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CFT Preseason Previews: Heisman Watch

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The 2015 season was the Year of the Running Back in college football. Alabama’s Derrick Henry became just the second ball-carrier to claim the Stiffarm Trophy since the turn of the century, and running backs accounted for the top two and five of the top eight voting slots. Three of those five are back this season. With that in mind, will running backs continue their forward momentum and claim back-to-back Heismans, and the first non-Alabama running back Heisman, since 1998-99? Or will quarterbacks wrestle it back? Or how about a wide receiver, an offensive lineman or a defensive…. okay, let’s keep this realistic.

Leonard Fournette, LSU RB: Undoubtedly the most talented player in college football. Problem is, he knows it. The talk of him sitting out the season to devote himself to a nine-month NFL Draft prep is an odd crusade for some in football, but it’ll never happen. Still, though, Fournette is already dealing with injuries this season. He knows the pot of gold awaiting him on the other side of that rainbow. Will he dig deep, put his head down and charge for those two extra yards, or will he opt for self-preservation and do his best to simply ride this season out?

Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB: He’s got the skills, and he’s got the tools around him. Better yet, Clemson’s defense will probably take a step back this season, meaning he could stay on the field for more fourth quarters as the Tigers pile on points to put people away. So, yeah, everything is here to make a Heisman run. On the other hand, how often does the preseason favorite actually win the Heisman these days? There was Marcus Mariota in 2014, yes. Before that you may have to go back to Troy Smith all the way back in 2006.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford RB: The quarterback is new. The wide receiving corps and offensive line are re-tooling. Everyone in the stadium knows McCaffrey is getting the ball as often as possible, and in as many ways as the Cardinal can possibly get him the ball. Should his numbers remain anywhere close to his 2015 statistics, McCaffrey could benefit from voters’ desire to choose a “throw-back” candidate.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State RB: Cook’s numbers from a year ago — 229 carries, 1,691 yards, 19 touchdowns, a ridiculous 7.38 yards per carry, a full foot-and-a-half more than the next closest runner with at least 225 attempts — were Heisman-esque, yet only good enough to get him to seventh place in last year’s voting. Do that again on a team that should seriously contend for a national championship and Cook may jump all the way to first.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB: The knock against Mayfield is that he’s a system quarterback. But if you’re going to be a system quarterback, what better system to run than one with two All-America caliber running backs, playing in a conference where 40 points a game is a baseline, and with one of college football’s strongest brand names on your helmet?

J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB: Barrett has been oddly overlooked this preseason. All he did two years ago was toss 34 touchdowns against 10 picks, hit nearly 65 percent of his throws for nine yards per attempt, finish second nationally in passing efficiency whilst rushing for nearly 1,000 yards — all as a redshirt freshman.

Quick hits on the rest of the field:

Josh Rosen, UCLA QB: Maybe the best pro-prospect in college football, but NFL scouts may like him more than Heisman voters.

Royce Freeman, Oregon RB: The overlooked running back of 2015 — 1,800 yards, 17 touchdowns. But will the Ducks’ defense hold his candidacy back?

Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech QB: The most talented in the long line of prolific Red Raider quarterbacks. But can Texas Tech get enough stops to mount him a serious campaign?

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan ATH: Could he follow another Wolverine’s path to a do-it-all Heisman win?

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M DE: If the Heisman is going to a full-time defensive player, Garrett is it. But if Suh, Clowney, et. al., couldn’t break through that glass ceiling, why would Garrett?

Lincoln Riley strips Baker Mayfield of captaincy, Mayfield will start WVU game on sideline

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Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield caused a stir with his antics during a road win at Kansas on Saturday, and Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley is addressing it this week. Riley announced Mayfield will not be a team captain for Oklahoma’s game against West Virginia this week, and Mayfield will start the game on the sideline instead of on the field.

Not having Mayfield as a team captain for the game will prevent him from being on the field for the pregame coin flip. Mayfield’s eventful afternoon at Kansas got started with a pregame handshake kerfuffle and later devolved to some trash talking with Kansas fans and obscene gestures directed at Kansas players following a touchdown. None of what Oklahoma is doing this week against West Virginia will necessarily prevent any similar events from happening, but it is somewhat interesting to see.

How long Mayfield stays on the sideline against the Mountaineers was not determined. It could be one half, one quarter, one series or just one play. Regardless of the length of this form of discipline, Mayfield enters some pretty uncharted territory for a Heisman Trophy favorite, and now he will be suspended for the start of a regular season game late in the season. Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston are recent Heisman Trophy winners to serve a suspension during the regular season, but those suspensions were served the year following winning the Heisman Trophy. Could Mayfield be the first Heisman Trophy winner to serve some form of suspension during the same regular season?

We’ll find out soon enough.

Oklahoma hosts West Virginia at 3:45 p.m. ET this Saturday.

Michigan QB Brandon Peters in concussion protcol, leaving Ohio State game in question

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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed starting quarterback Brandon Peters has been entered into the concussion protocol after being taken out of Saturday’s road loss at Wisconsin. Because of the concussion protocol, it is unknown if Peters will be available for Michigan’s regular-season finale at home on Saturday against Ohio State.

“He’ll be evaluated again by the doctors this week to see if he would be cleared for contact,” Harbaugh said, according to The Detroit News. “[John O’Korn] has remained diligent every single week to preparation and the game plan, always sitting on a spring ready to play.”

If Peters is unavailable for Saturday, the offense will be placed back in the hands of O’Korn. Wilton Speight has not been cleared to for contact practices yet as he continues to recover from fractured vertebrae earlier this season.

Michigan’s offense seemed to get a much-needed jolt when Peters was inserted in the offense in place of O’Korn, who had also replaced an injured Speight. Without Peters, Michigan’s offense has not been able to find much offensive success this season, and that could pose a significant problem this week against the rival Buckeyes, who will be playing to remain on the College Football Playoff radar.

Illinois and Missouri announce four-year home-and-home agreement

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The rivalry between Illinois and Missouri may not be among the most storied of rivalries in college football, and it has only been played 24 times since first meeting in 1896. Still, there is something that just feels right about seeing Missouri and Illinois playing football, and starting in 2026 we will see the Illini and Tigers on an annual basis for four consecutive seasons.

On Monday, Illinois and Missouri announced a new scheduling agreement for a four-game series that will begin in 2026. Barring any unforseen changes to the agreement, Illinois and Missouri will each host two games between 2026 and 2029 with the home site alternating each season.

Illinois will host Missouri on Sep. 26, 2026 and again on Sep. 16, 2028. Missouri will play host on Sep. 18, 2027 and in the fourth game of the agreement on Sep. 15, 2029.

As both the Big Ten and SEC have a scheduling requirement to play at least one opponent from a power conference or power conference equivalent each year, this four-game agreement will satisfy those requirements for both Illinois and Missouri. Illinois already had the requirement in the Big Ten satisfied in 2026 with a home game against Duke, but these are the first games scheduled from 2027 through 2029. These are also the first games on the books for Missouri from 2026 through 2029, so their requirement is fulfilled years in advance as well.

“We are pleased to reestablish the football rivalry series against Missouri,” Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said in a released statement. “As our football program advances, it is important that we build our nonconference schedule accordingly. The opportunity to compete against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference and to play a geographic rival like Missouri will be exciting for our players, coaches, and fans.”

Illinois and Missouri last played in 2010 in the final game of a neutral field series that had been played in St. Louis from 2002 through 2010. The Tigers won all seven of those matchups and Missouri leads the all-time series 17-7. When the series does resume, it will be good to see it being played on campus sites as opposed to an NFL stadium that will have been abandoned for football purposes for a decade.

Alabama is now even money to win the national championship, per Bovada

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As college football comes down the finish line of the regular season, the Alabama Crimson Tide remain the clear favorite to win it all this season. The updated championship odds from Bovada list Alabama at even money to win the College Football Playoff national championship.

Alabama may still be the favorite, but Oklahoma’s odds continue to look enticing. With the Heisman Trophy frontrunner in Baker Mayfield, the Sooners are on track for a possible Big 12 championship that would send them surging into the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma currently has the second-best odds on the board, followed by Ohio State. The Buckeyes, with two losses, are being given significantly better odds of winning it all than the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers, who Ohio State will face in the Big Ten championship game next week. The bettors simply do not buy in on the Badgers.

Wisconsin has worst odds on the board than the ACC Championship Game participants, Clemson and Miami, and Alabama’s opponent this week, Auburn, and the SEC East champion Georgia Bulldogs. All of those teams have identical +900 odds this week.

Still think UCF can run the table? If they do, you’ll be in for a pretty grand payday with +50,000 odds of winning it all.

Here are the latest championship odds from Bovada as of today:

  • Alabama – EVEN
  • Oklahoma +475
  • Ohio State +700
  • Clemson +900
  • Miami +900
  • Auburn +900
  • Georgia +900
  • Wisconsin +1200
  • USC +7500
  • TCU +10000
  • Notre Dame +15000
  • UCF +50000