Sunday, 18 September 2016

Lamar Jackson Has a Very Loose Grip on the Heisman Trophy

It is difficult to conceive of how Lamar Jackson will not win the Heisman Trophy — even if, in college football terms, that eventuality is eons away.

Jackson, the Louisville quarterback, entered the 10th-ranked Cardinals’ game against second-ranked Florida State with seven passing touchdowns and another six on the ground in his two games this season, against Charlotte and Syracuse. Hurtling toward the end zone against the Orange last weekend, he leapt over cornerback Cordell Hudson as if Hudson were a rain puddle.

Expectation was building.

Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino was worried before Saturday’s game that the hype would hurt Jackson, a sophomore who was recruited out of South Florida. “Obviously, you get nervous because he’s so young,” Petrino said, “and you got all these things going around — and more interviews than he should have to do.”

Petrino added, “But he was able to focus.”

The interview requests are unlikely to cease after Saturday. Jackson led the Cardinals (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) to a 63-20 stomping of Florida State (2-1, 0-1) with another superb performance. Against a defense that had surrendered 14 points in its previous six quarters, Jackson threw one touchdown and one interception, amassing 216 yards on 20 throws, and rushed for 146 yards and four more touchdowns.

His plays were something to behold and are likely to remain vivid in Heisman voters’ minds for many weeks. A pass to wide receiver James Quick in the first half was a beauty. His second touchdown of the game was a 14-yard sweep to the left off a fake handoff; Jackson used his 200-plus pounds to muscle his way over the goal line.

“Lamar Jackson 5x better than what I was at V-Tech,” Michael Vick, who put on a few jaw-dropping performances while Virginia Tech, said Saturday on Twitter. Comparisons between Jackson and Vick are now unavoidable.

One important caveat here: When Vick was a redshirt freshman and finished third in the Heisman race, he played in the national title game.

Of the last 15 Heisman winners, 11 played in the national championship game — and a 12th, Tim Tebow, had already played on a national champion. Perhaps because of the greater exposure that comes with a title run, Heisman winners generally come from teams that finish extremely strong. It’s too soon to know whether the Cardinals will have such a season.

Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman. (Henry is now on the Tennessee Titans; for what it’s worth, Fournette banked 147 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday as No. 20 L.S.U. beat Mississippi State and improved to 2-1.)

All of this is a long way of saying, Take Saturday’s performances with a grain of salt.

The advice goes for No. 1 Alabama, which made up an early 24-3 deficit and survived a late scare to beat No. 19 Mississippi (1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference), 48-43, in Oxford, improving to 3-0, 1-0. It also goes for No. 4 Michigan (3-0), which will probably self-flagellate as much as it celebrates after a 45-28 home win over lowly Colorado (2-1); No. 7 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pacific-12), which handled Southern California (1-2, 0-1), 30-7; and No. 12 Michigan State (3-0), which went into South Bend, Ind., and beat No. 18 Notre Dame (1-2), 36-28, and hosts No. 9 Wisconsin (3-0) next week.

It even goes for some who lost. No. 22 Oregon’s 35-32 loss at Nebraska (3-0) might have been unexpected in some quarters, but it is too early in the season to draw conclusions about the Ducks, who fell to 2-1. After all, what if the Cornhuskers go on to prove over the next two months that they are a great team?

Even Florida State could recover, once the Seminoles rub Jackson’s footprints off their bodies. Louisville still must travel to No. 5 Clemson (3-0) in two weeks, and Clemson must travel to Florida State at the end of October.

So the A.C.C.’s Atlantic Division remains up for grabs. In fact, of those three contenders, the one with the toughest overall road is Louisville.

When the Cardinals announced a future home-and-home series in 2013 with a team that had gone 5-7 the prior season in a less competitive conference, they might not have realized that they were setting themselves up for the challenge of a late-season date visiting the No. 6 Houston Cougars (3-0), who stand a decent chance of being selected for the playoff from outside the Power 5 conferences.

Yet peril is also opportunity. If Jackson goes to Houston on Nov. 17 and leads the Cardinals to victory, the Heisman talk will no longer be premature; indeed, ballots will be mailed out shortly afterward. September is fun, but November is for closers.

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