Heisman Watch: Mariota and Prescott keep it a two-player race

It’s no coincidence that the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy — Dak Prescott and Marcus Mariota — play for two of the nation’s leading championship contenders, Mississippi State and Oregon. It’s been said, of course, that the Heisman does lean toward the best offensive player on the nation’s best team.

Yet only two winners since 2005 have taken home the Heisman and lifted the national championship trophy: Cam Newton in 2010 and Jameis Winston a season ago.

At the same time, two Heisman winners — Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006 and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford in 2008 — have taken home the individual hardware but lost to the same team, Florida, in the national title game.

Prescott and Mariota will look to join the club, along with Notre Dame’s Everett Golson, Mississippi’s Bo Wallace and a number of other contenders — perhaps even Winston himself, who remains a distinct long shot but delivered under bright lights during Saturday’s win against the Fighting Irish.

Does a trophy contender have what it takes to win in Manhattan in December and in Dallas in January? Here are 10 leading contenders for the Heisman after Week 8 of the 2014 season:

1. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon (Last week’s ranking: No. 2)

Mariota? Prescott? It’s as close a two-horse race as the Heisman race has seen in several years, particularly this early in the race. Mariota gets the edge for his weekly excellence, the sort of near-perfect production that bears listing to be fully recognized: Mariota is averaging 10.4 yards per attempt, has tossed 19 touchdowns, hasn’t throw a single interception in 188 attempts and has accounted for 24 scores in total. How good is that?

2. QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (Last week’s ranking: No. 1)

Prescott’s right there in the mix, obviously, and could very, very easily — or should, or will — regain the top spot should the Bulldogs get through their next three games and top Alabama on Nov. 15. For now, Mariota’s statistical excellence puts him ahead.

3. QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame (Last week’s ranking: No. 3)

I can’t really find a reason to drop Golson on this list. For starters, it’s not as if the Heisman list is brimming with qualified candidates — there are a bunch of contenders, but only a few near the Mariota-Prescott class. And it’s not as if Golson was hurt by Saturday’s night loss to Florida State, a narrow defeat that gave Golson a number of Heisman-caliber moments.

4. RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (Last week’s ranking: No. 4)

Abdullah bounced back very nicely from his career-worst showing in Nebraska’s loss to Michigan State to run for 146 yards and four scores in a 38-17 win against Northwestern. Though he has ground to make up on the top two, I think Abdullah ends the year as a Heisman finalist.

5. QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State (Last week’s ranking: Unranked)

Remember when the storm clouds rained on Ohio State? That would be in August, when Braxton Miller’s season-ending injury cast a shadow over the Buckeyes’ hope for a College Football Playoff berth. One: Ohio State’s very much in the mix for the Playoff. Two: Barrett has been spectacularly good — to the point where he’s on pace for the finest statistical season by an Ohio State quarterback in program history. Not bad, huh?

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