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.
This list was quarterback-heavy when the season began, but it’s looking more and more like quite a few running backs will have a major role in the 2017 Heisman race. Penn State stud Saquon Barkley is leading the way after his incredible performance against Iowa, but there’s a running back out West who is making some noise as well.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: If, for whatever reason, you ever doubted the hype surrounding Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, all you had to do was watch his performance against Iowa. By himself, Barkley out-gained Iowa in a last-second victory for the Nittany Lions. He broke off a number of highlight reel runs, showing his rare combination of power and speed. When the dust settled, Barkley rushed for 211 yards and a touchdown while adding 12 catches for 94 yards and 53 yards in the return game. Simply put, he was the best player on the field. It wasn’t even close.
After four games, Barkley is seventh in the country in rushing with 518 yards and four touchdowns while leading the Big Ten in receiving: 23 catches for 335 yards and two scores. Yes, a running back leads the Big Ten in receiving.
2. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Baylor presented a bit more resistance to the third-ranked Sooners than most anticipated, but Mayfield stepped up when his team needed it. In a 49-41 win, Mayfield completed 13-of-19 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns to help OU win its 14th straight game.
After Baylor took a 31-28 lead late in the third, Mayfield responded by hitting Jeff Badet with a pinpoint pass on a wheel route for a 43-yard score. The touchdown put OU back in front for good. Through four weeks, Mayfield has 1,329 yards, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. His 228.3 passer rating leads the country by a wide margin and his 75.2 completion percentage is fourth-best nationally.
3. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: After compiling 263 yards on 30 carries in Stanford’s win over UCLA late Saturday night, Bryce Love now leads the nation in rushing with 787 yards. That total is in just four games and 73 attempts, meaning he’s averaging a ridiculous 10.8 yards per carry. He also has five touchdowns so far this season. His only score against UCLA was a 69-yard scamper on his final carry of the night to seal the win.
4. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Lamar Jackson had a tough go last week against Clemson. Things were much easier over the weekend with Kent State in town. Jackson completed 18-of-22 passes — the best performance of his career in terms of accuracy — for 299 yards and two touchdowns and a 13-yard rushing touchdown before sitting out the fourth quarter.
His touchdown pass to Javonte Bagley in the third quarter was the 88th total touchdown of his career, a new Louisville record. Jackson, who did throw two interceptions in the 42-3 win, is fourth in the country with 1,387 passing yards and is fifth among non-option quarterbacks with 337 rushing yards.
5. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Even though Mason Rudolph threw for 398 yards and two touchdowns Saturday against TCU, but had his worst game of the year. In a 44-31 loss, Rudolph completed only 53.7 percent of his passes and threw two costly interceptions. He was under constant pressure from the TCU defense, which is far more talented than the other three defenses he lit up during OSU’s 3-0 start.
One poor performance won’t bump him from contention. Rudolph is still second nationally with 1,533 yards and is tied for third with 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Don’t count the Cowboys out just yet.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: Penny had his lowest rushing total of the season in SDSU’s comeback road win over Air Force. That total? 128 yards. Yeah, that’s pretty good. Oh, and he also had three touchdowns, including the deciding 53-yard burst with 5:39 left in regulation. At 716 yards, he’s now behind Love for the rushing lead and with SDSU climbing in the polls Penny will be in the Heisman mix all year long.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: If only UCLA had a defense. Rosen leads the country with 1,763 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air, but the Bruins dropped their second game of the year, a 58-34 decision to Stanford, on Saturday night.
Luke Falk, QB, Washington State: Falk put up 478 yards and five touchdowns in Wazzu’s win over Nevada on Saturday, giving him 1,378 yards, 14 touchdowns and just one interception through four weeks. Perhaps more impressively, Falk leads the nation in completion percentage (76.9) while having the fifth-most attempts (130/169). We get to see Falk in primetime this week when the Cougars host No. 5 USC on Friday night.
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