The challenge for Lamar Jackson as he chases the Heisman Trophy is to maintain front-runner status while playing games that will not be drawing a lot of attention.
No. 7 Louisville and its star quarterback get back into action this week for the first of five straight games in which they will be big favorites. On one hand, Jackson and the No. 1 offense in the country have a chance to put up some big stats and lopsided victories. On the other hand, there will be few chances for those Heisman moments that usually come in marquee matchups — such as the Cardinals’ last game at No. 3 Clemson.
For now, Jackson is still the overwhelming leader in The Associated Press’ Heisman Watch, receiving the first-place votes from all seven AP sports writers polled. Only four players made each voters’ top three.
The AP prohibits its journalists from voting for awards such as the Heisman so none of those polled are actual Heisman voters. Three points are given for a first-place vote, two for second and one for third.
1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (21 points)
Last week: Off.
Next: Duke, which ranks seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference in defense at 5.09 yards per play.
2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (11 points)
Last week: Watson threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions in a rout of Boston College. He already has seven picks so keeping that number down the rest of the way will be important. He ran for only 28 yards against the Eagles, mostly because he didn’t have to do much running.
Next: North Carolina State, which ranks fifth in the ACC in defense at 4.47 yards per play. Watson threw for 383 yards and five touchdowns and ran for a score against the Wolfpack last season.
3. Jake Browning, QB, Washington (8 points)
Last week: The sophomore made his Heisman statement, accounting for eight touchdowns in a blowout of Oregon. He leads the nation in touchdown passes (23) and efficiency rating (204.86). Could be the latest Pac-12 star to test the East Coast bias theory in Heisman voting.
Next: Oregon State, Oct. 22.
4. Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston (2 points)
Last week: Ward threw two interceptions, including a pick six, in the Cougars’ first loss with him as a starting quarterback since 2014. He also had 359 yards passing, 94 rushing and was in on four touchdowns. Still, it will be hard for Ward to stay here as Houston’s playoff hopes fade.
Next: Tulsa, which ranks fifth in the American Athletic Conference in defense at 5.07 yards per play.
FIVE MORE TO WATCH:
• Jabrill Peppers, LB/RB/PR, Michigan. If the Wolverines continue using Peppers on offense the way they did against hapless Rutgers, he could make a serious run at Jackson. If that was just a showcase for Peppers in his home state, he is a fringe candidate.
• J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State. Could get usurped by versatile teammate Curtis Samuel, who is pace to make a run at 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving.
• Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. The junior surged against Miami and still has potential marquee games left against No. 2 Clemson and No. 18 Florida.
• Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State. The nation’s leading rusher probably needs to reach 2,000 yards to get an invite to New York.
• Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech. The numbers are crazy (454 yards passing per game), but the Red Raiders’ defense is crazy bad and it’s hard to overcome the system-QB label on a mediocre team.
Poll panel: AP Heisman watch panel: National Writer Paul Newberry, Georgia; Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins, Texas; Sports Writer John Marshall, Arizona; Sports Writer Joedy McCreary, North Carolina; Sports Writer Eric Olson, Nebraska; Sports Writer Steve Megargee, Tennessee; College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo, New York.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP