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Beware Of The September Heisman Candidate

Ryan Mayer

Two weeks of college football are now officially in the books. We’ve seen multiple upsets, slow starts from preseason contenders and general panic from fans whose team isn’t dominating like they expected them too. We’ve also seen prolific performances light up box scores and lead to talk of possible Heisman Trophy candidacy as we approach Week 3.

This happens on a yearly basis. A player, usually a quarterback, lights up inferior opponents in the first couple of weeks and the proclamations of “Heisman candidate” begin. This season, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson has been bestowed with those honors.

Jackson, in case you haven’t seen his games, has put up a combined 1,015 yards and 13 touchdowns this season compared to just one interception. However, there’s a reason you may not have seen his games; the first two opponents of Louisville’s season were Charlotte on the opening Thursday night (a program that is in just its second year of FBS football) and Syracuse last Friday night (a program that has a first-year head coach and is coming off a 4-8 year).

This isn’t meant to denigrate Jackson. He’s been fantastic, reeling of highlight play after highlight play to start the season. But, coming into the year, we were well aware that Louisville was going to be a good team going into the season, while we were just as aware that both Charlotte and Syracuse were going to struggle.

The history of September college football is littered with guys who came out of the gates like Secretariat, only to fall off down the stretch like Curlin. One of the best examples is the current TCU starting quarterback, Kenny Hill. Hill started his career at Texas A&M, sitting behind Johnny Manziel in 2013, before getting his chance to take over the starting role the following year. Against a slate of South Carolina, Lamar, Rice, SMU and Arkansas, Hill lit up the box scores, throwing for 1,745 yards 17 touchdowns and two interceptions in five Aggies wins.

As we are doing with Jackson now, the talk turned to whether Texas A&M could have another Heisman winner on its hands. Hill proceeded to play poorly in the following three games against Mississippi State, Mississippi and Alabama, before losing his starting job permanently to Kyle Allen and choosing to transfer to his current home at TCU.

If you’re tempted to say that Hill is just one example, here’s a list of guys that have been tabbed Heisman front-runners in September. Denard Robinson, Chase Daniel, Andre Woodson, Tate Forcier, and Geno Smith were all considered to be favorites to take home the trophy at the end of the season’s first month. Yet, not one of them did and moreover none of those players finished in the top five of the final voting. Only Denard Robinson of that group finished in the Top 10.

Jackson and Louisville have their first big game of the season coming up this Saturday against Florida State and another entrant into the early Heisman race, Seminoles QB Deondre Francois. The ‘Noles QB has a very good performance against Ole Miss and a big game against FCS Charleston Southern under his belt so far. His resume may look more bolstered by the win over a ranked opponent, but we still have no idea how good Ole Miss is this year, so he’s in the same boat as Jackson.

Whichever QB puts up the bigger numbers this weekend will likely come out of it with even more steam billowing from their hype train. It’s important to remember, Heisman’s aren’t won in September, and early season performances are no guarantee of long-term success. While Jackson and Francois are the darlings of the ball right now, they could turn into pumpkins by season’s end.

Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.

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