Heisman Watch Week 6: Saquon Barkley's lead is shrinking

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

The gap is closing. Quickly.

Stanford running back Bryce Love is gaining ground on Penn State’s Saquon Barkley in our Heisman Watch. Love continues to put up huge rushing totals on a weekly basis, most recently gutting Utah for 152 yards and a game-sealing 68-yard, fourth quarter touchdown in a 23-20 win. Love leads the nation with 1,240 rushing yards so far this year, but we’re still slotting him behind Barkley — for now — despite back-to-back underwhelming rushing efforts from the PSU junior.

Barkley has combined for 131 yards over the past two games, but his all-around impact playing for a superior team gives him the slightest of edges in the Heisman race through six weeks.

(Yahoo Sports)

1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Barkley’s numbers against Northwestern — 16 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns — look pretty solid on paper, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Barkley actually had negative rushing yardage at halftime before scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter to put the Nittany Lions, now 6-0 and ranked No. 3, ahead comfortably. The first was from a yard out on third and goal. The second, a 53-yard burst, will definitely find a place in Barkley’s Heisman reel.


Through six games, Barkley has 649 yards and six touchdowns on 102 carries. That rushing total is No. 13 nationally, but his 395 receiving yards and 258 kick return yards give him 1,302 all-purpose and 10 total touchdowns — six rushing, two receiving, one kickoff, one passing.

PSU has a Week 7 bye before playing No. 17 Michigan at home and traveling to face No. 9 Ohio State and No. 21 Michigan State in consecutive weeks.

2. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: Here’s a good barometer of how ridiculous Love’s rushing numbers have been this season. His 152 yards on 20 carries against Utah was a season low and it *dropped* his rushing average from 11.1 to 10.5 yards per attempt. On top of that, Love has had at least one 50-yard run in all six of Stanford’s six games this season and has eight total to go with five runs of at least 60 yards. Against the Utes, Love broke off a 68-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that ended up being the winning touchdown.

But if you want to make the argument that Barkley was bolstered by just one big run, you could do the same for Love, albeit not as dramatically. Take out the 68-yard run, and Love finishes with a pedestrian 84 yards on 19 carries. He also has only four receptions for 19 yards for the season on a team with two losses. That won’t help his cause, nor will Stanford’s consistent late starts. The Cardinal have another late one on the horizon with Oregon coming to town in a game that is slated to begin at 11 p.m. ET.

3. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: If the Sooners end up finishing outside the College Football Playoff picture, we’ll be able to point to Saturday’s shocking loss to Iowa State. Mayfield had another stellar performance, completing 24-of-33 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns along with 57 yards and a score rushing, but couldn’t put together a game-tying drive when his team needed it.

After ISU took a 38-31 lead, Mayfield and the Sooners took over with 2:19 to go. They mustered just one first down and 17 yards before turning it over on downs. This is not pinning the loss on Mayfield, especially when the defense allowed an ISU touchdown on three straight second half drives, but you expect your senior quarterback to lead you down the field against an inferior team in that situation. You just do.

4. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State: Washington State just keeps winning and Falk is leading the way. Falk threw for 282 yards and three more touchdowns, giving him an FBS-leading 19 on the season, in a 33-10 road win over Oregon. Falk has an even 2,000 yards on the year and is completing 71.8 percent of his passes for the eighth-ranked Cougars, who are now 6-0.

Falk has played a key role in Washington State’s climb up the Pac-12 standings over his career, setting program and conference records in the process. He currently sits No. 2 in Pac-12 history in both yards (12,888, 712 behind Sean Mannion) and touchdowns (108, eight behind Matt Leinart) and already holds the Pac-12 record for career completions. Barring injury, he’ll likely own both of those records by the time the season ends.

5. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: Remember we said Saquon Barkley was second in the country in all-purpose yards? Well, No. 1 is San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny with 1,325 total yards — 993 rushing, 127 receiving and 205 return. In a 41-10 win over UNLV Saturday night, Penny rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns, his sixth straight 100-yard performance.

His best run of the night was this punishing jaunt through a UNLV defender.


Also considered:

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: Coming into the season, we expected Bradrick Shaw and Pitt transfer Chris James to lead a ferocious Wisconsin rushing attack. Those two have had roles, but instead it’s been true freshman Jonathan Taylor leading the way. Taylor is seventh nationally with 767 yards with nine touchdowns and a 7.9-yard average. In Saturday night’s win at Nebraska, Taylor went off for 249 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yarder in the second quarter.

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: After OSU had a bye on Saturday, Mason Rudolph is fifth in the country with 1,909 yards and tied for third with 16 touchdowns for the No. 14 Cowboys. Rudolph also has five rushing touchdowns on the season while completing 67.6 percent of his passes, but threw a combined five interceptions over OSU’s last three games, including two costly ones in the team’s lone loss to TCU.

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: Rosen leads the country in yards, 2,135, and is second in touchdowns, 17, with only five games under his belt. But his defense hasn’t done him any favors. UCLA (3-2), also coming off a bye, is giving up nearly 40 points per game, preventing Rosen from playing more prominently in the Heisman race. His four interceptions in the losses to Memphis and Stanford didn’t help either, but a trip to No. 5 Washington in a few weeks could get Rosen back into the picture.

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