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Midseason CFB awards: Lamar Jackson leads Heisman race


We're at the midway point of college football's regular season, and it's time to hand out some awards. Here's a look at some of the standouts of the season's first half.

Heisman Trophy candidates

The favorite

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Heisman Trophy race can turn in a single week, so it's premature to hand the award now to the Cardinals' dynamic dual-threat quarterback. That said, Jackson is producing touchdowns at such a dizzying pace (14 passing, 14 rushing in five games), it's getting less likely by the week that he'll be overtaken.

In the hunt

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Barrett isn't going to average 300 yards a week like some quarterbacks, but within the offense he's asked to run, the fourth-year junior is highly effective. Barrett is a poised leader with a 20-2 record as a starter, and his dual-threat ability makes him hard to defend. He won't win the Heisman on statistics, but as long as the Buckeyes are in national championship contention, he'll stay in the conversation.

Jake Browning, QB, Washington
Browning's freshman-to-sophomore improvement has been a major leap. Through six games last year, he had a 6-5 TD-INT radio. Through six games this year? Try 23-2. East Coast Heisman voters owe it to themselves to fight off the late-night fatigue that sets in before Browning's games end.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Clemson's junior quarterback could be on his way to a second consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff. No, he's not putting up numbers at last year's pace, when he was a Heisman finalist, but his head-to-head win over Jackson will help him command his share of votes.

The longshot

Jabrill Peppers, LB, Michigan
Can Peppers become just the second primary defensive player to ever win the Heisman, as coach Jim Harbaugh expects? It's doubtful, but he's the best player on one of the nation's best teams, and as long as Michigan has a zero in the loss column, he can't be totally discounted. Peppers still needs a "Heisman moment" in a big game, and it will need to come on offense or special teams.

* * *

Offensive Player of the Year: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The true sophomore is simply the most electrifying player in the game. When you average 325 yards passing and 138 rushing per game, you're as close to unstoppable as one player can be. And he hasn't lit up the scoreboard against weak opponents only; FSU and Clemson were unable to contain him.

Defensive Player of the Year: Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M
Michigan's Jabrill Peppers has had an outstanding year, but Evans has faced tougher competition than Peppers. The former JuCo transfer leads a much-improved Aggies defense in tackles (48) with an aggressive approach to run support, and has played a huge role in TAMU's biggest games. He intercepted UCLA star QB Josh Rosen twice, made 12 stops against Auburn, and added an interception and two breakups against Tennessee. And the NFL has taken notice. One NFL executive called Evans a better player than Oakland Raiders 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph, and expects him to be a top-20 pick in 2017.

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Offensive Rookie of the Year: Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama
Forget the stats. Hurts is handling, as a true freshman starting quarterback, one of the most high-pressure roles in college football with the poise and grasp of a third-year veteran. He also flashed some mettle in a tough comeback win over Ole Miss, his first road start. In short, he's a freshman in name only.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
The Tigers freshman has been destroying ACC offensive lines. Somehow, at 340 pounds, he's managed to make 38 tackles (fourth on the team) and 15 quarterback hurries (first on the team) at defensive tackle, a position that doesn't lend itself to production in either category.

Coach of the Year: Chris Petersen, Washington
The Huskies are 6-0 with blowout wins over Oregon and Stanford, looking primed for their first Pac-12 title in more than a decade. The defense is athletic, the offense is balanced, and Petersen is pushing all the right buttons.

Comeback Player of the Year: John Ross III, Washington
After missing all of last season with a knee injury, the speedy Ross has made a dynamic return to lead the Pac-12 in touchdown receptions (nine). He's averaging 35 yards per kickoff return, and also gives the Huskies an occasional spark as a rusher.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.



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