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Heisman race: This season doesn’t disappoint

AP Photo/Ryan M. Kelly

There is work to be done and plenty of football left to be played, as coaches like to say.

However, it’s already clear this is an excellent season for Heisman Trophy consideration. There are a half-dozen solid candidates, one obvious front-runner — and some drama ahead in November.

The 82nd Heisman Trophy will be presented on Dec. 10.

My top five:

1. LOUISVILLE QB LAMAR JACKSON: He already was considered the Heisman Trophy favorite, probably since the season’s second week. Now he has a spectacular comeback win against Virginia, forged precisely when it seemed the Cardinals were going to be unexpectedly beaten. He’s still No. 1 on the list and it will take a lot to change that.

THE LATEST: Jackson hit Jaylen Smith on a perfectly placed 29-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining, erasing a one-point deficit and lifting the Cardinals past Virginia 32-25. For the season, Jackson has accounted for 38 touchdowns — 22 passing, 16 rushing. He should easily join the 20/20 club of Florida’s Tim Tebow (2007), Auburn’s Cam Newton (2010) and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (2012). Each of them won the Heisman. Jackson has completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,522 yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has rushed for 996 yards and 16 scores.

NEXT UP: Louisville (7-1) travels to Boston College (4-4) in Saturday’s ACC game. B.C. just halted its 12-game ACC losing streak with a victory against N.C. State.

2. CLEMSON QB DESHAUN WATSON: All he does is win. That’s the selling point for Watson, who was a clear preseason Heisman favorite based on his outstanding 2015 campaign, when he led the Tigers to a national runner-up finish. The Tigers are rolling again, so as the quarterback of a national championship-hopeful program, Watson will remain front and center in the Heisman hunt.

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 29: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) congratulates Florida State RB Dalvin Cook (4) after an NCAA football game between the Florida State Seminoles and the Clemson Tigers on October 29, 2016, at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. Clemson defeated Florida State 37-34. (Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire)

Heisman hopefuls: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) congratulates Florida State RB Dalvin Cook (4) after an NCAA football game between the Florida State Seminoles and the Clemson Tigers on October 29, 2016, at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. Clemson defeated Florida State 37-34. (Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire)

THE LATEST: In a 37-34 come-from-behind win against Florida State, Watson was 27-of-43 for 378 yards (his second-straight game of exactly 378 yards passing), two touchdowns and one interception. For the season, Watson has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,328 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has rushed 87 times for 326 yards.

NEXT UP: Clemson (8-0) faces Syracuse (4-4), suddenly back to life after two straight wins, in Saturday’s ACC game.

3. SAN DIEGO STATE RB DONNEL PUMPHREY: He had a sterling reputation coming into the season, but the Group of Five conference status made him a solid underdog. Yet, there’s growing awareness of his talent, so he’s on the road toward a New York invitation. That’s a major victory in itself.

THE LATEST: In a 40-13 win against Utah State, Pumphrey rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns. For the season, he has 1,409 rushing yards and 5,714 for his career (fifth all-time in the Football Bowl Subdivision). He’s within striking distance of the all-time record — 6,397 yards by Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne (1996-’99).

NEXT UP: San Diego State (7-1) faces Hawaii (4-5) in Saturday’s Mountain West Conference game.

4. WASHINGTON QB JAKE BROWNING: Browning had a very nice freshman season for the Huskies, and he was among those “others to watch’’ in the preseason Heisman race. But now he’s the quarterback of a playoff-contending team. He’s definitely in the hunt.

THE LATEST: In a tense 31-24 win at Utah, Browning’s statistics were fairly pedestrian — 12-of-20 passing for 186 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. However, his season statistics continue to be ultra-dynamic — 67.7 percent completion rate for 1,895 yards, 28 touchdowns and three interceptions.

NEXT UP: Washington (8-0) travels to California (4-4) for Saturday’s Pac-12 game. The Golden Bears are coming off a 45-24 defeat at USC.

5. MICHIGAN LB/DB JABRILL PEPPERS: By far, Peppers is the most interesting Heisman candidate. He’s clearly the nation’s most versatile performer, and there’s a growing argument that he’s the nation’s best overall player, too.

THE LATEST: In a 32-23 win at Michigan State, Peppers played 72 snaps (64 on defense, eight on offense).

According to ESPN, Peppers played at least 10 different positions — linebacker, cornerback, nickelback, wildcat quarterback, safety, H-back, receiver, kick returner and punt returner. He also was on the field-goal-block team.

Peppers had seven tackles, one sack, his fourth touchdown of the season and a two-point play when he returned a fumble on Michigan State’s two-point conversion attempt.
His 87-yard return was clocked in less than nine seconds. Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said he thought he heard a sonic boom and was “disappointed the parachutes didn’t deploy.’’

NEXT UP: The Wolverines (8-0) host the Maryland Terrapins (5-3), who are coming off a 42-36 loss against Indiana.

NEXT FIVE: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook, Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett, LSU RB Leonard Fournette, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, USF QB Quinton Flowers.

HEISMAN TRIVIA: The first award, given in 1935, went to University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger. It was originally called the DAC Award (named for New York’s Downtown Athletic Club). The following year, the award was renamed in honor of John Heisman, a former college football coach whose most notable work was accomplished at Georgia Tech.

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