Mark Dantonio … has had an amazing run at Michigan State, having won 11 or more games in five of the past six seasons. So it’s almost a certainty that he’s not going anywhere after this season, even if the Spartans don’t win another game. But seriously, what the heck is going on in East Lansing? Michigan State was my pick to finish second in its division over Michigan, and that pick looks comical at this point. The Spartans have lost four games in a row, three of which were to unranked teams. Each week, it’s looking more like Michigan State is a bottom-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten, and that’s saying a lot since the league is also home to teams like Illinois, Purdue and Rutgers. We’ll definitely know if that’s true because the Spartans play two of those three later in the year.
Tim DeRuyter … has less chance of remaining as Fresno State’s head coach than I do of getting the job once he’s gone. DeRuyter entered the scene at Fresno after Hill was fired following a 4-9 finish in 2001. After two Mountain West titles in his first two years, DeRuyter has overseen the disintegration of the Bulldogs’ program and with one more loss will lead the program to its three straight losing season. That hasn’t happened in Fresno since Jim Sweeney did it from 1994-1996 – and that was followed by his firing prior to 1997.
Brian Kelly … has to be grateful for a bye week. Of course, Notre Dame fans might not notice much of a difference from the team offensively when the team isn’t playing. After blasting Syracuse with 50 points two games ago, Notre Dame has posted a combined 13 points in its last two games against NC State and Stanford. After the bye week, the Irish will take on Miami and then Navy – and if the Irish drop both of those games, expect a cry to start emerging from the Notre Dame faithful. This season is starting to look too much like 2007 for Notre Dame, when Charlie Weis led the Irish to a 3-9 finish. Of course, he survived that year to coach Notre Dame to two more mediocre finishes. Those who labored through his tenure are probably hoping the powers at the school have learned from that debacle.
Kirby Smart … is the safest guy on this list. But he’s also starting to get a real taste of what expectations are at Georgia. And one of the expectations is – you don’t lose to Vanderbilt. Ever. A loss to Vandy is a red flag that your team stinks. Good teams always beat the Commodores, and usually by multiple touchdowns. Good teams don’t let Vandy march into their homecoming and let the ‘Dores march out with the victory. Since this is Smart’s inaugural season, he’s definitely going to get a pass for even egregious mistakes such as this one. But at least a few Georgia fans are starting to wonder if the school made the right call in hiring a coach who had never been a head coach – anywhere.
Dan Mullen … isn’t in any better position this week than he was seven days ago. There’s no shame in losing on the road against a very good BYU team in overtime, but the fact remains that elite SEC teams are expected to win such games. Unfortunately, Mississippi State isn’t an elite team, and there’s a very real possibility that the Bulldogs could lose again on the road this week against Kentucky. Mississippi State is currently a 3-point favorite in that game, but Kentucky will likely put up a big fight at home – especially since the Wildcats are also fighting to save their head coach. Even with a bad season, we’ll likely see Mullen back at MSU in 2017, but if that’s the case he’ll start the season with the heat turned all the way up.
- Lamar Jackson, QB, Soph., Louisville (Last week: 1)
This week: 13-of-26 for 181 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs; 21 for 144 yards, 1 TD
This season: 114-of-196 for 1,806 yards, 15 TDs, 4 INTs; 113 carries for 832 yards, 15 TDs
Louisville (5-1) beat Duke, 24-14
Jackson is finally starting to look human. Last week, he failed to crack 200 yards passing for the first time this season and “only” accounted for two touchdowns in the game. Duke had a perfect game plan to hem Jackson in, and the Blue Devils were close to upset alert well into the fourth quarter. With more games like this one, the once insurmountable lead that Jackson has maintained in the press could definitely be in danger – especially if Deshaun Watson and Clemson beat Florida State in two weeks. (Next: vs. NC State)
- Deshaun Watson, QB, Jr., Clemson (Last week: 2)
This week: 39-of-52 for 378 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INTs; 13 carries for 35 yards, 1 TD
This season: 163-of-257 for 1,950 yards, 20 TDs, 8 INTs; 70 carries for 264 yards, 1 TD
Clemson (7-0), beat NC State, 24-14 OT
The Tigers dodged a huge bullet when they defeated NC State in overtime, and it was Watson who seemed to pull Clemson to victory. It seems that Watson is at his best when the games are the biggest, and with Lamar Jackson potentially struggling, it will also be Watson who stands to gain the most. The stage won’t get any larger in two weeks when Clemson challenges Florida State on its home turf. (Next: Oct. 29 at Florida State)
- J.T. Barrett, QB, Sr., Ohio State (Last week: 3)
This week: 17-of-29 for 226 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 21 carries for 92 yards, 2 TDs
This season: 96-of-142 for 1,207 yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs; 91 carries for 434 yards, 6 TDs
Ohio State (6-0) beat Wisconsin, 30-23 OT
Like Watson, Barrett played like the leader we’ve come to expect when his team needed him most. Just when it looked like Wisconsin had solved Barrett and the Ohio State offense, the senior quarterback made big plays when he needed to and carried the Buckeyes to its biggest win of the season. While the Nittany Lions won’t present as much of a challenge this Saturday, the big challenge will be to stay at the top of his game when the opposition isn’t as stout. (Next: at Penn State)
- Jalen Hurts, QB, Fresh., Alabama (Last week: 5)
This week: 16-of-26 for 143 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT; 12 carries for 132 yards, 3 TDs
This season: 113-of-178 for 1,385 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs; 74 carries for 428 yards, 8 TDs
Alabama (7-0), beat Tennessee, 49-10
Few people will remember that Hurts didn’t do a lot in the early stages of Alabama’s huge win over Tennessee. They won’t remember that his main role during the first half was handing off the ball or that he lost a fumble during a sack. They’ll mostly remember that he broke the game open on a 45-yard run during the second quarter and that he scored two more times in the second half. And they’ll remember that he is running Alabama’s high-scoring offense with the efficiency of an upperclassman. After passing two big road tests, the question is, can he do it again at home against an even bigger opponent? (Next: vs. Texas A&M)
- Greg Ward Jr., QB, Sr., Houston (Last week: 4)
This week: 26-of-34 for 254 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT; 25 carries for 142 yards
This season: 157-of-224 for 1,938 yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs; 105 carries for 411 yards, 6 TDs
Houston (6-1) beat Tulsa, 38-31
Ward and the Cougars continued their up-and-down journey last week, barely surviving an upset bid by Tulsa. For the only time this year, Ward accounted for no touchdowns in the game, but he did make some critical plays that helped Houston seal the win. With championships – and perhaps even major bowl – aspirations out of consideration this year, Ward’s Heisman shot might be the most interesting thing going on at Houston. But if he’s to stay on this list – let alone move up it – he’ll need to put up a lot more yards and touchdowns and hope that the others ahead of him don’t do the same. (Next: at SMU)
- Dalvin Cook, RB, Jr., Florida State (Last week: 6)
This week: 25 carries for 115 yards, 0 TDs; 1 reception for 11 yards
This season: 159 carries for 900 yards, 7 TDs; 21 receptions for 356 yards, 1 TD
Florida State (5-2) beat Wake Forest, 17-6
There’s little question that Cook is the best running back in the Heisman field. The problem is that Heisman winners are generally dominant from week to week, and Cook simply is not that. Honestly, 115 yards is a nice total for a good running back, but it’s not very Heisman-worthy, nor is the fact that Cook has only accounted for eight total touchdowns in seven games. He is definitely putting together a nice resume for NFL scouts, but it’s doubtful Cook will get much more than a passing glance from Heisman voters – unless he single-handedly carries the Seminoles past Clemson. (Next: Oct. 29 vs. Clemson)
- Mitch Trubisky, QB, Sr., North Carolina (Last week: NR)
This week: 33-of-46 for 299 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
This season: 179-of-254 for 2,068 yards, 15 TDs, 2 INTs; 4 rushing TDs
North Carolina (5-2) beat Miami (Fla.), 20-13
If not for an early-season stumble against Georgia and a disappearing act against Virginia Tech, Trubisky would actually make an interesting Heisman front-runner. In retrospect, both of those losses are hard to explain, given that Georgia lost to Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech was embarrassed by Syracuse this past weekend. For most of this season, Trubisky has been a dominant force that has shown poise and courage under fire, and that has led the Tar Heels to wins over both Florida schools in the ACC for the first time in program history. (Next: at Virginia)
- Jake Browning, QB, Soph., Washington (Last week: 9)
This week: OFF
This season: 104-of-144 for 1,414 yards, 23 TDs, 2 INTs; 26 carries for 48 yards, 3 TDs
Browning took a break from destroying Pac-12 foes last week, but will likely resume his ways this Saturday against the Beavers. Amazingly, when people are talking about the best player in the league, they’re not mentioning last year’s Heisman runner-up, but instead are talking about Browning as the future of the Pac-12. Because there are so many talented QBs ahead of him on this list, Browning will probably have to wait until next season for his big shot at Heisman glory. (Next: vs. Oregon State)
- Baker Mayfield, QB, Sr., Oklahoma (Last week: 10)
This week: 25-of-31 for 346 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INTs; 5 carries for 25 yards
This season: 125-of-177 for 1,903 yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs; 42 carries for 104 yards, 3 TDs
Oklahoma (4-2) beat Kansas State, 38-17
It’s unfortunate that Oklahoma struggled so much early, because Mayfield is finally playing at a level that would commend him as a Heisman contender if the Sooners had beaten either Houston or Ohio State, or both. Along the way, Oklahoma has also played its way out of College Football Playoff contention. Instead, Mayfield is playing to help OU contend for the Big 12 title, and to make sure NFL scouts give him high grades for the draft. (Next: vs. Kansas State)
- Donnell Pumphrey, RB, Sr., San Diego State (Last week: NR)
This week: 38 carries for 220 yards, 2 TDs
This season: 167 carries for 1,111 yards, 11 TDs; 18 receptions for 131 yards
San Diego State (5-1) beat Fresno State, 17-3
Pumphrey is putting up some huge numbers each week, but he’s doing it against the weakest competition in the Heisman field. Face it – a 14-point win over Fresno State (presently ranked 127th out of 128 teams in my poll) isn’t going to impress too many Heisman voters. Still, as others on the list falter, Pumphrey stands to move up it by attrition, if for no other reason. His big issue will be that he can’t afford any let-downs given the relative weakness of San Diego State’s schedule. (Next: Friday vs. San Jose State)
Falling off: Chad Kelly, QB, Sr., Ole Miss; Patrick Mahomes, QB, Sr., Texas Tech
On the bubble: Kenny Hill, QB, Jr., TCU; Trevor Knight, QB, Sr., Texas A&M; Seth Russell, QB, Sr., Baylor; Davis Webb, QB, Sr., California; Logan Woodside, QB, Jr., Toledo
Look who’s still undefeated … All eleven unbeaten teams stayed that way for at least one more week, but there will be at least one less a week from now. Alabama will host Texas A&M on Saturday, and the winner will have a clear lead in the race for the SEC West division championship.
… And look who hasn’t won yet. Only Rice. This week the Owls will bring Prairie View A&M to town for the school’s homecoming game, but they probably shouldn’t count on a win. Prairie View isn’t an amazing team, but it does have four wins at the FCS level – which is four more wins than Rice has at any level. Frankly, Rice has been pretty atrocious this season – there’s a nasty rumor out that even beans could top Rice. So, while any FBS team should beat up on teams like Prarie View, I really wouldn’t be surprised if I’m writing next week about how Rice still hasn’t won a game.
The SEC East is still very weak. Honestly, when your supposed division champion is trounced by the other division’s stalwart 49-10, there’s a definite disparity between the two. Try and think of a team from the East that could really challenge Alabama. Tennessee? Been there, done that? Florida? Not until it uses a divining rod to discover an offense. Georgia? Yeah, right. Try beating Vanderbilt first. Vandy, Missouri, Kentucky or South Carolina? Even if you combined all of the best players from those teams into a sort of “all star” unit, it’s doubtful that the result would be much different from what happened to Tennessee a week ago. They say a rising tide lifts all boats. In the West, the rising Tide has lifted the teams around it to at least be competitive. Unfortunately, those waters haven’t yet reached the SEC East.
Western Michigan deserves to be in the Top 10. The season isn’t over yet, so claiming some sort of wisdom on this pick is a bit premature. Still, I picked the Broncos to go 12-1 with only a narrow loss to Northwestern. Instead, Western Michigan won that game and is now running through the MAC like wild mustangs, and last week destroyed what we assumed was a competitive Akron team, 41-0. This is the MAC, of course, and weird results happen all of the time. But it doesn’t look like there is a credible threat in front of WMU until the Friday game against Toledo on Nov. 25. That and the MAC Championship game are the only two things that could separate the Broncos from what could be a perfect season.
Copyright © 2016 Doug DeBolt