On the heels of a loss to Oregon and a sloppy win against Tulsa, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud’s play was described as a point of concern for a team that had scuffled out of the gate.
Two months later, Stroud may very well be the player to beat for the Heisman as the race coalesces around three quarterbacks: Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett,
Stroud threw for 432 yards and six touchdowns and no turnovers as Ohio State obliterated Michigan State and sent the Spartans hurtling out of the College Football Playoff race. The Buckeyes now get to set to face Michigan in one of the great rivalries in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Alabama also has its big rivalry, the Iron Bowl against Auburn, but the Crimson Tide won’t draw the same eyeballs or attention taking on a 6-5 team slumping toward the finish line of the regular season.
Pittsburgh ends the regular season against Syracuse before facing off against Wake Forest, North Carolina State or Clemson in the ACC championship game.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Picks, bold predictions led by Ohio State-Michigan showdown
With two weeks left until the postseason, these are top quarterbacks in the country:
1. Bryce Young, Alabama
Lost in the background of Stroud’s six-touchdown game, Young carried Alabama past an upset bid by Arkansas with an absurd stat line: 31 of 40 (77.5%) for 559 yards (14.0 yards per attempt) with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. If OSU had flopped against the Spartans, is there any doubt that Young would be the talk of college football? In his last two games, the redshirt freshman has 10 touchdowns and 11 incompletions.
2. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Stroud’s showing against Michigan State should go down alongside the great games by a quarterback in program history. That will be largely forgotten should OSU slip up against Michigan, however. Something similar in a win against the Wolverines would give Stroud a clear lead in the Heisman race heading into conference championships.
3. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Pickett is now sitting at 36 touchdowns after throwing another four in the Panthers’ 48-38 win against Virginia. When it comes to his Heisman chances, the two huge factors in his corner are his production, which has him drawing comparisons to Dan Marino, and the fact that Pittsburgh is finally in the ACC championship game after years of close calls under coach Pat Narduzzi.
4. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Ridder scored as a passer, runner and receiver as the Bearcats beat SMU 48-14, giving him some style points as the Heisman race nears a close. If outside the top three at this point, the senior could end up a finalist with a strong finish against ECU and Houston should Pickett or Stroud stumble in these last two weeks.
5. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Corral announced late last week that this would be his last season with the Rebels. Then he had one of his best games in weeks in a 31-17 win against Vanderbilt, hitting on more than 70% of his throws with multiple touchdowns for the first time since the win over Tulane on Sept. 18. Ole Miss has won six of seven and can lock down a New Year’s Six bid by winning the Egg Bowl on Friday.
6. Will Rogers, Mississippi State
To no surprise, Rogers was on point as Mississippi State rolled over Tennessee State: 28 completions in 34 attempts, 391 yards and five touchdowns. Against the Football Championship Subdivision opponent, Rogers averaged a season-best 11.5 yards per throw. He leads the nation in completion percentage (76.1) and is second in the SEC to Young in touchdowns (34).
7. Malik Cunningham, Louisville
There have been uneven moments, including in the opener against Ole Miss and most recently in an ugly loss to North Carolina State. But Cunningham has been on fire in these past two weeks as Louisville has routed Syracuse and Duke, completing a combined 31 of 43 attempts for 512 yards and nine touchdowns without a pick. He added 224 rushing yards and two scores on the ground in the 62-22 win against Blue Devils.
8. Carson Strong, Nevada
Close losses to San Diego State (23-21) and Air Force (41-39) have dropped Nevada out of contention in the Mountain West. But Strong keeps on slinging, with another 351 yards and four touchdowns against the Falcons, giving him 3,898 yards and 32 scores on the season — good for fourth and seventh in the FBS, respectively.
9. Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
After missing the Cavaliers’ loss to Notre Dame, Armstrong returned against Pittsburgh and threw for 487 yards and three scores. That leaves him with 4,044 passing yards with two games to go, so barring injury, he’s due to break the single-season ACC record for yards in a season set by Clemson’s Deshaun Watson in 2016 (4,593).
10. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
Zappe leads the country in yards (4,640) and touchdowns (48) for a team that has won six straight and is one more victory away from clinching a spot in the Conference USA championship game. The Houston Baptist transfer has thrown for fewer than 365 yards just once and had at least three touchdowns in every game.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football QB rankings: C.J. Stroud, in QB group for Heisman