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.
After Penn State’s bye week, it took one touch for Saquon Barkley to remind the world why he remains the Heisman Trophy favorite. Barkley took a direct snap and, in a role reversal, faked a handoff to QB Trace McSorley. He started right, cut back left and was off to the races for a 69-yard touchdown run, setting the tone for a blowout win over Michigan.
While Barkley’s closest competition, Stanford’s Bryce Love, returns to action Thursday after the Cardinal had a bye, there’s another running back — Notre Dame’s Josh Adams — demanding Heisman attention.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Entering Saturday night’s game against Penn State, the most yards Michigan had allowed to a single rusher this season was 68. Saquon Barkley passed that on his first carry.
When PSU’s 42-13 trouncing of the Wolverines came to an end, Barkley finished with 108 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. He also showed his growth as a receiver, catching three passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. The score, a 42-yarder early in the fourth, came with Barkley lined up in the slot on Michigan linebacker Mike McCray. It was a mismatch the Nittany Lions capitalized on.
Barkley, who leads the country with 211.14 all-purpose yards per game, is up to 757 yards and eight touchdowns rushing to go with a team-leading 32 catches for 448 yards and three more scores through the air. He’ll have a chance to add to his Heisman reel on Saturday when the second-ranked Nittany Lions travel to Columbus to face No. 6 Ohio State.
2. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: Coming off a bye, Bryce Love is still well ahead of the pack in rushing yards. Love has 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns on 135 carries — a 10.3-yard average — to go with six runs of 60 yards or more and at least one 50-yard run in all seven of his team’s games. He’s had many of his games buried late on Saturday nights, but the Cardinal get a Thursday night slot against Oregon State on Thursday night. The Beavers rank No. 100 nationally in rush defense, allowing 200.1 yards per game. Love, expected to play despite nursing an ankle sprain, will have a chance for another big night.
After traveling to Corvallis, Stanford, ranked No. 20, has games against Washington State, Cal, Washington and Notre Dame. Continued exemplary play could propel the Cardinal to a Pac-12 North title, and Love to the Heisman.
3. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Mayfield had his best game statistically of the season on Saturday to help the Sooners avoid an upset at Kansas State. Mayfield threw for a season-high 410 yards, completing 32-of-41, while rushing for 69 yards and two more scores in OU’s 42-35 win. Both times the Wildcats tied the game in the fourth quarter, Mayfield led his offense right down the field. First, after hitting Marquise Brown for a 66-yard gain, Mayfield found Rodney Anderson for a five-yard score to go ahead 35-28. And after Kansas State tied things at 35, Mayfield, with a lot of help from Anderson, engineered the game-winning 11-play, 76-yard drive to win it.
For the year, Mayfield has 2,347 yards, 19 touchdowns and two interceptions and is completing 73.8 percent of his passes. His 200.4 passer rating is the best in the country.
4. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: In Wisconsin’s win over Maryland, Taylor tied an FBS freshman record by reaching 1,000 yards in just his seventh game. Only five others have done that, and three are Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson. That’s pretty good company.
Taylor has now rushed for at least 100 yards in five of his seven games, including three 200-yard games. He also has 11 touchdowns total and has reached the end zone at least once every game. Taylor’s 1,112 yards, on 7.5 yards per carry, are fourth in the country and his 11 touchdowns are seventh. The No. 5 Badgers can go a long way with a guy like Taylor in their backfield.
5. Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame: As No. 9 Notre Dame continues winning, Josh Adams continues ripping off long touchdown runs. The 6-2, 225-pound bruiser can run over you, but with his 84-yard touchdown run in the big win over USC, Adams showed he can sprint right past you as well. Adams now has six carries of 60 yards or more, tying Love, and is seventh in the country with 967 rushing yards. He rushed 191 yards and three touchdowns in the 49-14 win over the Trojans, giving him five 100-yard rushing games on the year to go with his 9.3-yard rushing average.
Notre Dame’s strength of schedule is going to keep Adams in this race, potentially for the long haul, but his performance against Georgia (53 yards on 19 carries) could hold him back.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State: J.T. Barrett has a chance to make a big move in the Heisman race on Saturday with No. 2 Penn State (allowing only 9.6 ppg) marching into Columbus. Barrett is in for a big challenge. He’s been succeeding at a high rate for most of the year, especially since OSU’s Week 2 loss to Oklahoma. The senior has thrown for 1,838 yards, 21 touchdowns and just one interception. He also has 359 yards and five touchdowns rushing.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: After back-to-back losses, Louisville got back on the right track with a road win over Florida State. In that win, Jackson did what he does, throwing for 156 yards and a touchdown along with 178 yards and a score rushing. Jackson is sixth in the country in passing yards (2,478) and tenth in rushing yards (868).
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Rudolph didn’t have his best game as Oklahoma State eked out an overtime win over Texas, but the senior still leads the country in passing yards (2,650) and passing yards per game (378.6) to go with 19 passing touchdowns and six rushing scores. Rudolph can make a move in the next few weeks as No. 11 OSU plays three straight ranked teams: No. 22 West Virginia, No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 25 Iowa State.
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