Heisman Watch 2022: Oregon’s Bo Nix is back in the race … or is he?

Oregon Ducks quarterback Bo Nix helped his team jump back into CFP contention, but is the Georgia loss too much to overcome?

Written off. Cast aside. An afterthought.

A 46-point loss to open the season will have that effect on a Heisman Trophy campaign, but after six straight wins that have vaulted No. 8 Oregon back into the College Football Playoff mix, has Box Nix gone and resurrected his chances?

Everything that’s come before says no, but we’ve also never seen a case quite like the one that the Ducks quarterback could be penning.

Eventual winners have lost the season opener. That’s happened five times, but just once this in this millennium, when Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel fell to Florida 20-17. There have been lopsided scores in those five Week 1 defeats, the worst coming when Ricky Williams and Texas lost to No. 5 Kansas State 48-7 in 1998. Winners have also fallen at the hands of top-ranked teams, the last being Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991 at the hands of Florida State, 35-13.

All three of those things have never happened to a player who would wind up with the trophy, but they did to Nix, whose Ducks fell to No. 1 Georgia 49-3 win in Week 1.

History isn’t in Nix’s favor, and even if we’re discounting Nix as a real threat and wondering what it would take for him to get to New York as a finalist, that remains the case.

Since the Downtown Athletic Club — now the Heisman Trust — began bringing players to the ceremony in 1982, there have been 168 invitations extended, 46 of which went to players who had lost in the first month of the season.

Only 11 of those finalists have ever dropped the opener, the last of whom were Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook, who fell 33-23 to Houston in 2016. Just two of those 11 had suffered losses of 30 or more points: Temple’s Paul Palmer, 45-15 vs. No. 6 Penn State in 1986; and Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, 50-14 against No. 6 USC in 2006.

Nix even getting a seat the table would be unprecedented, but those past instances didn’t happen during the playoff era.

Per ESPN’s Playoff Predictor, Oregon currently has a 5 percent of chance of reaching the field of four, odds that would jump to 44 percent if the Ducks were to win out with a resume as a one-loss Pac-12 champion. The only team without a loss in conference play, the Ducks figure to meet either No. 10 USC or No. 12 UCLA — depending on the outcome of their Nov. 19 clash — on Dec. 2 in Las Vegas.

Dream on this scenario for a moment. Nix leads the Ducks to the conference title, taking down the Trojans’ Caleb Williams — currently third in the odds at +1200 — in the process. That gives him a resumé with a 12-1 record, potentially another top-10 win to go with the Oct. 22 victory over No. 22 UCLA, and four Top-25 victories in all, and Oregon doing its part to reach the CFP.

That’s his closing argument to get a place on Heisman ballots, but is it enough to overcome that 46-point loss vs. the nation’s No. 1 team to open the season?

Georgia’s continued success factors here. If the Bulldogs, who have outscored their opponents 292-64 and won by an average of 32 points, cruise back to the playoff — which would mean taking down Hendon Hooker and No. 3 Tennessee, and, as it stands, No. 6 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game — the prism through which we view Nix’s loss may change.

For now, Nix faces long odds — literally. He’s tied for sixth per BetMGM at +4000 — that’s jumped from +6600 before the win over the Bruins — but things have suddenly gotten interesting, and that seemed impossible after what happened to the Ducks back on Sept. 3.

Before we look at whose stock is rising and whose is falling, here’s a look at this voter’s virtual ballot after Week 8.

1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
2. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
3. Caleb Williams, USC

Heisman stock watch: Which candidates are heating up, which are falling off?

BUY: Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

It’s Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker is what has turned into a two-man race with Stroud out in front — he’s at -125 per the latest odds — and the next two weeks are huge for Hooker’s campaign.

They’ll both face ranked opponents Saturday, with Stroud and the No. 2 Buckeyes taking on No. 13 Penn State: while Hooker’s third-ranked Volunteers host No. 19 Kentucky. Hooker will go up against a far better pass defense — the Wildcats are 14th in FBS, allowing 232.9 yards per game — and Kentucky ranks second in the SEC, yielding 16.4 points per. The Nittany Lions are 79th vs. the pass (232.9) and gave up 41 points to Michigan two in Week 7.

That would add another Top-25 win to Hooker’s ledger, which would be his fifth in all compared to two for Stroud … and then comes the potential game-changer. The Volunteers head to Athens on Nov. 5 vs. No. 1 Georgia, a game that could make have those two quarterbacks neck and neck over the final month before votes are due.

But we’ll get to that matchup more next week. In the meantime, enjoy two ranked games where the Heisman leaders are poised to keep building on their resumes.

SELL: DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson

Dabo Swinney is clear that, despite DJ Uiagalelei being benched during last weekend’s come-from-behind win over Syracuse, the oft-maligned junior is still Clemson’s starter. Still, the fact remains that he was benched in favor of freshman Cade Klubnik when the Tigers needed some kind of a spark offensively.

It’s an unfortunate swing for Uiagalelei, who had a strong start to this season after his 2021 struggles, throwing 17 touchdowns to just two interceptions before Week 8. He tossed two vs. the Orange (his third turnover in all) and went without a scoring strike for the first time since the Cheez-It Bowl vs. Iowa State.

If the starting job does remain his, Uiagalelei looms large if the Tigers are going to return to the playoff and help decide what happens if they get there. But if a coach can’t have faith in a team leader turning things around in a game, we can’t consider him a factor in this trophy chase any longer.

BUY: Max Duggan, TCU

The odds just don’t seem to make sense when it comes to Max Duggan. The TCU quarterback just threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns in a win over No. 17 Kansas State — the Horned Frogs’ fourth straight over a Top 25 opponent — to jump up to seventh in the AP Top 25 … yet he’s 14th per Vegas.

At +10000, Duggan trails Oklahoma’s Spencer Sanders (+4000) and is behind five passers on one-loss teams.

Duggan has that standing despite ranking fifth in efficiency rating — trailing three quarterbacks in the Heisman conversation in Stroud, Hooker, and North Carolina’s Drake Maye — and is eighth with 19 touchdown passes. He figures to build on those numbers Saturday vs. West Virginia and its 117th-ranked pass defense (275.7 yards per game).

The Horned Frogs have one of the clearest paths to the playoff and don’t figure to meet another ranked opponent until the Big 12 Championship Game. If they stay on this track, Duggan should get a boost that has yet to happen.

SELL: Chase Brown, Illinois

The nation’s leading rusher with 1,059 yards — that’s 100 more than any other Power 5 rusher — Chase Brown is on pace to challenge for 2,000 yards should Illinois continue its run atop the Big Ten West and earn a spot in the conference title game … but what’s that getting him in terms of this race?

Since 2000, there have been 16 players with 2,000 or more yards when votes were due and none of them won the trophy. The last five have finished no higher than San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who was fifth in 2017.

Brown’s case seems to mirror that of Indiana’s Tevin Coleman. He ran for 2,036 yards in 2014, and was seventh in voting, looking up at two more Big Ten players (Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon — himself a 2,000-yard rusher — in second, and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett in fifth).

With Stroud and Michigan’s Blake Corum ahead of him, it’s going to be difficult for Brown to mount much of a charge.

BUY: Drake Maye, North Carolina

The numbers are most certainly there for the Tar Heels redshirt freshman, whose legs are becoming an even bigger part of the equation. Drake Maye has rushed for at least 53 yards in each of the last three games, pushing Maye’s season total to 378 yards and three scores, helping him to the FBS lead in total offense per game (380.1 yards per game).

He goes into Saturday’s matchup with Pitt with one of the hottest arms in the nation, ranking third among Power 5 passers in yards (1,353) and touchdowns (13) and fourth in efficiency rating (181.0) in that span. Maye trails Stroud (203.85) and Hooker (190.84) with a 184.84 rating on the season and is behind only Stroud’s 28 touchdown passes with 24 of his own.

Player and team are on a nice run, with North Carolina in the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal and a schedule that includes No. 10 Wake Forest and No. 24 NC State as the calendar flips to November. On track for a date with Clemson for the conference title, there’s a lot to like as Maye builds a case for the program’s first top-10 finish in voting since Julius Peppers was 10th in 2001.

SELL: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA

A matchup with Williams and No. 10 USC looms on Nov. 19, which keeps Thompson-Robinson relevant after suffering a loss at the hands of Nix and No. 10 Oregon.

That being said, while Nix rises and Williams remains in the top tier of contenders, the Bruins quarterback is going to be operating in the shadows over these next three games ahead of the date with the Trojans.

Luckily for him that slate, which starts Saturday vs. Stanford, with Arizona State and Arizona to follow, amounts to a run of defenses ranked 93rd (Cardinal), 96th (Sun Devils) and 118th (Wildcats) in total defense. It’s a chance for Thompson-Robinson to pad his stats, but the spotlight is not going to be nearly as bright after he lost the kind of game, he needs to help his case.

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