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ACC takes center stage with DJ Uiagalelei vs. Devin Leary


Two of the ACC’s top Heisman contenders square off as No. 5 Clemson faces No. 10 N.C. State. Plus, the players whose stock is rising and falling entering Week 5.

Raise your hand if you jumped off the DJ Uiagalelei bandwagon weeks ago.

It’s okay, you weren’t alone. But after season-opening struggles that mirrored the Clemson quarterback’s 2021 struggles, a funny thing happened on the way to turning the keys to the offense to heralded freshman Cade Klubnik. Uiagalelei has looked the part, and just in time for a showdown for two of the ACC’s Heisman Trophy contenders as the No. 5 Tigers host Devin Leary and 10th-ranked N.C. State.

“Hopefully, everybody can tear up all those articles you’ve written, or take some ownership for them at this point,” said Tigers coach Dabo Swinney.

The critics may be more tight-lipped, but they aren’t completely silenced.

Despite a career-high 371 yards and five touchdowns in last weekend’s come-from-behind double-overtime win over then-No. 21 Wake Forest, and nine touchdowns to one interception the past three games in helping keep the Tigers unbeaten, it’s not Uiagalelei that’s getting the best odds in the ACC for this trophy chase.

That would be the quarterback Uiagalelei just outdueled in the Demon Deacons’ Sam Hartman. Never mind that he sat out the season opener following a procedure to remove a blood clot in his subclavian vein, a death knell considering an eventual trophy recipient hasn’t missed a game since Florida State’s Charlie Ward in 1993. But there’s Hartman at +4000 (per BetMGM), while Uiagalelei is tied for 16th at +8000.

Uiagalelei isn’t alone in fighting for attention despite his team’s top-10 ranking, with Leary at +10000, tied for 22nd with the likes of Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke and West Virginia’s JT Daniels, whose teams have already lost twice.

To be fair, Uiagalelei and Leary’s season totals don’t jump off the page, as neither leads the ACC in any major passing category — Uiagalelei is 38th in FBS in passing yards (1,033) and 18th in touchdowns (10) to Leary’s 72nd (890) in yards and 29th in touchdowns (nine). But looking forward, Uiagalelei has a manageable schedule with one remaining ranked opponent — No. 23 Florida State on Oct. 15 — and can position himself as the poster boy of a clear College Football Playoff contender, and Leary will still get cracks at Hartman and Wake Forest on Nov. 5 and another ACC Heisman hopeful in North Carolina’s Drake Maye on Nov. 25.

Saturday is about jockeying for position, and Leary and Uiagalelei have our clear attention in what is just the 20th top-10 matchup in the 69 years of the ACC.

Before we dive into this week’s Stock Watch, here’s this voter’s updated virtual ballot where Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud is again at the top, but a shaky performance from USC’s Caleb Williams in a scare vs. Oregon State has Alabama’s Bryce Young making a move to the No. 2 spot.

1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
2. Bryce Young, Alabama
3. Caleb Williams, USC

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

BUY: Bryce Young, Alabama

C.J. Stroud has built a comfortable lead, both in the eyes of this voter and in sportsbooks, with odds that went from +250 to +150 after the Ohio State quarterback’s dismantling of Wisconsin.

Now it’s the latest member of the Heisman fraternity’s turn to make some noise with three straight ranked opponents, beginning Saturday at No. 20 Arkansas.

The Razorbacks rank 126th in pass defense, giving up 302.3 yards per game, which includes getting torched for 376 by South Carolina and 357 via FSC opponent Southwest Missouri State.

Granted, Arkansas did limit Texas A&M to 151 yards and one score through the air last weekend, but that came at the expense of the Aggies prioritizing the run game and ranking up 192 yards. The monster that is the Crimson Tide, who are sixth in total offense figures to overwhelm, with Young at the center of it all.

SELL: Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma

The combination of Dillion Gabriel and Jeff Lebby — his former quarterback coach and passing game coordinator at UCF — is working well from a numbers standpoint.

Gabriel has thrown for 1,089 yards and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions, making him the only Power 5 passer with double-digit scores to have not thrown a pick. He’s been very good, but the Heisman is about being transcendent, and those missing moments loomed large in last weekend’s loss to Kansas State. There were multiple misfires, including on a likely touchdown and a fourth-down throw to Drake Stoops.

Gabriel is still on the short list of contenders, but now he’s playing catch up, and won’t face another ranked opponent until Nov. 5 in No. 16 Baylor.

BUY: Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State

From one end of Bedlam to the other.

Spencer Sanders is responsible for 26 points a game, the most of any FBS player, is tied for fifth in FBS and third among Power 5 players with 342 yards of total offense per game, and now the Cowboys senior quarterback will look to put some personal frustrations aside vs. 16th-ranked Baylor.

Sanders threw seven interceptions against the Bears last year, including four in the Big 12 Championship Game, and managed one touchdown in those games. But this isn’t the same Baylor defense, which is susceptible to the pass, ranking 70th (225.8 yards per game), with numbers that are helped by matchups vs. Albany and Texas State. In games against BYU and Iowa State, the Bears have yielding 283.5 per.

This is a proving ground for Sanders, who is building steam with odds that are tied for eighth at +4000 and had a schedule with enough spotlight moments (Texas, No. 25 Kansas State and No. Oklahoma) to keep increasing his profile.

SELL: J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

This is as much about Blake Corum as it is J.J. McCarthy.

Corum erupted for 243 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 30 carries in last weekend’s win over Maryland, that coming after he had five scores in a rout of UConn. The junior leads the nation with nine touchdowns on an offense that’s second overall with 50 points per game.

The odds-makers are taking notice, with Corum going from +5000 to +4000, making him the top running back on the board, supplanting Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs and Texas’ Bijan Robinson at +6600.

While Corum has been on the rise, McCarthy’s odds fell from +2500 to +8000, which is 16th. He’s been steady, ranking third in pass efficiency (204.52), which is behind only TCU’s Max Duggan (216.03) and Stroud (207.54), but McCarthy is tied for 79th with five touchdown passes and is 94th in yards (693).

BUY: Michael Penix Jr., Washington

He was on the buy list a week ago, and Michael Penix Jr. is right back there again. The junior is leading the nation in passing yards (1,388), yards per game (347) and has been even better against Power 5 teams, racking up 353 yards per.

This week he’ll get a crack at UCLA, which is middling vs. the pass — 53rd in FBS, allowing 201.8 a game — and has played just one major-conference opponent in Colorado, which ranks 116th through the air.

Penix figures to keep rolling, with only one pass defense on the Pac-12 schedule ranked higher than 30th, and five at 51st or lower.

SELL: Bijan Robinson, Texas

At least you can still get the mustard.

Bijan Robinson is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games with five touchdowns on the ground, but his trophy case is slipping away.

No eventual winner has a September loss on their resume since Alabama’s Derrick Henry in 2015, let alone the two losses that Robinson has already suffered. The last player to have two Ls at this point was Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne in 1999, and he ended the season with the NCAA career rushing record, and sitting 4,883 yards behind Dayne, that’s a luxury Robinson isn’t likely to have.

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