We’re now reaching the end of most out-of-conference play. We’ve seen some marquee matchups (and upsets), but as most teams gear up for conference play and a shot at their respective titles, they’ll have a chance to tune up before the season kicks into fifth gear. These standout candidates can not only help their team down the stretch, but also have a legitimate shot at taking home collegefootball’s most prized hardware in December.
Oklahoma quarterback, #6
Mayfield sent a message to Heisman voters across the country by planting the Oklahoma flag on then-No. 2 Ohio State’s turf following the Sooners’ 31-16 victory in Columbus last weekend.
The redshirt senior had a slow start to the night, but finished up with 386 passing yards and three touchdowns in the second half alone against an opportunistic Buckeye defense. Mayfield’s compelling performance earned his team the No. 2 spot in this week’s Top-25 rankings while dragging the Buckeyes down to No. 8.
To finish out-of-conference play, the Sooners will host Tulane in Norman, Oklahoma, this weekend. Expect Mayfield to have his way with the Green Wave, as Tulane is yet to face an opponent of the Sooners’ quality this season.
Louisville quarterback, #8
Jackson dazzled yet again in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, amassing 525 total combined yards in Louisville’s 47-35 win over North Carolina last weekend. With 393 passing yards, 132 rushing yards and six total touchdowns, Jackson made an even stronger Heisman case to the masses and proved his versatility under center. However, with tougher defenses ahead on the No. 14 Cardinals’ schedule, Jackson will have to once again prove he is worthy of being only the second player to win the coveted award twice.
This Saturday, Louisville will host No. 3 Clemson in what is effectively the game of the week. ESPN’s College GameDay will also be making the trip up to Louisville along with the Tigers, so expect a very palpable atmosphere that can energize Jackson and the Cardinals against a stout Tigers defense that allows only 118 yards per game.
UCLA quarterback, #3
Rosen had another solid week under center and didn’t have to give the No. 25 Bruins the win the hard way — the junior threw 329 passing yards and five touchdowns in a 56-23 win over Hawaii, pacing UCLA into the AP Top 25 for the first time this year. Through two games, Rosen is yet to throw an interception and leads the nation with nine passing touchdowns on the year.
The Bruins will be traveling cross-country this weekend to take on Memphis in what looks to be a shootout, as both teams have high-powered offenses and defenses which struggle in both phases of the game. Expect Rosen to have a big night through the air, although it may not guarantee the Bruins a victory.
Penn State running back, #26
Barkley had a much quieter outing against Pittsburgh compared to his season opener, rushing for 88 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Nonetheless, Barkley continues to impress as one of the top tailbacks in the country, ranking second on the team in receiving yards and handling kickoff duties on top of that.
The versatility Barkley has shown to start off the season shows how important of a piece he is to the No. 5 Nittany Lions, who look to lead Penn State to a Big 10 title and the College Football Playoff.
Heading into Penn State’s tune-up clash with Georgia State, Barkley should have his way with a porous Panthers defense that allows almost 300 rushing yards per game. Following this week, the Nittany Lions’ run for the Big 10 title begins at Iowa on Sept. 23 — a game they’ll need to win to set the tone for the rest of the season after a soft out-of-conference schedule.
USC quarterback, #14
After concern of whether he would have a sophomore slump following the narrow win against Western Michigan, Darnold proved his name should be part of the Heisman conversation with an electrifying display in a decisive 42-24 win over then-No. 14 Stanford last weekend.
The redshirt sophomore passed for 316 yards and four touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions into the hands of the Cardinal. Despite his strong play and unscathed record, Darnold’s four total interceptions have caused issues for the No. 4 Trojans this season, and taking care of the ball will prove key when evaluating his Heisman candidacy.
USC will head into a matchup with Texas this Saturday — a rematch of one of the most memorable national championship games in recent memory. The Trojans look to exact revenge for their 2006 Rose Bowl loss, and Darnold should play a big part in it against a Texas defense that has been struggling to contain its opponents’ passing games this season.