ATLANTA—The third Saturday of October represents a good time to pare down the list of bankable candidates for the Heisman Trophy, the most iconic award in collegiate sports.
Every Sunday, from this point forward, 11Alive Sports will track the evolution (or devolution) of the primary contenders, as Heisman voters begin the critical-analysis stage of their evaluations.
Regarding our list ... let's start with the front-runners and work down from there.
ALABAMA QB TUA TAGOVAILOA
SATURDAY STATS: 306 yards passing, 4 TDs vs. Tennessee
ANALYSIS: Tagovailoa has been the Heisman front-runner from Day 1, and this performance only added to his expanding legacy.
The Crimson Tide rolled for four touchdowns in the first quarter, with Tagovailoa's 77-yard scoring strike to Jaylen Waddle serving as the touchstone moment.
Tagovailoa's super Saturday was just an extension of his scintillating sophomore campaign, accounting for 27 total touchdowns and zero interceptions, while rarely garnering much playing time during the fourth quarter.
Top-ranked Alabama gets a break next week, setting the stage for the showdown with No. 6 LSU on Nov. 3.
A dominant outing from Tagovailoa would likely secure his Heisman fate; it might also help the Crimson Tide clinch a berth in the SEC title game (Dec. 1 in Atlanta).
OHIO STATE QB DWAYNE HASKINS
SATURDAY STATS: 470 yards passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT vs. Purdue
ANALYSIS: The above numbers may be absurd, but it's only a footnote to No. 2 Ohio State's blowout defeat to Purdue ... the same Boilermakers who fell to Eastern Michigan last month.
Is Haskins a transformative talent with the Buckeyes? Absolutely. However, it's hard to sell his Heisman hopes just a few hours after Ohio State collected only 20 points against Purdue.
OKLAHOMA QB KYLER MURRAY
SATURDAY STATS: 213 yards passing, 4 TDs ... 9 rushes, 51 yards vs. TCU
ANALYSIS: If the Heisman voting was conducted solely off YouTube highlights, Murray would be a heavy favorite for the award. His blinding speed and video-game-level quickness come into play just about every Saturday.
Now for the Debby Downer news: With four eminently winnable games on the horizon (vs. Kansas State, at Texas Tech, vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas), Murray won't get a chance to move the needle with Heisman voters—in terms of high-impact matchups—until West Virginia on Thanksgiving weekend.
And by then, Tagovailoa (figuratively) might already have possession of the bronze trophy.
OREGON QB JUSTIN HERBERT
SATURDAY STATS: 270 yards passing, 2 total TDs, 0 INTs vs. Washington State
ANALYSIS: Herbert generated plenty of mid-week buzz from NFL pundits, citing him as a potential top-five pick in next year's draft.
This attention was conveniently timed with Oregon's overtime upset of Washington ... which begs the question:
How will these same pundits react to the Ducks' blowout loss to Washington State? After all, Herbert wasn't even the best quarterback on the field.
That honor went to Wazzu's Gardner Minshew (39 of 51 for 323 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs), who cemented the upset with two NFL-worthy tosses during the Cougars' final touchdown drive.
KENTUCKY RB BENNY SNELL JR.
SATURDAY STATS: 32 carries, 169 yards, 1 TD vs. Vanderbilt
ANALYSIS: The 14th-ranked Wildcats (6-1 overall, 4-1 in SEC) called only three pass plays versus Vanderbilt—an absurdly low number that would make the triple-option devotees at Navy and Georgia Tech blush.
PENN STATE QB TRACE MCSORLEY
SATURDAY STATS: 327 total yards (107 rushing), 2 TDs, 1 INT vs. Indiana
ANALYSIS: Penn State resembles a top-10 team when McSorley anchors the offense ... as a rushing threat.
HOUSTON D-LINEMAN ED OLIVER
SATURDAY STATS: 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss vs. Navy
ANALYSIS: Oliver could be the No. 1 overall pick in next year's NFL draft.
That's the good news.
On the down side, it's virtually impossible for defensive linemen to claim the Heisman Trophy, given their lack of highlight-reel interception returns or capacity for running receiving routes when Houston has the ball.
MISSOURI QB DREW LOCK
SATURDAY STATS: 350 yards passing, 4 TDs vs. Memphis
ANALYSIS: Lock, who likely missed his Heisman boat with disappointing outings against Georgia and Alabama, rebounded in a big-time manner on Saturday, shredding the Memphis defense, while posting only six incompletions for the whole game.
It's more than a numbers thing with Lock, however.
His pocket presence and otherworldly arm strength should clinch the Missouri quarterback's standing as a Round 1 pick in next year's draft.