The Memphis Tigers have been one of the biggest surprises in college football this season. Justin Fuente’s squad is 7-0 and ranked No. 16 in the nation, the highest ranking in school history.The driving force behind this magical season is quarterback Paxton Lynch. The junior from Delonta, Florida has been surgical on the field this season, throwing for 2,366 yards (71.2 completion percentage), 17 touchdowns and just one interception. Lynch ranks among the nation's top 10 in yards passing per game (No. 7), efficiency rating (175.7, ranks No. 5) and competition percentage (No. 2).
Fresh off the best performance of his season and, arguably, his school’s history, Lynch is rising quickly in the Heisman race. He threw for a school-record 447 yards passing (72.7 completion percentage), four touchdowns and zero interceptions on Friday against Tulsa. He also added a score on the ground, giving him 19 total touchdowns for the season.
Lynch’s great arm strength and accuracy was on full display against the Golden Hurricanes. His best toss of the day came on a short touchdown pass with 12:39 left in the game. From the five-yard line, he fired a pass towards to the back of the end zone where only his guy, receiver Tevin Jones, could come down with it. Jones did just that, making a fantastic catch to put the Tigers up 59-35.
While it would have seemed unfathomable heading into the season, it’s well within the realm of possibility that Memphis could finish the year undefeated. The Tigers still have to play two ranked teams – No. 18 Houston on Nov. 14 and No. 21 Temple on Nov. 21 – but Memphis should be expected to win both with the way Lynch is playing. Given how much team success is valued in award races, Memphis winning those games and remaining undefeated is critical for Lynch's Heisman hopes.
Still, the reality of the situation is that, as dominant as he's been, Lynch is an enormous longshot to end the season with the hardware. The last player to win the Heisman from a non-Power Five school is BYU’s Ty Detmer 25 years ago. Tack on that there are a number of truly incredible talents on elite Power Five teams this year -- LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott and TCU’s Trevone Boykin, to name a few -- and it’s clear that Lynch’s best-case scenario is getting an invite to the award’s ceremony in December. But, make no mistake: 1) Lynch has a real shot at earning a trip to New York if he continues playing at this level and the Tigers go undefeated and 2) being a finalist would be an enormous accomplishment by itself and would serve as an important reflection about the strength of non-Power Five programs.
One up, One down
Trending up: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
It might seem strange to say a quarterback’s Heisman stock is rising a week after he throws for just 143 yards, but it’s true in Deshaun Watson’s case. Despite the low yardage total, the Clemson quarterback had another impressive game on Saturday, completing 78.9 percent of passes, rushing for 98 yards and scoring two total touchdowns. Perhaps just as important: His Tigers absolutely smoked Miami 58-0 in the contest, pushing them to No. 3 in the latest AP Top 25 poll. Clemson is looking more and more like a College Football Playoff team each week, and that, along with his solid play, will make Watson a force in the Heisman race even without him having monster numbers.
Season stats: 1,553 yards passing (69.3 completion percentage), 15 touchdowns passing, seven interceptions, 332 yards rushing and three touchdowns rushing.
Trending down: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
There’s no getting around it: Dalvin Cook’s Heisman standing took a major blow on Saturday. Not only did he rush for just 82 yards on 4.8 yards per carry, but his Seminoles also suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of a Georgia Tech team that had previously lost five straight. We’ve talked before in this series about how important making the playoff is for Heisman contenders, and it’s hard to imagine Florida State making football’s final four after this loss. Furthermore, with all the strong Heisman contenders there are this year, there’s a huge need to perform at an elite level every week to maintain your standing; Cook putting up 82 yards against a Tech team that's struggled this year isn’t going to cut it. He’s still having a fantastic season and remains firmly in the hunt, but the sophomore’s no longer the top-three contender he was just one week ago.
Season stats: 1,037 yards rushing (8.2 yards per carry), 11 touchdowns rushing, 181 yards receiving and one touchdown receiving.
Related content: CFB's top performers from Week 8