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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The 2012 Heisman

P.S.R. Heisman Watch: Week 2

This week’s moving and shaking has not impacted the top group: the four or five leading contenders remain in place, with little movement. But along the back end, opening-week showings from several under-the-radar skill players – not too far under the radar, to be honest – has led to a retooling of the second tier. Who knew that Taylor Martinez had that sort of arm? Who knew that Denard Robinson was going to lay such an egg? The latter question raises another interesting idea: What does Robinson need to do to leap back into the mix for the Heisman? It won’t be merely about numbers for Michigan’s senior, though that’s certainly part and parcel of any player’s candidacy – Robinson needs to cut down on interceptions, do more with his legs, score touchdowns, what have you. But Robinson also needs highlight-reel moments, the sort that could remind the voting public why he remains one of the most dangerous players in college football; beyond that, he needs wins. A run to Pasadena would put the bloom back on Robinson’s rose. Before getting to the list, another installment of This Date in Heisman History:

Sept. 5, 1992 Despite a tumultuous offseason – “injuries, indictments and Hurricane Andrew,” wrote The Associated Press – Miami (Fla.) kicked off its title defense with a 24-7 win over Iowa. The victory gave quarterback Gino Torretta, who completed 31 of 51 attempts for 433 yards and a pair of scores, a record of 16-0 as the Hurricanes’ starter.

1. QB Matt Barkley, U.S.C. (Last week: No. 1)

Week 1 W 49-10 vs. Hawaii (23 of 38 for 372 yards, 4 TD)
Year to date 23 of 38 for 372 yards, 4 TD

Here’s a scary thought: U.S.C. might have scored 49 points on Hawaii, gaining 475 yards and racking up 20 first downs along the way, but the Trojans were far from satisfied. “Bittersweet,” Barkley called his offense’s performance. Speaking of wide receiver Marqise Lee, who scored on a 75-yard catch-and-run grab on the game’s first play, Lane Kiffin said, “our expectations are higher than how he played today.” Could the Trojans’ offense be just scratching the surface of its potential? Barkley could be better, believe it or not: he completed 60.5 percent of his attempts, his second-lowest percentage since the start of the 2011 season – though the receiver corps did drop a few passes, to be fair. Like all great teams, great quarterbacks are never satisfied. Here’s guessing that U.S.C. comes out with a cleaner performance against Syracuse. Then again, can Barkley and this offense really get any better?

Next vs. Syracuse (in East Rutherford, N.J.), Saturday

2. RB De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon (Last week: No. 3)

Week 1 W 57-34 vs. Arkansas State (3 carries for 64 yards, 1 TD; 4 receptions for 55 yards, 2 TD)
Year to date 3 carries for 64 yards, 1 TD; 4 receptions for 55 yards, 2 TD

Fun with extrapolation: If Thomas lands the same number of offensive touches as he did a year ago, he’s on pace for 18 touchdowns on the ground and another 21 through the air. And you know what? Those numbers don’t sound that crazy. Thomas could have scored eight touchdowns on Saturday night had Chip Kelly’s foot remained firmly on the gas pedal; instead, players like Thomas, Kenjon Barner and quarterback Marcus Mariota – who was awesome, by the way – did not sniff the field in the second half. Thomas’ last touch, a 33-yard touchdown run, came with 11:08 left in the second quarter. I spoke last week of the importance of Thomas making every catch, carry and return count; through one week, he’s clearly making the most of every opportunity. And yes, there is no more electric player in college football.

Next vs. Fresno State, Saturday

3. RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin (Last week: No. 2)

Week 1 W 26-21 vs. Northern Iowa (32 carries for 120 yards, 1 TD; 3 receptions for 31 yards)
Year to date 32 carries for 120 yards, 1 TD; 3 receptions for 31 yards

Disclaimer: I have not seen Wisconsin’s narrow win over Northern Iowa – I should make that point. But based on what Wisconsin’s beat reporters and those who watched the Badgers’ slog to a 26-21 victory have noted over the last three days, the personnel and coaching changes had and will have an impact on this offense for at least another game, if not through the rest of non-conference play. What impact will this have on Ball? For now, you have to think that the change at quarterback, the few new faces up front and the handful of new assistant coaches will have a negative impact on his numbers – and when it comes to Ball, 120 yards and a touchdown is an average performance. Look for the offense to gel in time for Big Ten play, however, and it’s during conference action that Ball will truly make his case.

Next at Oregon State, Saturday

4. RB Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (Last week: N/A)

Week 1 W 17-13 vs. Boise State (44 carries for 210 yards, 2 TD; 6 receptions for 55 yards)
Year to date 44 carries for 210 yards, 2 TD; 6 receptions for 55 yards

There was no bigger performance from the opening weekend than Bell’s transcendent, carry-my-team-victory game against Boise State: 44 carries for 210 yards, another 55 yards through the air and the Spartans’ only touchdowns. Just like that, Bell climbs well ahead of Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead – partly due to injury – and just behind Ball for the top spot coming out of the Big Ten. Seeing that Bell already has one sterling performance under his belt, the key to his Heisman campaign will be to carry this level of production into games against Notre Dame and Ohio State before the end of September. As we know, Heisman runs can be made in 60 minutes; they can be torn down with equal speed. At least Bell will have several chances at making another splash: the Irish, the Buckeyes, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska, the latter three back-to-back-to-back in October and November.

Next at Central Michigan, Saturday

5. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia (Last week: N/A)

Week 1 W 69-34 vs. Marshall (32 of 36 for 323 yards, 4 TD; 8 carries for 55 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 32 of 36 for 323 yards, 4 TD; 8 carries for 55 yards, 1 TD

Let’s do the math. Smith was 32 of 42 in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. He threw for 407 yards. Had six touchdowns. Rushed for another 26 yards and a score. West Virginia kicked off against Marshall. Smith completed 32 of 36 attempts. Had 323 yards through the air. Four touchdowns. Added 65 yards and a score on the ground. Carry the one… Over his last 120 minutes of football, Smith is 64 of 78 for 730 yards and 10 touchdowns; he has another 91 yards and 2 scores running the football. In summation, Smith is as hot as any player in college football. He’s playing so well that you’d almost want West Virginia to get back after it this Saturday rather than waiting until Sept. 15 to play James Madison. Of course, Smith showed no rust after taking an eight-month break between Clemson and Marshall.

Next vs. James Madison, Sept. 15

6. QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State (Last week: No. 4)

Week 1 W 69-3 vs. Murray State (16 of 22 for 188 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 5 carries for 38 yards)
Year to date 16 of 22 for 188 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 5 carries for 38 yards

As with his team, E.J. Manuel is not going to get his name in lights when going up against the likes of Murray State and Savannah State, the Seminoles’ first two opponents. (This is doubly true with Savannah State, which suffered an 84-point loss to Oklahoma State in the opener.) As a result, Manuel will spend the first two weeks of this season in a holding pattern – in a way, due to the level of competition, Manuel is in a lose-lose situation. Play well, complete every pass, lead the offense to 69 points? Well, look at who Florida State is playing. Scuffle, struggle? That hurts Manuel, obviously. All the senior can do is tread water for another week in advance of the Seminoles’ A.C.C. opener against Wake Forest on Sept. 15. A week later, it’s Clemson. Seeing that Manuel’s numbers will pale when compared to Smith’s and Barkley’s, he needs to lead F.S.U. to wins against conference competition — the Seminoles cannot afford a loss, and neither can Manuel.

Next vs. Savannah State, Saturday

7. RB Marcus Lattimore, S. Carol. (Last week: No. 6)

Week 1 W 17-13 at Vanderbilt (23 carries for 110 yards, 2 TD; 3 receptions for 21 yards)
Year to date 23 carries for 110 yards, 2 TD; 3 receptions for 21 yards

The preseason list went up after South Carolina’s opener against Vanderbilt, so there’s not much more to add about Lattimore’s debut after last season’s knee injury. How did he look? Great, in my mind. He fumbled early, though it wasn’t fatal, and showed no lingering side effects during his first touchdown run – planting on his rebuilt left knee and zooming into the hole for a 29-yard score. One thing to look for against East Carolina: Lattimore might look like his old self, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of freshman Mike Davis and senior Kenny Miles, who combined for two carries against Vanderbilt. This is contingent on the Gamecocks taking care of business against the Pirates, which might not be as safe a bet as one might have assumed back in August.

Next vs. East Carolina, Saturday

8. QB Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (Last week: N/A)

Week 1 W 49-20 vs. Southern Mississippi (26 of 34 for 354 yards, 5 TD; 6 carries for 10 yards)
Year to date 26 of 34 for 354 yards, 5 TD; 6 carries for 10 yards

The most complete offensive performance of the Bo Pelini era was a byproduct of Martinez’s newfound acumen as a passer. How unexpected was his 324-yard, 5-touchdown game against Southern Mississippi? All I’d heard all summer was that the junior looked like a different player; better mechanics, rebuilt motion, rejuvenated confidence. But it’s one thing to hear this positive feedback, and quite another to see it manifested between the white lines against one of the better teams in Conference USA – I know that Southern Mississippi isn’t Alabama, or even U.C.L.A., but Martinez should be praised for putting in the work needed to become a more complete player. If this continues – and if Burkhead returns from injury – Nebraska’s offense could be outstanding. One thing you didn’t see from Martinez is an ability to throw under pressure, though that reflects well on Nebraska’s offensive line. Rest assured: Jim Mora and U.C.L.A. will throw the kitchen sink at Martinez on Saturday.

Next at U.C.L.A., Saturday

9. QB Aaron Murray, Georgia (Last week: No. 5)

Week 1 W 45-23 vs. Buffalo (15 of 26 for 258 yards, 3 TD)
Year to date 15 of 26 for 258 yards, 3 TD

That Murray dropped a few pegs from his spot on the preseason list isn’t necessarily a reflection on his or his team’s performance against Buffalo – though Murray wasn’t perfect, and neither was Georgia. But while Murray and the Bulldogs had some down periods against the Bulls, quarterbacks like Smith and Martinez were lighting up the scoreboard. For Murray, like Manuel, slow and steady will win the race; in this case, place heavy emphasis on steady. Like his counterpart in Tallahassee, Murray does need to lead his team to a wildly successful regular season – not necessarily an undefeated season, but at least to double-digit wins and the SEC East title. Murray can let Smith, Martinez and others win the battle; when it comes to wins and losses, however, he needs to win the war.

Next at Missouri, Saturday

10. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State (Last week: No. 8)

Week 1 W 51-9 vs. Missouri State (19 of 28 for 169 yards, 2 TD; 13 carries for 54 yards)
Year to date 19 of 28 for 169 yards, 2 TD; 13 carries for 54 yards

Unlike his team, Klein did most of his damage over the first three quarters against Missouri State, not over the final 15 minutes. Kansas State’s 35-point final quarter included one Klein touchdown pass, but the lion’s share of production came from running back John Hubert, Wildcat quarterback Daniel Sams and return man Tramaine Thompson. And all of that means nothing. One game doesn’t alter the fact that Klein means more to his team than any quarterback in the country – because while U.S.C. wouldn’t win a national title without Barkley, the Wildcats wouldn’t even sniff teams like Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia without Klein under center. With Miami (Fla.) up next and Oklahoma coming fast, look for Klein to return to the forefront of Kansas State’s offense in short order.

Next vs. Miami (Fla.), Saturday

Dropped out

QB Denard Robinson, Michigan (Last week: No. 7)
QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma (Last week: No. 9)
RB Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (Last week: No. 10)

Previous Weeks

Preseason list Matt Barkley, No. 1

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  1. Woodysc says:

    RB A has 435 career carries for 2125 yards and 29 TDs.
    RB B has 435 career carries for 2586 yards and 25 TDs.

    So that’s 4.9 yards per carry for RB A and 5.9 yards per carry for RB B.

    In his first game this year RB A gets 110 yards on 23 carries (4.8 yrd per carry avg) for 2 tds while RB B rushes for 231 yards on 26 carries (8.9 yrd per carry avg) and 0 tds.

    Both RBs faced SEC defenses.

    RB A is a Heisman candidate but RB B isn’t?

  2. Mark says:

    You mean Andre, the Duke of Ellington? Good point …

  3. Raz says:

    Honestly after watching the tape of Barkley’s throws I came away completely unimpressed. He was making inaccurate throws, had bad timing, and made questionable decisions. The numbers don’t tell the whole story on that game. I do think that he will take that game and improve for Syracuse (as you said) but in no way would I even rank him in the top 3 based purely on that performance. The numbers don’t usually lie but in this case they do and that was probably because of the competition. The WR play, while at times great, had drops that hurt him as well.

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