Heisman Watch: Marcus Mariota moves atop rankings list

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.


Big players make big plays in big games, and that's why we have a new leader atop the Heisman watch.

Georgia tailback Todd Gurley came up huge in the opening week with big plays in a showdown with Clemson. But Gurley and the Bulldogs were off over the weekend, and the focus shifted to the Pacific Northwest, where Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota made numerous big plays to help the Ducks rally and eventually throttle Michigan State by 19 points. That's enough to put Mariota on top 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. QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame

Season stats: 37-of-56 passing, 66.1 completion percentage, 521 yards, 5 TDs, 0 interceptions, 3 rushing TDs.
Saturday's stats: 23-of-34, 67.6 completion percentage, 226 yards, 3 TDs, 0 interceptions in 31-0 win over Michigan.
The skinny: After a somewhat shaky first quarter in which the Irish had problems getting plays off in time, Golson was sharp in directing Notre Dame to the rout of the Wolverines. The defense played one of its best games of Brian Kelly's tenure, but the Golson-led offense moved the ball adeptly through the air. Golson's strong passing performance was all the more impressive because the Wolverines basically shut down the Irish's rushing attack. Golson will have the opportunity to put up big numbers against a bad Purdue team this week; the only question is how long he'll be in the game.

9. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor

Season stats: 161 passing yards, 2 TDs, 1 rushing TD.
Saturday's stats: Petty was injured and did not play in a 70-6 win over Northwestern State (La.).
The skinny: Petty has played only one half of football thus far, in the opener against SMU, because of an injured back. Keeping him out against Northwestern State was a smart move for Baylor long-term, but it put a strain on Petty's Heisman "candidacy." Baylor has a national TV game Friday night at Buffalo (yep, at Buffalo), and one night in the spotlight might be all he needs to repair his Heisman hopes. Then again, Baylor coach Art Briles might not want to risk playing Petty and that could be the end of Petty's Heisman hopes. Petty has thrown a TD pass in 14 consecutive games in which he has played.

8. QB Taysom Hill, BYU

Season stats: 46-of-63 passing, 73.0 completion percentage, 489 yards, 3 TDs, 1 interception, 196 rushing yards, 5 TDs.
Saturday's stats: 18-of-27, 181 yards, 0 TDs, 1 interception, 99 rushing yards, 3 TDs in 41-7 win at Texas.
The skinny: Hill was 10th nationally in total offense last season, and he is much improved as a passer this season. He and the Cougars wore down Texas, and he has rushed for six TDs in two seasons against the Longhorns. Hill is both physical and quick as a runner, and four of his next five games -- while coming against decent teams -- also will be played at home. He's not going to garner much (any?) attention nationally, so for him to become a viable Heisman contender he must continue to put up big numbers and BYU has to continue to win.

7. WR Amari Cooper, Alabama

Season stats: 25 receptions, 319 yards, 12.8 yards per catch, 1 touchdown.
Saturday's stats: 13 receptions, 189 yards, 14.5 yards per catch, 1 TD in 41-0 win over Florida Atlantic.
The skinny: It's difficult for a wide receiver to win the Heisman, but if Cooper can somehow maintain this pace, he's going to emerge as a top candidate. No other Alabama player has more than six catches, and it's obvious that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has no problem with his quarterback seeking out Cooper on every play. Cooper is the nation's most talented receiver, and Kiffin is doing his best to let him show it. Cooper has a chance to put up huge numbers next Saturday when the Tide plays a bad Southern Miss team. After that comes back-to-back games against Florida and Mississippi.

6. QB Brett Hundley, UCLA

Season stats: 53-of-77 passing, 68.8 completion percentage, 638 yards, 3 TDs, 1 interception, 65 rushing yards, 1 TD
Saturday's stats: 33-of-44, 75.0 completion percentage, 396 yards, 3 TDs, 1 interception, 26 rushing yards in 42-35 win over Memphis.
The skinny: The Bruins needed every one of Hundley's yards to fend off pesky Memphis. UCLA obviously has issues, but Hundley isn't one of them. His offensive line is shaky, and the Bruins lack explosiveness at wide receiver and tailback, putting a ton of pressure on Hundley to get things done. UCLA was seen as a potential darkhorse national title contender by some, but right now the Bruins look to be the third-best team in the Pac-12 South. The Bruins play Texas in Arlington, Texas, next Saturday, then play Arizona State in their next game. How high can Hundley go on this list -- or, conversely, will he be on it? -- after those two games?

5. TB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

Season stats: 286 rushing yards, 2 TDs, 4 receptions, 105 yards, 1 TD.
Saturday's stats: 54 rushing yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions, 96 yards, 1 TD in 31-24 win over McNeese State.
The skinny: Every Heisman winner has a few memorable plays during a season, and Abdullah put up a great one Saturday as the Huskers escaped with a win over McNeese State. He scored on a 58-yard pass with 20 seconds left to lift them to the victory. It was memorable because it was a last-minute game-winner, and also because of how Abdullah darted here and there, breaking four or five tackles on the way to the winning score. As of right now, he is the Big Ten's best Heisman hope. He should put up good numbers against Fresno State next weekend.

4. QB Kenny Hill, Texas A&M

Season stats: 61-of-86 passing, 70.9 completion percentage, 794 yards, 7 TDs, 0 interceptions.
Saturday's stats: 17-of-26, 65.4 completion percentage, 283 yards, 4 TDs in 73-3 win over Lamar.
The skinny:Hill and the Aggies strolled to a win over a vastly overmatched FCS opponent on Saturday night, and he left with 7:13 left in the third quarter. He threw a 51-yard TD pass on his second throw of the game. Hill and the Aggies play Rice and SMU in their next two games, and big (huge?) numbers beckon.

3. QB Jameis Winston, Florida State

Season stats: 47-of-67 passing, 70.1 completion percentage, 626 yards, 3 TDs, 2 interceptions, 1 rushing TD.
Saturday's stats: 22-of-27, 81.5 completion percentage, 256 yards, 2 TDs in 37-12 win over The Citadel.
The skinny: Winston left midway through the third quarter; he was at the controls of six FSU drives, and the Seminoles scored on all six (four TDs, two field goals). He probably played a bit longer than expected because The Citadel's triple-option attack had some success and controlled the clock. Winston looked much sharper than he did in the opener against Oklahoma State; then again, he was throwing against an FCS secondary. Winston and the Seminoles have this week off before welcoming in Clemson on Sept. 20.

2. TB Todd Gurley, Georgia

Season stats: 198 rushing yards, 3 TDs, 1 kickoff-return TD.
Saturday's stats: Georgia was idle.
The skinny: He looked like a man among boys against Clemson in the opener last week, then he and the Bulldogs took this weekend off to prepare for next Saturday's SEC East showdown at South Carolina. Truthfully, unless the South Carolina defense makes vast improvement on the practice field this week, Gurley is going to run wild against them in the same fashion he ran wild against Clemson.

1. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Season stats: 31-of-48 passing, 64.6 completion percentage, 585 yards, 6 TDs, 0 interceptions, 85 rushing yards, 1 TD.
Saturday's stats: 17-of-28, 60.7 completion percentage, 318 yards, 3 TDs, 42 rushing yards in a 46-27 win over Michigan.
The skinny: As with the Oregon offense as a whole, Mariota hit some potholes Saturday, but he also guided the Ducks to a 19-point win in perhaps the biggest non-conference game of the season. He made two enormous plays in the third quarter -- hitting RB Royce Freeman on a 17-yard pass after escaping pressure in the pocket on a third-and-10, then outran four Michigan State defenders for an 11-yard gain on a third-and-9. Oregon scored on each drive to erase a nine-point deficit. All the more impressive was his composure against relentless Michigan State pressure; the Spartans frequently were in Mariota's face with their pass rush, but he still found ways to make plays -- and to guide Oregon to 491 yards and 46 points. He and the Ducks get Wyoming this week and Washington State next week; both have the makings of routs. Then comes an Oct. 2 game against Arizona, which hammered 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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