Heisman Forecast: Can anyone derail Saquon Barkley vs. Baker Mayfield duel?

As we inch toward the season’s midpoint, this Heisman Trophy race curiously defined.

Saquon Barkley vs. Baker Mayfield, the best bets from the two power positions in the award’s history have made this a two-horse race to New York.

Granted, the Pac-12 is producing some intriguing candidates, and the likes of Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) and reigning winner Lamar Jackson (Louisville) remain factors, but the Penn State running back and Oklahoma quarterback have distanced themselves from the field.

The last time we saw two clear candidates so clearly pull away from the field by mid-October was in 2012 when Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel beat out Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. So it begs the question: who can keep it from happening?

From an opportunity and productivity standpoint, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph remains one of the biggest threats.

He ranks second in FBS in yards (1,909) and third in pass efficiency (186.2) and total offense (393.8 yards per game) and still gets to face Mayfield and No. 3 Oklahoma on Nov. 4 (and potentially a second time in the Big 12 title game). Even in the Cowboys’ Sept. 23 loss to TCU, he nearly threw for 400 yards.

The Pac-12 has a list of intriguing options (of which USC’s Sam Darnold is likely no longer one of), including Washington State QB Luke Falk and Stanford’s Bryce Love is making some serious noise (more on him later) but its Washington’s Jake Browning who would seem to have the most to gain in the season’s second half.

Granted, the Huskies haven’t played anyone of note. Their schedule, based on past opponents’ winning percentage, is 115th in FBS at a paltry 27.3 percent. It heats up, though, sitting tied for 17th with future opponents winning 66.7 percent of their games, including a regular-season finale vs. current No. 11 Washington State and Falk.

Browning, sixth in the voting a year ago, sits sixth in the nation in pass efficiency (175.7) with 1,251 yards in hitting 95 of his 133 attempts (71.4) has been a victim of the Pac-12’s less-than-ideal kickoff times. Coach Chris Petersen vocalized as much when it comes to the exposure his team gets, something that’s not likely to change with a 10:45 p.m. ET start this week vs. Cal and again the following week at Arizona State.

But with Browning the face of a team that made the College Football Playoff a year ago, expect his stock to rise if he continues to keep Washington in the mix for a return to the sport’s final four.

Meanwhile, Barkley continues his hold on the lead as he now stands as the only player in the nation with at least one touchdown rushing, receiving, passing and on a kickoff return. That’s been done 12 times since 2000 by a Power 5 player and none of them won the Heisman, with Christian McFaffrey (’15) and Darren McFadden (’06) both coming in second.

Here’s a look at the real-time virtual ballot heading into Week 6, with Mayfield, who was idle last weekend, keeping his spot behind Barkley, and there’s a new name on this after an impressive Friday night win last week.

1. Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State
2. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
3. Luke Falk, QB Washington State

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