Saturday’s game between Florida State and Louisville is the biggest ACC matchup of the week.
The Seminoles will try to hold on to their No. 2 overall ranking by defeating a tough road opponent. The Cardinals will try to legitimize their No. 10 ranking and their status as a contender for the ACC Championship.
Saturday’s game will also be crucial to the Heisman Trophy race. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois, and FSU running back Dalvin Cook each have a stake in the chase.
We know that the award criteria asks for a player to have great numbers and standout performances in big games. Obviously, at least one player will be on the losing end of Saturday’s matchup. Does that mean his Heisman chances will be tarnished?
Let’s take a look at whether each player can rebound from a loss in Saturday’s game.
If Louisville loses
Let’s say the odds are correct about FSU winning by a single-digit margin. The biggest factor for Jackson will be how Louisville does from then on.
At that point, the ACC championship will seem out of reach, but the Cardinals still have an important matchup against Clemson in two weeks. Many are starting to jump off the Tigers’ bandwagon, but there still could be momentum leading up to Week 5.
That too would be a huge win for Louisville and revive its conference title chances, depending on what happens when FSU plays Clemson. As long as Jackson continues to post video game numbers and the Cardinals are competitive, he should be in consideration.
Jackson already has 1,015 yards (697 passing, 318 rushing) and 13 touchdowns (seven passing, six rushing) in his first two games of the 2016 season. Those are ridiculous numbers, but need a signature win to solidify a Heisman Trophy.
If FSU loses
FSU is favored to win Saturday’s game, so a loss would be even more catastrophic for Cook and Francois than Jackson. While Louisville earned its way into a top-10 ranking, few expect the Cardinals to contend for a College Football Playoff berth, at least entering Saturday’s game.
FSU, on the other hand, is favored to finish in the top four, which cannot happen if it loses Saturday. Francois or Cook will take the blame for that loss, depending on whoever produces less. There is a chance for a shootout in which both quarterbacks and Cook post ridiculous stats, but if any member of this Heisman trio falters, that player will receive criticism.
Like Jackson, the Noles still have to face Clemson. That will be another crucial game for both the ACC championship and Heisman Trophy, so yes, there are more chances for a “Heisman moment.”
However, there’s no way an FSU player will win if the team’s national championship hopes are spoiled in Week 3. It also hurts that both players are part of the same offense.
Perhaps Cook will get fewer rushing attempts by splitting time with a dual-threat quarterback. Francois benefits from being able to produce in multiple ways, so he can stay in contention with a big passing or running game.
I think there’s more leeway for Jackson to lose and still post big numbers than there is for the FSU Heisman contenders. Louisville is an underdog, and just getting close should be considered an accomplishment.
Jackson wouldn’t be falling short of expectations as Cook and Francois would with a loss. Therefore he isn’t necessarily doomed if the Seminoles win.
However, we saw what happened when Leonard Fournette’s disappointing performance against Alabama coincided with Derrick Henry’s dominance of LSU’s defense last season. Henry went on to win the Heisman while Fournette, who was favored for the majority of time leading up to that point, finished sixth in the voting.
Whoever wins this game should be favored, at least for the time being. The Heisman is based on individual statistics, but cannot be won without a signature triumph in a big game.