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On Mason Rudolph’s Emerging Case for the Heisman Trophy

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On Saturday, in an NFL stadium, Mason Rudolph put the nation on notice zipping the ball around the field and setting records with ease. At times the college QB looked more like the QB set to take the same field one day later.

On this particular play Rudolph went full “Big Ben,” escaping pressure and finding Marcell Ateman for 69 yards and six points.

https://youtu.be/0AFmIK1sWXo?t=27m56s

“He made some big plays today at crucial times,” Mike Gundy said “and you see the importance of having a quarterback who makes plays. He made a lot of plays.”

It was a big play and one that broke Pittsburgh’s back. Possibly a Heisman moment. It — along with his 497 yards and five scores in the blowout win — pushed the senior record-setter right into the thick of the discussion. He’s now behind only Baker Mayfield in betting odds to win it, according to Vegas.

And when you scanned the box scores on Saturday, his counterparts among Heisman favorites didn’t do themselves many favors on the weekend that Rudolph shined.

Lamar Jackson looked like the leader in the conversation last week. That was until his Louisville Cardinals ran into a dominant Clemson defense. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner was held to an inefficient 21 of 42 in the air and only 64 yards on the ground — his lowest output this year and well below last year’s average of 120.8. It’s almost impossible to win the award back-to-back years, and this weekend’s performance dropped him pretty far back int he discussion heading into the meat of the season.

Preseason darling Sam Darnold of USC didn’t exactly wow anyone during his team’s primetime matchup with Texas. He struggled at times against a defense that allowed 51 points to Maryland at home. Honestly, the Longhorn defense looks much improved from Week 1. But Darnold was held to a pedestrian 57.1-percent completion percentage and threw two picks. Through three games the sophomore has a TD-to-interception ratio of 7:6.

Josh Rosen threw the first two interceptions of his season in UCLA’s 48-45 loss to Memphis. His Bruins fell out of the top 25 after the Group of 5 loss and head next to Stanford for another tough road game.

Penn State tailback Saquon Barkley gained just 47 yards on 10 carries but caught four passes for 142 yards and a score as the Nittany Lions blew out Georgia State 56-zip. But as far as big-time games go, the next big matchup for Barkley and Penn State will be in mid-October when they welcome Michigan a week before traveling to Columbus. He could make up a ton of ground with strong performances if his teams gets wins there.

In-state rival and spring-break buddy, Baker Mayfield planted his flag in the middle of the Heisman discussion table in Week 2 and probably remains the favorite. But in this week nobody was watching. Like, you had to pay to watch it. From my internet box score I see that Tulane hung with the Sooners for a bit in the first half before the inevitable blowout occurred. Mayfield was his normal efficient, no-doubt obnoxious, self and leads all Power 5 QBs with a 224.2 passer rating, 10 TDs and no interceptions.

Mayfield and the Sooners had their early-season marquee matchup in the Horseshoe but look forward to a pretty ho-hum slate until October 14 in the Red River Shootout. At this point it’s anyone’s best guess which Texas team will show up or what its record will be. It’s very possible that Mayfield won’t get to bolster his Heisman case against a ranked opponent for seven more weeks when he heads to Stillwater, handlebar mustache in-tow.

Meanwhile, Rudolph is enjoying the best statistical start of his career, boasting a 72.3-percent completion rate, nearly 380 yards per game and is second only to Rosen with 11 TDs. He also threw his first pick on his last play from scrimmage in what was essentially third-quarter garbage time against Pitt.

While some of the other nominees have started slow and others are about to enter the cupcake portion of their schedules, Rudolph could be just getting started seeing his name on SportsCenter. He opens up Big 12 play at home in a No. 6/No.16 matchup against TCU, then heads to Lubbock for what will likely be a shootout. Homecoming against Baylor should be an easy win but then OSU heads out on the road against Texas and West Virginia leading into Bedlam.

Rudolph’s numbers and his arm have put the nation on notice and should facilitate him remaining in the talk around the water cooler. But to stay at the front of the pack there’s one stat that really matters. Just win, baby. He’ll have plenty of tests and opportunities to put on a show before the two kings of Oklahoma meet for their yearly tussle. If both teams make it unscathed to November, we’re looking at a top-5 or top-3 Bedlam matchup with Big 12, playoff and Heisman implications.

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