Even after missing three games with injuries, Leonard Fournette is poised to make some noise in the Heisman Trophy race.
The LSU running back is coming off one of the most impressive individual performances of the season, running for 284 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries in a rout of Mississippi. The No. 19 Tigers are off this week and preparing for No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 5.
When Fournette plays, he is as good as advertised. The junior has reached 100 yards in each of the four games he has been able to get on the field, averaging 8.1 per carry and scoring five touchdowns.
Fournette was one of the headliners in a star-studded Heisman field entering the season. They have all been overtaken by Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is still drawing considerable Heisman attention, but other big names have fallen off.
Last season’s Heisman runner-up, Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, has missed games with injuries and been unable to cut loose in the Cardinal’s struggle offense. Houston quarterback Greg Ward has slipped out of the race with the Cougars losing two of three.
Florida State’s Dalvin Cook is in position to make a late push. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett can likely do the same.
How about Fournette? With high-profile games left against Alabama, No. 14 Florida and No. 9 Texas A&M and the possibility of leading his team to the SEC championship game, don’t rule out Fournette receiving an invite to New York city for the Heisman presentation on Dec. 10.
Here’s how AP college football writers rank the Heisman contenders going into Week 9:
1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (21 points)
Last week: Jackson went off on North Carolina State for 431 yards, with three TD passes and a touchdown run.
This week: at Virginia. The Cavaliers are third from the bottom in the ACC in defense (6.17 yards per play allowed). Expect another big game for Jackson.
2 (tie). Jake Browning, QB, Washington (10 points)
Last week: The sophomore threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score in a rout of Oregon State. He only completed 50 percent of his throws, which dropped his passer rating to second in the country (199.62), but still on pace to set a single-season record.
This week: at No. 17 Utah. The Utes are in the middle of the Pac-12 pack defensively in yards per play (5.76, seventh in the conference), but they lead league with 14 interceptions and are fourth in sacks with 22.
2 (tie). Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (10 points)
Last week: Off.
This week: at No. 12 Florida State. The Seminoles defense has struggled mightily when facing big-time offenses, including Louisville and Jackson. This is a chance for Watson to make up some ground on Jackson, but the Cardinals’ quarterback has already set a high bar against Florida State.
4. Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State (1 point)
Last week: The senior had a pedestrian, for him, 135 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a victory against San Jose State, but is still leading the country in rushing by 34 yards per game.
This week: at Utah State. The Aggies are 3-4, but have one of the better defenses in the Mountain West. They rank third against the run (3.61 yards per carry) and overall (4.97 per play).
Four more to watch (other than Fournette)
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. Losses for Florida State have overshadowed the junior’s outstanding season running and receiving (179.4 yards from scrimmage per game). He gets the spotlight game against No. 3 Clemson at home Saturday.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma. Coming off a historic game against Texas Tech (263 yards rushing, 114 receiving and five touchdowns), the sophomore has a chance to put up numbers similar to Cook’s. Would Heisman voters overlook his past arrest for punching a woman in a bar?
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders’ up-tempo offense and awful defense inflate his numbers, but he is on pace for about 5,700 yards and close to 50 touchdown passes.
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama. A defensive end is not winning the Heisman, but Allen has scored two touchdowns and could draw some consideration as the best player on the best team’s best unit.
Poll panel: AP Heisman watch panel: National Writer Paul Newberry, Georgia; Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins, Texas; Sports Writer John Marshall, Arizona; Sports Writer Joedy McCreary, North Carolina; Sports Writer Eric Olson, Nebraska; Sports Writer Steve Megargee, Tennessee; College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo, New York.