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Heisman Watch: Upcoming 'showdown' games will alter race

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Mike Huguenin has spent more than 30 years in sports journalism, many of them closely associated with college football. As a longtime Heisman Trophy voter and one who will cast his ballot again at the end of this season, Huguenin takes a weekly look at the Heisman race.

HEISMAN WATCH 2014: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

Check out the top images from the fifth weekend of college football play.

Next weekend is a big one in terms of the national-title picture, and it also is a big one for Heisman Trophy contenders.

Five of the players on our Heisman watch list play in "showdown" games: Alabama's Amari Cooper, Texas A&M's Kenny Hill and Oregon's Marcus Mariota play against unbeaten teams, and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Notre Dame's Everett Golson play against one-loss teams still on at least the periphery of the national-title discussion.

Big-time players come up big in big games, so each of those Heisman candidates will be in the spotlight next weekend.

One player moves into our top 10 this week, and it's a familiar name. Florida State's Jameis Winston, last season's Heisman winner, returned from a one-game suspension and had one of the best games of his career as the Seminoles rallied from 17 down to beat North Carolina State. Winston was "suspended" from this list last week, but returns this week.

Here are the top 10 contenders, from 10th to first, this week, as this Heisman voter sees them. Remember that each of the past four and 12 of the past 14 winners have been quarterbacks; the only non-quarterbacks were running backs Mark Ingram of Alabama in 2009 and Reggie Bush of USC in 2005.

10. TB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

Season stats: 612 rushing yards, 8 TDs, 5 receptions, 27 yards, 1 TD.
Saturday's stats: 181 rushing yards, 2 TDs in 27-10 win over USF.
The skinny: Gordon, a junior, had a career-high 32 carries in Saturday's win; he came alive in the second half as the Badgers broke away from a 3-3 halftime tie. He scored TDs to cap off each of the Badgers' first two drives of the second half. Gordon is averaging 7.9 yards per carry, which is tied for the highest average among players with at least 75 carries. His 32 carries against the Bulls were seven more than he had had in any game.

9. QB Jameis Winston, Florida State

Season stats: 73-of-105 passing, 69.5 completion percentage, 991 passing yards, 7 TDs, 4 interceptions, 1 rushing TD.
Saturday's stats: 26-of-38, 68.4 completion percentage, 365 yards, 4 TDs, 2 interceptions in 56-41 win over North Carolina State.
The skinny: Barring some collapses by a handful of top players, Winston isn't going to win the Heisman again; one storyline for later in the season is whether he even will be a finalist. But there's no doubt he came up with a huge performance Saturday. FSU's defense was shredded all day and the Seminoles fell behind 24-7 in the first quarter. But Winston methodically picked apart North Carolina State's defense and guided FSU to a comeback win. The 38 attempts were the second-most in his career and the 26 completions were a career-high. It was the fifth four-TD outing and the fifth 350-yard game of his career. He also had a game-sealing 20-yard run on a third-and-11 play with about three minutes left. Winston is one of 36 quarterbacks nationally averaging at least 35 passing attempts per game, and he is second in that group in completion percentage.

8. QB Taysom Hill, BYU

Season stats: 80-of-121 passing, 66.1 completion percentage, 876 yards, 6 TDs, 3 interceptions, 428 rushing yards, 7 TDs.
Saturday's stats: BYU was off this weekend.
The skinny: Hill is third nationally in rushing among quarterbacks and 18th in total offense at 326.0 yards per game. His biggest issue going forward is BYU's schedule: He is not going to have any games against marquee opponents and thus his stats could be glossed over as being amassed against mediocre teams. For Hill to become a truly viable Heisman contender, he must continue to put up big numbers and BYU has to continue to win.

7. QB Brett Hundley, UCLA

Season stats: 75-of-104 passing, 72.1 completion percentage, 1,041 yards, 7 TDs, 1 interception, 146 rushing yards, 2 TDs.
Thursday's stats: 18-of-23, 78.3 completion percentage, 355 yards, 4 TDs, 0 interceptions, 72 rushing yards, 1 TD in 62-27 win at Arizona State.
The skinny: Hundley showed no ill-effects from an hyperextended left (non-throwing) elbow and had one of the best performances of his career in a Pac-12 South showdown with Arizona State. It was the fourth 350-yard game of his career -- and second this season -- and the third four-TD outing of his career. He accounted for 427 yards of total offense, one yard off his career high; it was his fourth 400-yard game. The national TV appearance against the Sun Devils gave him a chance to showcase his skills, and if you watched, you had to be impressed.

6. QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame

Season stats: 94-of-135 passing, 69.6 completion percentage, 1,142 yards, 11 TDs, 2 interceptions, 104 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs.
Saturday's stats: 32-of-39, 82.1 completion percentage, 362 yards, 4 TDs, 2 interceptions in 31-15 win over Syracuse.
The skinny: Golson had a career night in a lot of ways against Syracuse, as his yardage total, TD total and completion percentage were career highs. He had completed more than 70 percent of his passes just once before, and it was just the second 300-yard game of his career. In addition, Notre Dame has scored at least 30 points in each of its first four games for the first time since 1943, when the Irish won the national title. But he threw his first two interceptions of the season and also lost two fumbles. The Irish play host to Stanford next weekend; a big game against the Cardinal's stingy defense -- Stanford has allowed just 296 passing yards in its first four games -- and Golson will get even more Heisman attention.

5. QB Kenny Hill, Texas A&M

Season stats: 118-of-180 passing, 65.6 completion percentage, 1,745 yards, 17 TDs, 2 interception, 136 rushing yards.
Saturday's stats: 21-of-41, 51.2 completion percentage, 386 yards, 4 TDs, 1 interception, 30 rushing yards in 35-28 overtime win over Arkansas.
The skinny: Hill struggled with his accuracy but also was plagued by some drops in the win over Arkansas. He also rallied A&M from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter. It was his third four-TD game of the season, and the yardage total was his second-highest. He is tied for second in the nation in TD passes and is sixth in passing yards per game (349.0). Hill and the Aggies play at Mississippi State next weekend, and the Bulldogs are last in the SEC in pass defense (319.0 yards per game) -- an offshoot of them being No. 2 in run defense (82.5 yards per game).

4. WR Amari Cooper, Alabama

Season stats: 43 receptions, 655 yards, 15.2 yards per catch, 5 touchdowns.
Saturday's stats: Alabama did not play over the weekend.
The skinny: Cooper is second nationally in receptions per game (10.8) and leads in yards per catch among those with more than 35 receptions. It's difficult for a wide receiver to win the Heisman, especially if he doesn't return kicks, but Cooper is putting up receiving numbers that are hard to ignore. He has had six 120-yard outings in a row. Can he have a big game next week against Mississippi? The Rebels are allowing just 133.5 passing yards per game (sixth nationally) and have given up just one TD pass in four games.

Check out the alternate college football uniforms worn during the 2014 season.

3. TB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

Season stats: 833 rushing yards, 8 TDs, 5 receptions, 108 yards, 2 TDs.
Saturday's stats: 22 carries, 208 rushing yards, 3 TDs in 45-14 win over Illinois.
The skinny: Saturday night's performance was his third 200-yard game of the season. He leads the nation in rushing yards and is second in yards per game (166.6). As for durability, he is seventh in the nation in rushing attempts per game (22.8) and his 22 attempts against Illinois were the third time this season and 16th time in his career he has carried at least 20 times in a game. He'll have a chance to impress Heisman voters next weekend when the Huskers play at Michigan State in what might be the most important Big Ten game of the season. He has rushed for 233 yards against the Spartans in the past two seasons.

2. TB Todd Gurley, Georgia

Season stats: 610 rushing yards, 6 TDs, 1 kickoff-return TD.
Saturday's stats: 28 carries, 208 yards, 2 TDs, 4 receptions, 30 yards in 35-32 win over Tennessee.
The skinny: Gurley, a junior, set a career high in yardage against the Vols, and his 28 carries were the second-most in his career. Gurley ran for 78 of his 208 yards in the fourth quarter. His previous career high for yardage was 198 against Clemson in the season-opener. He is eighth nationally in rushing yards and sixth in yards per game (152.5). He has 2,984 yards in his career and should move into third place on Georgia's career list next week against Vanderbilt; Lars Tate (3,017) currently is third.

1. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Season stats: 71-of-96 passing, 74.0 completion percentage, 1,135 yards, 11 TDs, 0 interceptions, 214 rushing yards, 3 TDs.
Saturday's stats: Oregon did not play over the weekend.
The skinny: In his past two games (wins over Wyoming and Washington State), Mariota is 40-of-48 (83.3 completion percentage) with seven TDs. There are 49 quarterbacks who have thrown for 1,000 yards this season, and Mariota is one of just two who has not thrown an interception. Mariota is 11th nationally in total offense (337.3 yards per game) and is averaging 10.46 yards per play, which leads the nation among those with more than 100 total plays. His career TD-to-interception ratio is an incredible 76-to-10. The Ducks play host to Arizona on Thursday; the Wildcats thrashed the Ducks last season.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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