With the first College Football Playoff rankings coming out Monday, everything will be revolving around Columbus this week when No. 2 Penn State takes on No. 6 Ohio State.
Let’s slow our roll ever so slightly.
Yes, the Nittany Lions’ Saquon Barkley — the nation’s leader at 211.1 all-purpose yards per game and 10th in scoring at 10.3 per — is the odds-on favorite to claim the award. Plus, the running back can all but remove at least another contender in Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett, who has rebounded from a dismal game vs. Oklahoma on Sept. 9 to produce 313.9 yards of offense per week.
If Barkley can do what he did against Michigan — which a week ago had the nation’s best defense at 223.8 yards per game and proceeded to give up 161 to the RB on 18 touches — in Columbus, it could potentially give him one of the strongest grips on the trophy at this point in the season since Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010.
But let’s not hand over the hardware, as the two most intriguing candidates outside of Barkley have more chances down the stretch to win over voters.
Seven years ago, Newton was being tracked down by a West Coast running back who was leading the nation in rushing, as well as a Stanford star in QB Andrew Luck. This time around, you can roll those two into one with Cardinal RB Bryce Love, who may have the best chance of anyone not named Saquon Barkley to claim the trophy.
It helps Love’s chances that his schedule only heats up, with No. 15 Washington State, No. 12 Washington and No. 9 Notre Dame in the coming month, along with a potential Pac-12 title game spot.
But then there’s Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, who has a closing stretch of No. 11 Oklahoma State, unbeaten and fourth-ranked TCU and No. 22 West Virginia, along with a shot at a berth in the first Big 12 Championship Game.
While the Nittany Lions could potentially meet an unbeaten Wisconsin for the Big Ten crown, a final stretch of games like Love and Mayfield have is the one thing Barkley doesn’t have. Penn State’s final three games before Championship Weekend are Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland.
Will that hurt him? Can he do enough vs. the Buckeyes and the following week at No. 16 Michigan State to make the final month a victory lap?
It figures to be one of the most riveting aspects of this race, especially if Barkley is dominant in Columbus. But let’s be clear: as much as Saturday can elevate Barkley, Love and Mayfield are going to have a say in this.
Before we look at this week’s players on the rise and those who are falling in the race, here’s where the Forecaster’s virtual ballot stands heading into Week 9.
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB
2. Bryce Love, Stanford RB
3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB