Each week for the rest of the season, we will highlight the five players we think are the top Heisman Trophy contenders. The list could change weekly as new players emerge and the true candidates separate themselves from the pack.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields excelled on a huge stage against Penn State on Saturday, and he showed off his full arsenal of talent.
Early on, Fields used his legs to devastate the Nittany Lions on third down. On OSU’s first drive, he broke off runs of 14 and 17 yards to keep the drive alive. Later in the first half, he gashed Penn State for 22 yards on fourth-and-5 from the PSU 26, setting up a touchdown. He also showed a special ability to wriggle away from pressure to avoid PSU’s pass rushers and extend plays.
Fields made a handful of NFL-caliber throws in the first half before dropping in two gorgeous touchdown tosses in the second half. To open the third quarter, Fields hit K.J. Hill for a 24-yard score to increase the Buckeyes’ lead to 21-0. Fields, situated at the right hash, alertly looked off the Penn State safety before firing a perfect ball to Hill in the left corner of the end zone.
Fields’ second touchdown pass was the score that ultimately put the game out of reach for Penn State. The Nittany Lions stormed back from the 21-0 deficit with 17 unanswered points. At that point, it was up to Fields to respond — and he did just that with a 28-yard strike to Chris Olave, who made an excellent catch.
With a 33-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, plus 10 rushing touchdowns, Fields has put himself in position to become a Heisman finalist. And he’ll have two more high-profile outings to make it a reality.
1. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
Joe Burrow still sits in the pole position among Heisman contenders, and there doesn’t appear to be anybody really nipping at his heels as we enter Week 14. Burrow had yet another excellent performance in another easy win for LSU. Burrow completed 23-of-28 throws for 327 yards and three scores in Saturday night’s 56-20 victory over lowly Arkansas, helping the Tigers improve to 11-0 heading into their regular season finale against Texas A&M.
LSU has already wrapped up the SEC West title and are inching closer to a College Football Playoff berth. Meanwhile, Burrow is on the verge of setting an FBS record for completion percentage in a season. The senior is now completing a ridiculous 78.9 percent of his throws this year and trails only Washington State’s Anthony Gordon in yards (4,014) and touchdown passes (41).
As long as he doesn’t turn in a disastrous performance that costs the Tigers a title shot, Burrow will remain the heavy favorite to become LSU’s first Heisman winner since Billy Cannon in 1959.
(Last week: 1)
2. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
There’s not a single defensive player that makes a bigger down-to-down impact than Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. Back from a two-game NCAA eligibility-related absence, Young wreaked havoc on an overmatched Penn State offensive line in Saturday’s 28-17 win. Just like in his performance against Wisconsin, his numbers were ridiculous: nine tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Young made life miserable crashing off the end for Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford in the first half. And when Penn State stormed back and had a chance to tie the game, it was Young who swarmed Will Levis (in for an injured Clifford) for a pivotal sack.
In just nine games, Young has accumulated a whopping 19.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks. The fact that Young missed two games will ultimately preclude him from becoming just the second defensive player to win the Heisman, but he has certainly earned a trip to New York City to sit among the award’s finalists.
(Last week: Unranked)
3. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
After blowing teams out on a weekly basis, Ohio State was finally met with some resistance when Penn State came to Ohio Stadium on Saturday. That put Fields into some high-leverage moments he hadn’t faced during his first season in Columbus. The way he responded should bode well for the rest of Ohio State’s season.
The undefeated Buckeyes will travel to Ann Arbor to face a surging Michigan team on Saturday in the regular season finale. The matchup with the 9-2 Wolverines will precede the Big Ten title game against either Minnesota or Wisconsin. Fields and the Buckeyes already handled Wisconsin rather easily back in October, but the one-loss Gophers would present a different challenge — a challenge that could propel Fields to the status of Heisman Trophy finalist.
For the season, Fields is up to 2,352 yards and 33 touchdowns through the air while completing 69.4 percent of his throws. He has also added 445 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
(Last week: 5)
4. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
Jalen Hurts is undoubtedly a major reason Oklahoma sits at 10-1 entering its regular season finale against Oklahoma State. But Hurts has also been a big cause for OU sweating out several close victories in recent weeks. Hurts turned the ball over three times against Baylor, a game the Sooners came back from a 28-3 deficit to win 34-31 on a field goal in the final minutes.
On consecutive fourth-quarter series on Saturday night against TCU, Hurts put his team on the ropes. First, he threw an interception that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown — a play that shrunk OU’s lead to just 28-24. On the next possession, Hurts broke a big run — only to have the ball stripped from behind by a TCU player inside the 10-yard line. Oklahoma’s defense ultimately got the two stops it needed to pull out a win, but Hurts’ turnovers have become an issue. In all, he has coughed up the ball 11 times — six interceptions and five fumbles lost.
Those turnovers took away from what was an otherwise good outing from Hurts. Though he threw for only 145 yards, he rushed for 173 yards and had four total touchdowns — two passing, two rushing. For the year, Hurts is up to 3,184 yards and 30 touchdowns passing with 1,156 yards and 17 scores rushing.
(Last week: 2)
5. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
With quarterback Spencer Sanders sidelined, Chuba Hubbard now carries an even bigger load for Oklahoma State. That was on display on Saturday against West Virginia, but Hubbard still delivered in a big way even with the WVU defense doing all it could to stop him. Hubbard rushed for 106 hard-fought yards while posting seven receptions for 88 yards. Both receiving totals marked career highs.
Hubbard is up to 1,832 rushing yards on the season — 147 ahead of Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor for the national lead — while his 20 rushing touchdowns are second nationally. Hubbard has a chance to become the second player in Oklahoma State history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, joining Barry Sanders. If he closes out the regular season in a big way against Oklahoma, he deserves to make the trip to New York.
(Last week: 3)
J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State: J.K. Dobbins was featured often in Ohio State’s Big Ten East-clinching victory over Penn State on Saturday. PSU boasts one of the better rush defenses in the country, but Dobbins was able to put up 157 yards and two scores on a career-high 36 carries. Dobbins is up to 1,446 yards on the season, fourth-most in the country.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: Jonathan Taylor put up 222 yards, his third-straight 200-plus yard performance, in Saturday’s win over Purdue. But he also lost two more fumbles, an issue that will be heavily scrutinized by NFL teams. Taylor is second in the country with 1,685 yards on the year ahead of Saturday’s trip to Minnesota — a game that will decide the Big Ten West.
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson: We highlighted the overlooked excellence of Travis Etienne last week. Clemson had a bye in Week 13, but will close out the regular season Saturday against South Carolina.
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