Heisman Buzz, Heading Into Week 7

Behind the scenes at the 2020 Virtual Heisman Trophy Ceremony © Kelly Backus / ESPN Images

Another college football week is in the books with over 14 hours of action and big performances seemingly dotting each hour on the clock, from an 11 a.m. kickoff at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to a near midnight finish at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Perhaps no bigger hat was thrown into the proverbial Heisman race ring than by Oklahoma senior quarterback Dillon Gabriel, whose gutty play lifted the Sooners to a last-second 34-30 win over Texas in the final Red River Showdown under the Big 12 flag.

Gabriel, whose Sooners are now 6-0, posted 398 total yards with 285 passing and 113 on the ground, including one rushing score. Gabriel only threw one touchdown, but it was one Oklahoma fans will not forget as he capped a five-play, 75-yard drive with this 3-yard TD pass to Nic Anderson with 15 seconds left for the game’s clinching score.

ESPN’s The College Football Show broke down Gabriel’s strong work against Texas here, thrusting him into the Heisman watch.

The huge play on a national stage was reflected in The Athletic’s latest Heisman straw poll as Gabriel moved up a spot into third place in the site’s 34-member balloting, even garnering a first-place vote.

Topping the poll again was reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams of USC while Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. was again second after a bye week.

About a half day after Gabriel’s heroics, Williams was orchestrating his own comeback, leading the Trojans back from a 17-0 deficit en route to a 43-41 triple overtime win.

Williams did not have his A game Saturday, completing only 14-of-25 passes for 219 yards and one score. But he scrambled his way to three touchdowns on the ground, including one in the fourth quarter and one in the first overtime, as well as this decisive two-point conversion scamper in the third OT.

That marked his fourth straight game accounting for four or more touchdowns.

USC travels to Notre Dame this week to renew the storied rivalry between the two schools and Irish Head Coach Marcus Freeman is clearly impressed with Williams’ play, saying: “He’s one of those guys who is as good as advertised. There’s a reason he’s the Heisman Trophy winner. He is very elite with arm talent, with decision-making, with the ability to extend plays. He is a well-rounded very talented football player. Our defense will have its work cut out for them.”

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers helped power the Bulldogs to a big win over Kentucky and he jumped from eighth to fourth in the poll. He is surging after his third straight 100-yard-plus receiving effort Saturday which included seven grabs for 132 yards and a TD against the Wildcats.

And we learned in this story that some are calling this month “Brocktober” in his honor.

Oregon QB Bo Nix joined his Pacific Northwest rival Penix Jr. in bye-week action. The duo square off Saturday in a huge game that marks the last time the Ducks and Huskies will compete in the Pac-12. This San Jose Mercury News story analyzes what happens to the Heisman chances for the loser of the Penix Jr. and Nix match-up. (TLDR – All is not lost.)

This Athlon Sports story puts its own spin on the Heisman race, listing three Pac-12 QBs at the top with Penix Jr., Williams and Nix at 1-2-3. Gabriel is fourth, Bowers fifth.

LSU QB Jayden Daniels is having a helluva year in the Bayou, leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 49-39 road win over unbeaten Missouri with another huge game. Daniels, sixth in The Athletic poll, passed for 259 yards and three scores while running for another 130 yards and another TD. 

Saturday Down South sees Daniels as among the SEC’s two best chances for Heisman invites along with Bowers. As this tweet points out, he’s on pace for some historic offensive numbers; very Joe Burrow-esque.

North Carolina QB Drake Maye has quietly led the Tar Heels to a 5-0 start behind an arm averaging 325 yards a game, fourth-best nationally and he is certainly laying his claim to Heisman hopeful status. Saturday, he passed for a whopping 442 yards and three scores in a 40-7 win over Syracuse and also ran for 55 yards and his 4th rushing score of the year.

Maye was among a host of Heisman candidates former coach and current ESPN analyst Dan Mullen cited in a recent interview. 

Mullen had Penix Jr. atop his list but also there was Florida State QB Jordan Travis on his radar. Travis has the Seminoles off to their best start since 2015.  He completed 75% of his attempts Saturday in a 39-17 win over Virginia Tech with a pair of TD passes.

Ohio State wide receiver and Heisman Trophy Podcast September guest Marvin Harrison Jr. posted his best numbers of the season in Ohio State’s 37-17 win over unbeaten Maryland. The Buckeye junior turned in season-highs with eight receptions for 163 yards — including a much-needed 37-yard, over-the-shoulder catch on 2nd and 33 early in the fourth quarter. 

This Fansided article looks at his chances to climb into a front-running position in the Heisman race.

The first defensive player of the season to break through in The Athletic poll is Louisville defensive lineman Ashton Gillotte. Gillotte, whose 6.5 sacks puts him among the nation’s leaders, got one third-place vote in the poll after helping the Cardinals upset Notre Dame on Saturday.

Speaking of dark horse candidates, the nation’s leading rusher (139.2 yards per game) is Troy’s Kimani Vidal, who gained  245 yards Saturday, just three off his season-high. 

Week 7, here we come!