Heis­man Watch: Jack­son a thriller

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Paul Myer­berg @paul­myer­berg USA TO­DAY Sports

At a news con­fer­ence Mon­day, two days af­ter his team im­proved to 2-0 with a slug­gish win against Troy, Clem­son quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son apol­o­gized for the “neg­a­tive en­ergy” that has stymied the Tigers’ early fol­low-up to last sea­son’s 14-1 fin­ish.

Through two games, Wat­son is com­plet­ing just un­der 53% of his at­tempts with three in­ter­cep­tions and av­er­ag­ing 3.6 yards per carry. So what ails Wat­son and Clem­son? It might just be the postcham­pi­onship-game hang­over; maybe all the Tigers need is an­other week or two to shake off the cob­webs.

For now, how­ever, Wat­son has fallen from his pre­sea­son perch atop the Heis­man Tro­phy race to out­side of the top five. Here are the early rank­ings af­ter Week 2:

1. LOUISVILLE QB LA­MAR JACK­SON Jack­son is eas­ily the na­tion’s best player through two weeks, blend­ing sub­lime ath­leti­cism with a pass­ing game tai­lored to his strengths. He can put an even stronger hold on early front-run­ner sta­tus by lead­ing the Car­di­nals past Florida State on Satur­day.

2. STAN­FORD RB CHRIS­TIAN MCCAF­FREY Af­ter a bye week — McCaf­frey ran for more than 120 yards in Stan­ford’s sea­son-open­ing vic­tory — the Car­di­nal re­take the field in a matchup against South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Look for McCaf­frey to run around, over and through the Tro­jans de­fense.

3. SAN DIEGO STATE RB DONNEL PUMPHREY It’s time to start pay­ing at­ten­tion to Pumphrey, the Aztecs’ best skill player since Mar­shall Faulk and one of the na­tion’s best play­ers re­gard­less of po­si­tion. Af­ter lead­ing SDSU past Cal­i­for­nia, Pumphrey has his team in the mix for an un­de­feated sea­son.

4. ORE­GON RB ROYCE FREE­MAN Free­man was slightly over­looked dur­ing the pre­sea­son, but the first two weeks of the sea­son have served as a re­minder of just what the ju­nior means for Ore­gon’s hopes of win­ning the Pac-12 Con­fer­ence. He’ll have a re­ally nice op­por­tu­nity to take an­other step up the lad­der in the Heis­man race when the Ducks travel to Ne­braska this week­end.

5. OHIO STATE QB J.T. BARRETT Heavy rain dur­ing Ohio State’s lop­sided win against Tulsa led the Buck­eyes to fo­cus pri­mar­ily on the ground, so Barrett didn’t quite repli­cate his six-touch­down per­for­mance from a 77-10 de­struc­tion of Bowl­ing Green in the opener. Barrett still added two touch­downs on the ground, show­ing the sort of dual-threat ex­plo­sive­ness that makes him one of the na­tion’s most dan­ger­ous quar­ter­backs.

JUST OFF THE LIST

Ari­zona State RB Kalen Bal­lage Clem­son QB Wat­son Florida State QB Deon­dre Fran­cois Ge­or­gia RB Nick Chubb Hous­ton QB Greg Ward Jr. Pitts­burgh RB James Con­ner Texas QB Shane Buechele Washington QB Jake Brown­ing Wis­con­sin RB Corey Cle­ment

RICH BARNES, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

La­mar Jack­son, hur­dling a Syra­cuse de­fender, has dis­played his ath­leti­cism in a Louisville of­fense tai­lored to his skill set.

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