COLLEGE PARK, Md. — As Ohio State set forth on its final drive of the first half with 50 points well within reach, Curtis Samuel’s day came to an end.
But not before the Buckeyes’ H-back managed to re-enter the Heisman Trophy conversation.
A week after Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh touted Wilton Speight’s Heisman worthiness following a 362-yard, three-touchdown (total) showing in a mauling of Maryland, Samuel made arguably an even louder statement in Ohio State’s takedown of the Terrapins. Totaling 123 yards (74 receiving, 38 rushing, 11 on punt returns) and scoring three touchdowns on 11 touches, Samuel put together one of his most complete performances of the 2016 season in the Buckeyes’ 62-3 victory.
And he did it all before halftime.
Make no mistake, when it comes to the actual winner, the Heisman race is all but wrapped up. At this point, it’s hard to imagine any player unseating the current front-runner, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Entering Saturday night’s game with Wake Forest, the Cardinals’ signal-caller has totaled 4,593 yards and 45 touchdowns.
But when it comes to who will join Jackson as a finalist in New York on Dec. 10, the field remains wide open. On Twitter, Heisman voter — and host of a show on Cleveland’s WKRK-FM — Beau Bishop explained the surge in Samuel’s Heisman hopes.
Bishop makes a convincing case.
When it comes to numbers, Samuel certainly belongs in the Heisman conversation. After Saturday’s showing, he has 1,393 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns. There also may not be a more versatile player in all of college football. With 750 receiving and 637 rushing yards to his credit, Samuel is the only player in the country to tally 500-plus yards both on the ground and catching the ball this season.
After Saturday, Samuel is on pace to reach 900 receiving, 764 rushing and 1,671 total yards through 12 games. That’s before taking into account a potential Ohio State appearance in the Big Ten title game. Yes, Michigan State, and especially Michigan, will be much improved competition these next two weeks. But keep in mind that on Saturday, Samuel didn’t even play for an entire half.
Speaking of which, Bishop’s second point may be his most important.
Barring any hiccups from the Buckeyes and/or Wolverines in the next two weeks, the Big Ten East title will be on the line when the two rivals meet in Columbus on Nov. 26. With both teams still very much a part of the playoff picture, the potential top-five matchup should be one of the most-watched games of the 2016 college football season. It should also serve as a heckuva platform for Samuel to strengthen his Heisman push — especially with Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers lining up across the field.
That brings us to Bishop’s third point and, fair or unfair, Heisman voting does tend to be geographical. So while Jackson may break Troy Smith’s record for widest margin of victory in the Heisman race, voters will likely fill the rest of their ballots with players they’ve watched on a consistent basis.
Hence, the belief that the Midwest will have its own representative in New York on the second Saturday of December. Right now, Peppers would seem to be the front-runner, with Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett — 300 total yards, four touchdowns on Saturday — perhaps not far behind.
But with the opportunities he has ahead, Samuel might want to start looking at flights for the Big Apple.
The Heisman buzz is building — and it may not be long before it reaches a fever pitch.