By Kevin McGuire-
(CBS Local) With November now upon us in the college football season, the search continues to determine a frontrunner in the Heisman Trophy race. Usually by now we have a pretty good idea of which player will be the clear favorite, but this season seems to going against the grain. Although players like Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott have proven to be viable favorites, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall could be heating up at just the right time to make a Heisman statement after starting the season on the radar.
Marshall is not going to wow any Heisman voters with his numbers, and this could be his biggest obstacle to even receiving an invitation to fly to New York City next month, but he is going to have some opportunities to create some Heisman buzz in November with some important games in the College Football Playoff race. Through eight games, Marshall has thrown for just 1,357 yards and 13 touchdowns, but his dual-threat approach to running Auburn’s offense has led to 631 yards and nine additional touchdowns on the ground.
Some may want to compare Marshall to former Auburn Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton, but that would be unfair to Marshall. Newton was a good five inches taller than Marshall and the current starter for the Carolina Panthers packed a heavier frame with an additional 40 pounds to make him extremely difficult to take down. Newton won the Heisman Trophy in 2010, a season in which he passed for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns. What Newton did in 2010, while also leading Auburn to the SEC championship and BCS national championship, was truly something special. Expecting Marshall to put up those kinds of numbers would be silly. But in a season in which there is no obvious pick for the Heisman Trophy in the early stages of November, Marshall making big plays in big games could move the needle enough to make a case.
If Heisman Trophy candidates will be judged most by their performance in big games, then Marshall could be in good shape. Although a trip to Mississippi State a few weeks ago did not go well, Marshall has led Auburn to road victories against a surging Kansas State and Ole Miss. He also has a victory against LSU in his pocket. Marshall’s Heisman campaign will have to thrive on the road some more this season, with games at Georgia on November 15 and ending the season at Alabama on November 29. Making big plays in those games to keep Auburn in the College Football Playoff bracket could boost Marshall’s chance to be invited to New York.
Auburn has three Heisman Trophy winners in school history. Cam Newton was the most recent player to win the award, in 2010. Quarterback Pat Sullivan (1971) and running back Bo Jackson (1985) are the other two. Marshall is a rising candidate in this year’s race, and signature moments in November could end up naming him the fourth Auburn player as the Heisman Trophy winner.
Heisman Watch Spotlight Game: TCU vs. Kansas State
TCU is on a roll, and quarterback Trevone Boykin is a big reason why. Boykin has been a rising star in the Heisman race this season, and now he faces the best defense he will likely play this season with Kansas State coming to Fort Worth. This is a significant match-up in the Big 12 and it carries College Football Playoff implications. If Boykin leads the Horned Frogs to victory over the Wildcats, there should be little standing in the way of Boykin’s flight to New York and TCU’s path to the playoff.
Honorable Mention: Utah vs. Oregon
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota may be the betting favorite right now, but one major slip up could cost him in the Heisman race. With Oregon sliding into the top four of the College Football Playoff ranking this week, the pressure is now officially on to continue to impress the selection committee. This week, Oregon heads to Utah to face a Utes team that has been playing very well on defense. Mariota and the Ducks seem to have overcome their problems against teams playing defense (Stanford, Michigan State), but let’s see if Mariota can lead the Ducks to a victory on the road against the Pac-12’s best defense right now.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football.