Amari Cooper, J.T. Barrett fill out pack of contenders in Heisman race
Each week of the college football season NCAA.com will take a look at the most impressive individual performances. Some weeks it may be one player who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. This week, we're ignoring the top guys and detailing the rest of the field.
As the season comes to a head, some truths have become evident. We know who the seven teams competing for the four College Football Playoff spots are (Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State, Baylor, TCU, Ohio State). We know those top three -- Bama, Oregon, FSU -- are all but guaranteed a spot should they win out.
We know that despite a few top teams, Big Ten football has taken a step back this season, closer and possibly below ACC football. We know the SEC West and Pac-12 South are the best divisions of college football.
And we know that Marcus Mariota and Melvin Gordon have eliminated the rest of the competition in the Heisman race these past few weeks. Should one of those two not lift the Heisman in December, something colossally devastating would have to happen to both of them (otherwise known as ‘losing’).
Plenty of time is left to memorialize those two leading roles, but we wanted to re-route and highlight some of the supporting guys that we haven’t discussed this Heisman race. While everyone may not be winners, it doesn't mean they're not contenders.
A legitimate Heisman campaign continues to swell for J.T. Barrett. That sentence seemed unimaginable for the first month of the season. When Ohio State announced Braxton Miller was out for the season, it was assumed that the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes were dashed. When Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech, and Barrett completed only nine passes, threw three interceptions and sacked eight times, that sentiment felt confirmed.
But Barrett and the Buckeyes have bounced back in a big way. They’ve won every game since in convincing fashion, particularly against Michigan State. Barrett now claims two Ohio State single-season records, beating Troy Smith for touchdown passes (30) and Miller for total offense (3,310 yards.) Heading into Saturday, Barrett has 33 TD passes and 3,507 yards in total offense.
Stop me if you’ve heard someone say this before: This is the Year of the Running Back. Or rather, the year college running backs accumulate ridiculous yardage totals and average numbers.
While it’s a bit overblown and ignores the tangible impact these running backs have on the game, Coleman’s a main pillar for that argument. If it weren’t for Gordon, Coleman would be the argument. He’s averaging 173.3 yards per game with an average rush of 7.9 yards. Meaning, if you hand him the rock, he’ll nearly get you a first down on average. He’s only 94 yards away from 2,000 rush yards, something only 17 other guys have accomplished in college history (Gordon’s already at 2,109).
As the game on all levels has focused and funneled attention and importance on quarterbacks, some of these other players tend to get ignored. Out of some guilt, we’ll usually spotlight Player X at Position Y to represent everyone in a competition like the Heisman race. For example, Manti Te’o served as our token defensive guy two years ago. He was one of the best players that year, but (probably) not the Heisman runner-up.
Anyway, this is all a roundabout argument to say that’s not what’s happening with Amari Cooper at Alabama. Very rarely can a player definitely be labeled the best at his position in college football, but no one can argue differently with regards to Cooper. He has 1,349 receiving yards and 11 TD catches, but the big-play ability is Cooper’s draw. His hands are like a vortex, able to draw in any catch that he rationally shouldn’t be able to make, and demands opponents’ attention at all times.
Unfortunately for Mr. Cooper, for a wide receiver to be a serious Heisman contender, he almost has to re-define the position. Cooper isn’t doing that, he’s just doing it at a level we haven’t seen in quite some time.
He’s not the best player in college football, but he may be the most crucial component to his team’s success. I’ve written this before, but we seem to (slightly) overvalue numbers when determining Heisman contenders. It makes sense, as numbers quickly allow us to quantify a player’s impact on the field.
But what Thompson does cannot be described in numbers. That’s not a lame misdirection of Thompson’s abilities; it’s just that numbers have limitations. Whereas most Heisman candidates are playmakers, Thompson is a play-creator, finding something from nothing too often to count. And any player who can switch between offense and defense almost seamlessly as Thompson has done this season, deserves some recognition.
Heisman top 3
For the remainder of the race, we’re going to rank the top 3 remaining candidates in descending order with a quick explanation of why a player is ranked where he is. These rankings are fluid and (mostly) made for fun.
1) Marcus Mariota -- At this point, what Mariota does week-to-week has become so predictable, it’s (kind of) boring. Other than the fact almost every football coach in America would prefer their quarterbacks described this way, the greatest compliment a sports athlete known for efficiency and consistency can be afforded is being called boring.
2) Melvin Gordon -- That Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine ran for an NCAA single-game record 427 yards and broke Gordon’s previous 408 yards misses the point: Gordon accomplished that feat in three quarters and could’ve ran for another 150 yards based on how beleaguered Nebraska’s defense looked. Also, Perine running 427 yards was slightly abnormal; Gordon running for 408 in three quarters seemed completely reasonable.
3) Dak Prescott -- On my flight home for Thanksgiving, I met a grandma from Mississippi. Learning I work at this website, she proceeded to inform me for the next 10 minutes how great Mississippi State was, insisting it was all because of Prescott. I can’t make a better argument for Prescott’s continued greatness than a grandma feeling totally compelled to talk off the ear a stranger, just because she needed someone to know how much Prescott mattered to her. It made me wonder if my grandma talks to strangers about me like this. I certainly hope so.
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