Well, it’s unanimous.
At least among The Franchise hosts.
Through eight weeks of the 2017 college football season, the chase for the Heisman Trophy includes only three players: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Stanford running back Bryce Love and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Among the 10 on-air hosts — three of whom have an actual Heisman vote (Dylan Buckingham, Lauren Rew and myself) — who submitted a top three in this week’s Franchise Heisman Watch, those were the only three players who received any votes as college football’s “most outstanding player” so far.
The Heisman Trophy Trust requests that its voters not reveal their ballots before the award is announced on live TV on December 9, but we can tell you how we might rank players’ Heisman chops before then.
In 20 years as a Heisman voter and six years as the Heisman’s Oklahoma state representative, I’ve never seen this kind of unanimity.
Using the Heisman’s voting metric (three points for a first-place vote, two points for second, one point for third), Barkley led the voting with 26 points, while Love and Mayfield tied with 16 points. Barkley received eight of the 10 first-place votes, while Love got two.
One thing Franchise hosts seemed to like about all three players: their dynamic playmaking ability.
Barkley, a junior, ranks only 20th in the nation at 108 rushing yards per game, but his contributions as a receiver (he has 448 yards receiving) and on special teams (he has 273 yards on kickoff returns) put him at No. 1 in the country in all-purpose yards at 211.1. He’s also tied for seventh nationally with 12 touchdowns. Barkley’s highlight reel panache can simply take one’s breath away.
While Barkley and the Nittany Lions were taking down No. 19 Michigan in a key Big Ten Conference game on Saturday, Love and the Cardinal had the week off.
Love ranks second to Barkley at 200.9 all-purpose yards per game, but Love does almost all of his damage on handoffs. The junior leads major college football (by a lot) with 1,387 rushing yards, or 198.7 yards per game. He also leads the world in yards per carry with an incomprehensible 10.3 and ranks tied for 10th nationally with 11 touchdowns. Like Barkley, Love’s long runs — he’s scored from 62 yards or longer in all but one game (that one game, his longest was only 53 yards) — are captivating and bring back images of Barry Sanders.
In what’s being billed as the year of the running back (check out Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor’s 1,112 total yards so far and Notre Dame junior Josh Adams’ 9.2 yards per carry), the game’s most consistent quarterback has been Mayfield.
Mayfield leads the nation in passer efficiency (he’s thrown only two interceptions and is on pace to break his own NCAA efficiency record) and completion percentage (73.8 percent), ranks fifth in passing yards (335.3 per game), eighth in passing TDs (19) and is eighth in points accounted for (19.1 per game). And like Barkley and Love, voters love Mayfield’s flare for the dramatic: he’s fourth in the nation in yards per completion (15.8) and has directed game-winning, fourth-quarter drives in each of the last two weeks against Texas and at Kansas State.
Also, winning seems to matter a lot to Franchise hosts. No. 2 Penn State is 7-0, No. 10 Oklahoma is 6-1, and No. 20 Stanford is 5-2.
Want more Heisman dark horses to watch in the coming weeks? In addition to those named above, there are plenty in the Big 12 alone, and lots of other leading contenders.
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph ranks ahead of Mayfield in most of the major passing categories, although voters will remember Mayfield’s performance at Ohio State more than anything Rudolph has done so far.
West Virginia QB Will Grier leads the nation in touchdown passes and has a couple of big games ahead on the schedule.
TCU QB Kenny Hill is completing 70 percent of his passes and has the Horned Frogs undefeated and ranked No. 4.
Don’t forget last year’s winner, dynamic Louisville QB Lamar Jackson. Although the Cardinals are struggling this year, all Jackson does is lead the nation in total offense (418.3 yards per game) and rank fifth in points responsible for (21.0 per game).
No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia are both undefeated and winning with defense, but voters in the South region likely will attach themselves to someone — Jalen Hurts, Nick Chubb — in the coming weeks. Don’t rule out Clemson QB Kelly Bryant, who’s been spectacular in replacing Deshaun Watson for the No. 7-ranked and defending national champ Tigers. Miami QB Malik Rosier has been a surprise (he’s 14th in total offense and 22nd in touchdown passes) for the No. 8 and 7-0 Hurricanes. And don’t sleep on Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, whose interception against the Sooners in Week 2 remains his only pick of the season (to go with 21 TD passes and five TD runs) for the No. 6-ranked Buckeyes.
One thing is certain: the next six weeks will be explosive.
Week 9 Franchise Heisman Watch
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State (28)
t-2. Bryce Love RB, Stanford (16)
t-2. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (16)
How The Franchise hosts voted
* Dylan Buckingham: Barkley, Mayfield, Love
Dave Garrett: Barkley, Mayfield, Love
Andrew Gilman: Barkley, Mayfield, Love
Kelly Gregg: Barkley, Mayfield, Love
* John Hoover: Love, Barkley, Mayfield
Gabe Ikard: Barkley, Love, Mayfield
Todd Lisenbee: Barkley, Mayfield, Love
Sam Mayes: Barkley, Mayfield, Love
Jerry Ramsey: Barkley, Love, Mayfield
* Lauren Rew: Love, Barkley, Mayfield
* Official Heisman voter