues his quiet ascent

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.

Previously: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6

We’re past the halfway point of the season and three players have established themselves as the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy: Penn State‘s Saquon Barkley, Stanford‘s Bryce Love and Oklahoma‘s Baker Mayfield. Barkley’s all-around contributions on the offense have been critical to Penn State’s success while Love is putting up rushing figures unlike anything we’ve seen in years. Meanwhile, Mayfield continues to torch opposing defenses with a rare level of efficiency.

Beyond those three, the field is jumbled. Will any other quarterbacks make the leap into consideration? Keep an eye on Ohio State‘s J.T. Barrett, who has been playing extremely well after an uneven start and has games against Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan on the horizon.

(Yahoo Sports)

1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Penn State picked a pretty good weekend to have a bye, didn’t it? As chaos unfolded with four top 10 teams losing to unranked opponents, the Nittany Lions had some time off before preparing for a really tough three-week stretch to round out October and begin November. PSU, now ranked No. 2, hosts No. 19 Michigan on Saturday night before traveling to Columbus to face No. 6 Ohio State and then heading to East Lansing to play No. 18 Michigan State.

Those three games give Barkley a chance to shine on a huge stage. With the spectacular performance against Iowa sandwiched in between, Barkley failed to rush for 100 yards in four of PSU’s last five games. Barkley is 21st in rushing yards, but has contributed in the passing game and on special teams, giving him a more well-rounded résumé compared to other running backs. Barkley leads the country in all-purpose yards per game (217) and is fifth in the Big Ten in receptions (29) and eighth in receiving yards (395).

When all is said and done, he will have a lot of work to do to hold off Bryce Love.

2. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: Love is really 1B to Barkley’s 1A at the moment after another big game Saturday night against Oregon. In a 49-7 win, Love rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. All but one of those carries came in the first half. He set the tone for the game with 48 yards and a touchdown on Stanford’s first drive and followed it up with a 67-yard score on the first play of Stanford’s second drive.

(via FS1)

Stanford started 1-2 but has rattled off four straight wins since — all in Pac-12 play. With 1,387 yards on 135 carries, Love is still averaging more than 10 yards per attempt through seven games. That’s an incredible pace helped by six runs of 60 yards or more, plus at least one 50-yard run in all seven of Stanford’s games. Love isn’t the biggest back, but he has a remarkable ability to squirm through contact and break off huge runs. Stanford has a bye this week, but with some tough games on the horizon — Washington State, Washington and Notre Dame in particular — Love will have the chance to leapfrog Barkley.

3. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Baker Mayfield is Mr. Consistent. He completed 17-of-27 passes for 302 yards and two scores, including what proved to be the game-winning 59-yard strike to Mark Andrews with 6:53 to go, in Oklahoma’s 29-24 win over archrival Texas. Mayfield made some big throws late in the game to ensure victory, and he did it after taking a huge hit that looked like it could knock him out of the game.

Mayfield did finally throw his first interception of the year on a great play by Texas DB John Bonney, but a 17-to-1 TD-INT ratio to go with 1,937 yards and a 72.7 completion percentage isn’t too bad, is it? Oklahoma has no margin for error moving forward through the Big 12 schedule, so Mayfield will need to be at the top of his game on a weekly basis, starting next Saturday at Kansas State.

4. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State: Since Ohio State’s home loss to Oklahoma back in Week 2, J.T. Barrett has quietly been putting up stellar numbers on a weekly basis. His performance over the weekend at Nebraska may have been the best of his career — and that’s saying something. In a 56-14 win, Barrett completed 27-of-33 passes for 325 yards and five touchdowns. He also added 48 yards and two scores rushing. The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on eight of their nine drives, with Barrett accounting for seven of them. The only drive without a touchdown came late in the fourth quarter with second-and-third-stringers playing.

For the season, Barrett has thrown for 1,838 yards, 21 touchdowns (No. 1 in the nation) and just one interception while completing 66.7 percent of his passes. He also has 359 yards and five touchdowns rushing for the sixth-ranked Buckeyes. The Oklahoma game was OSU’s only significant challenge of the season. After a bye, Barrett and Buckeyes will welcome No. 2 Penn State to Columbus on Oct. 28.

5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor continues to tear up opposing defenses. In Saturday’s 17-9 win over Purdue, the freshman rushed for 219 yards and a touchdown, giving him his third 200-yard game of the season and second in two weeks. The 5-foot-11, 214-pound Taylor quickly moved up the depth chart for the undefeated Badgers and has accumulated 986 yards and 10 touchdowns in six games. Against Purdue, Taylor ripped off a 67-yard touchdown run on his third carry of the game.

He’s been arguably the most-impressive freshman in the country.

Also considered:

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Even with Louisville sputtering (mostly because of its defense), Lamar Jackson deserves recognition. The Cardinals dropped to 4-3 with a 45-42 home loss to Boston College, but Jackson’s production was as ridiculous as ever, throwing for 332 yards and rushing for 180 more. He also combined for five touchdowns — two passing and three rushing — to give him 26 total on the season. His 2,322 passing yards are fourth-most in the country and his 690 rushing yards rank 15th — third among quarterbacks.

Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: Rashaad Penny became the second running back to pass the 1,000-yard mark Saturday against Boise State, but there weren’t many other positives to take from the game. Penny could muster only 53 yards on 21 carries in a 31-14 loss, SDSU’s first of the season. Penny has faced two teams, Boise and Northern Illinois, in the top 80 in the country in rush defense. He’s averaging just 3.4 yards per carry in those games compared to 7.1 ypc in other games (not including SDSU’s win over FCS UC Davis).

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Rudolph is probably the only other legitimate Heisman contender at QB after Mayfield (unless Arizona’s Khalil Tate keeps up this pace). The Oklahoma State senior is second in the country with 2,368 yards and tied for third with 19 touchdowns after his 459-yard, 3-TD day in the 59-16 win over Baylor. If the Cowboys, ranked No. 10, string some more Big 12 wins together to get back in the CFP picture, Rudolph will keep his Heisman hopes alive.

Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State: NC State used Hines more as a pass-catcher and kick returner in his first two seasons, but now he has turned into an all-around back. Hines has three straight 100-yard performances (648 yards overall) to go with 16 catches and averages of 23.4 and 17.1 yards on kickoffs and punts. Against Pitt on Saturday, Hines had an 83-yard touchdown run and a 92-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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