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Heisman Race: Jackson, Watson on big stage

Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

The Heisman Trophy race has its first major turning point on Saturday night when the Louisville Cardinals (4-0) visit the Clemson Tigers (4-0) for a mammoth ACC game.

On center stage: Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, off to a roaring start, and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a prime preseason Heisman favorite.

Can one game influence the Heisman result? Absolutely. It looks like a major night to start influencing some Heisman opinions.

It’s a long way before the 82nd Heisman Trophy is presented on Dec. 10, but we might look back at Saturday night as an especially important moment.

My top five:

1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson: Until further notice, he’s the consensus Heisman Trophy frontrunner. There has been no dip in his performance this season. Let’s see what October brings.

* The Latest: Jackson was typically brilliant in a 59-28 win at Marshall. He had five touchdown passes and rushed for two more (although being held to 62 yards rushing, his first time under 100 yards this season). For the season, Jackson has accounted for 25 touchdowns. He has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,330 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has rushed for 526 yards (8.6 yards per carry) and 12 scores.

* Next Up: The Cardinals (4-0) travel to Clemson (4-0) in what looks like the early season’s biggest game. It could decide who prevails in the ACC Atlantic Division and, perhaps, provide an inside track for the College Football playoff.

2. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey: McCaffrey has a huge target after last season setting an NCAA record for all-purpose yards (3,864). He affects the game by rushing, receiving, returning kicks and even passing.

* The Latest: In a 22-13 comeback win at UCLA, McCaffrey had 165 all-purpose yards (138 rushing, 13 receiving, 14 on kickoff returns). For the season, McCaffrey has 635 all-purpose yards in three games.

* Next Up: Stanford (3-0) goes for its fourth straight win against Washington (4-0) on Friday night. It won’t be an easy task. This is a huge game that will help to shape the Pac-12’s overall power structure.

3. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He already has some experience in this competition. In 2014, after producing 45 total touchdowns but fracturing his ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan, Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Barrett could only watch as Ohio State won the national championship, then found himself in a quarterback rotation with Cardale Jones last season. Now he’s back as the unquestioned starter.

* The Latest: Ohio State is coming off a bye week. But in the last outing on Sept. 17, Barrett was tremendously efficient — 14 of 20 for 152 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions — in a 45-24 win at Oklahoma. For the season, Barrett has completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and one interception

* Next Up: Ohio State (3-0) opens Big Ten Conference play Saturday by hosting the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-2), coming off a 14-7 loss against Iowa. So far in Big Ten play, Rutgers hasn’t put up much of a fight, losing against the Buckeyes by resounding scores in 2014 (56-17) and 2015 (49-7).

4. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson: He came into the season with lots of steam after guiding Clemson to the national runner-up finish in 2015. He was a do-everything offensive performer and those were the expectations. So far, Watson has been more very good than brilliant.

* The Latest: Watson probably had his best overall game this season in a 26-7 win at Georgia Tech. He was 32-of-48 for 304 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while rushing for 36 yards. For the season, Watson has completed 60 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He has rushed for 120 yards in four games, well off his expected pace.

* Next Up: The Tigers (4-0) host Louisville (4-0) in one of the larger games ever played at Clemson.

5. San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey: He’s still the nation’s leading rusher (599 yards), even following an off week. He’s also the leading career rusher for San Diego State, which once had a guy named Marshall Faulk. Pumphrey is 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, but had only four Football Bowl Subdivision offers out of high school (San Diego State, Duke, Nevada and UNLV).

* The Latest: In his last outing on Sept. 17, Pumphrey had 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 42-28 win against Northern Illinois. Last weekend, he and the Aztecs rested.

* Next up: The Aztecs (3-0) return to action at South Alabama (2-2), a program most noted for its opening-week upset of Mississippi State. South Alabama won last season’s meeting, 34-27.

* Next Five: Houston QB Greg Ward Jr., Florida State RB Dalvin Cook, LSU RB Leonard Fournette, Georgia RB Nick Chubb, Miami QB Brad Kaaya.

Heisman Trivia: Underclassmen have won the Heisman Trophy in the last nine seasons. The last senior Heisman winner was Ohio State QB Troy Smith in 2006.

Heisman Race: Jackson, Watson on big stage

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