With regards to the Heisman Trophy, the most exciting college football game of the season (to this point) will take place this Saturday. That’s because Ohio State is traveling to State College to face off against Penn State in a battle of the two most recent Big Ten champions.
The Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions aren’t rivals in the way that, say, the former is with Michigan or the latter is with Pitt. But this is a rivalry game in that the winner is put into the driver’s seat for the Big Ten and, eventually, the College Football Playoff. In a far less important storyline, this game will pit a pair of Heisman hopefuls up against one another: Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins and Penn State signal caller Trace McSorley.
Haskins has been a better passer this season, while McSorey has been better with his legs. Here’s how the two match up numbers-wise:
Haskins: 87-for-115 (75.7 percent), 1,194 yards, 16 touchdowns, one interception; 10 carries, 28 yards, one touchdown.
McSorley: 57-for-106 (53.8 percent), 763 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions; 41 carries, 235 yards, six touchdowns.
Things like drops and playing in subpar conditions have hurt McSorley, sure, but while he’s been solid this season, Haskins has been on fire for four straight games. Taking over for the departed J.T. Barrett, Haskins has brought a different dimension to the Ohio State offense, one which takes advantage of his gifts as a passer. He’s a mobile guy, but he prefers to throw the ball, which is good for the Buckeyes, because he is as good of a pure passer as the college game has right now.
Haskins also has about as tough of a first true road game as a starter that someone can have: On the road, in State College, with more than 107,000 screaming Penn State fans all wearing white. Buckeye fans should be optimistic, though, because while plenty of more experienced signal callers have struggled in this environment before, Haskins is as cool as a cucumber. He’s also surrounded by skilled receivers, a pair of outstanding running backs, and an offensive line that has looked indomitable at times this season.
Still, while I expect him to show out against a Penn State defense that has looked vulnerable this season, it’s not like the Nittany Lions don’t have a chance. McSorley can vault himself back into the Heisman discussion with a big game, he has the reputation for being a guy who shines when the lights are brightest, and oh by the way, he has never lost as a starting quarterback on his home field. Plus, Ohio State’s defense has plenty of weaknesses, especially against mobile quarterbacks that can execute RPOs like McSorley. Add in that, last year, McSorley watched as Ohio State came from behind to take down Penn State in Columbus (largely because Barrett had the game of his life), and I would not be surprised if McSorley goes off this Saturday.
I won’t go as far as to say the winner of this game becomes the Heisman frontrunner or anything — Haskins could get to that point with a truly monster game, while McSorley could get right back in the discussion by showing out in a win. Regardless, this game gives us a matchup of honest-to-god Heisman contenders, and I, for one, cannot wait. As for what this week’s list of Heisman contenders looks like, I encourage you to read on.
5. Ed Oliver (Last Week: 4)
Oliver had a quiet week as the Cougars throttled Texas Southern, 70-14. The whole “he won’t play in blowouts” thing might not help his case, especially against a not great Tulsa team this week. But I will not be deterred. Uproxx Sports is an Ed Oliver fan site, in my opinion.
4. Dwayne Haskins (Last Week: 5)
Haskins has the game of his early career on Saturday night. He could make a major move by putting up big numbers in Happy Valley, but if he struggles — and especially if he gets out-dueled by McSorley — he might fall off the list, entirely. I think he’s going to have a monster game, but I’ve been wrong plenty of times before.
3. Kyler Murray (Last Week: 2)
Murray’s efficiency numbers were good against Army, but he (and the rest of the Sooners) were hurt by the team’s inability to get the ball back from the Knights. Murray was still really, really good, but we’ll just knock him down a spot, both because of a close game against a service academy and because the guy who moves to second was lights out.
2. Will Grier (Last Week: 3)
Grier threw a pick on West Virginia’s first drive the game against Kansas State. His final two drives of the evening were a pick and a punt. In between those, however, Grier threw for five touchdowns, had the Mountaineers on the door of the red zone before a fumble, and saw his team miss a field goal. In all, Grier went 25-for-35 with 356 yards and five scores in a 35-6 win.
1. Tua Tagovailoa (Last Week: 1)
For really the first time this year, Tagovailoa had to let it fly, as his 30 attempts were easily the most he threw in 2018 (his previous high was 19 against Arkansas State). The result: 22-for-30, 387 yards, four passing touchdowns, and one score on the ground in a 45-23 win over Texas A&M. Alabama’s schedule isn’t too tough from now through the end of October, so it’s possible that Nick Saban and company don’t ask their star quarterback to sling it all that much for the next month or so. Perhaps that’ll hurt his Heisman campaign, but for now, he’s in the driver’s seat.