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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 3

The SEC rules the roost – Monday’s post touting the Big 12 notwithstanding. Beyond the national titles, the SEC has also staked a claim to the Heisman since 2007, when Tim Tebow was the league’s first of three Heisman winners in four years. So… what can’t the SEC do? While it’s going to be hard for a team to take out Alabama or L.S.U. in January, it seems – through two weeks, to be fair – that the SEC will not put forth a leading Heisman contender in 2012. For now, fringe and true-blooded candidates like Aaron Murray, Jarvis Jones, Eddie Lacy, Tyler Bray and Tyler Wilson stand removed from the Heisman’s upper crust. The good news? These players will have ample opportunities to state their case in October and November, when SEC opponents butt heads for conference supremacy. For a player like Murray and Jones, solid showings against Missouri are one thing; doing the same against Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina will make voters really stand up and take notice. Before getting to the list, another installment of This Date in Heisman History:

Sept. 12, 1970 Jim Plunkett and Stanford put the rest of the country on notice: we’re for real. In the season opener, the Cardinal – then known as the Indians – knocked off No. 4 Arkansas, 34-28, in Little Rock, behind Plunkett’s 262 yards passing. Another reason this game was noteworthy? It was the first game played on Astroturf at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

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

Week 2 W 42-29 vs. Syracuse (23 of 30 for 187 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT)
Year to date 46 of 68 for 559 yards, 10 TD, 1 INT

The rain and weather delays during Saturday’s game against Syracuse hampered U.S.C.’s offense nearly throughout, though Barkley still tossed six touchdown passes, tying a previous career high. But the remarks Barkley and Lane Kiffin made following the season-opening win over Hawaii still ring true: U.S.C. has yet to find its true rhythm on offense. And yes, this should be a somewhat scary scenario for a team like Stanford, which hosts the Trojans on Saturday – the offense is searching for some momentum yet Barkley has still tossed 10 touchdowns through two weeks? What can U.S.C. achieve once the entire offense starts working in concert? Be scared: U.S.C. can only get better. The date with the Cardinal is Barkley’s first game against premier competition; another six touchdowns on Saturday would place him even more firmly in the driver’s seat heading into October.

Next at Stanford, Saturday

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

Week 2 W 42-25 vs. Fresno State (7 carries for 102 yards, 2 TD; 4 receptions for 26 yards)
Year to date 10 carries for 166 yards, 3 TD; 8 receptions for 81 yards, 2 TD

Believe me: the games aren’t really as close as the scores make them out to be. And again, believe me: Thomas is unbelievable. He scored twice in the first half against Fresno State, once from 39 yards out and another time from 51 yards, giving the Ducks a 35-3 lead midway late in the second quarter. While both Thomas and Oregon took it easy over the game’s 30 minutes, it’s obvious that this offense is as dynamic as any in college football – and it’s obvious that Thomas is the big-play engine behind the Ducks’ prolific attack. What can he do over the next few weeks? I’d like to see Thomas do more on punt returns, where he’s been ineffective thus far. I also think that Thomas can be a bigger threat as a receiver, though it’s obvious that his highlight-reel moments will come primarily through the running game. Through two weeks, Thomas has lived up to every expectation. As has Oregon, but that’s neither here nor there.

Next vs. Tennessee Tech, Saturday

3. RB Johnathan Franklin, U.C.L.A. (Last week: N/A)

Week 2 W 36-30 vs. Nebraska (26 carries for 215 yards; 3 receptions for 59 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 41 carries for 431 yards, 3 TD; 4 receptions for 63 yards, 1 TD

Through two weeks, Franklin has been the best running back in college football. He’s the only back with more than 19 carries averaging more than 9.9 yards per carry – Franklin’s averaging 10.5 yards per 41 carries, which is jaw-dropping. He’s one of six backs with a 200-yard game against F.B.S. competition; he’s the only back with two 200-yard games. His performance against Nebraska was absolutely outstanding: Franklin gashed the Cornhuskers’ slow, plodding defense again and again, eventually wearing down a once-proud unit with a long rumble late in the fourth quarter. And while U.C.L.A. has regained its footing, Franklin is no flash in the pan. He’s led the Bruins in rushing in each of his first three years, cracking the 1,000-yard mark as a sophomore, so Franklin, like the rest of his team, might have merely needed a slight push in the right direction from the new staff. The bottom line? Franklin’s been awesome.

Next vs. Houston, Saturday

4. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia (Last week: No. 5)

Week 2 bye
Year to date 32 of 36 for 323 yards, 4 TD; 8 carries for 55 yards, 1 TD

Smith and West Virginia expect a game against James Madison to “be a bigger test than what we faced a week ago,” when they faced off against Marshall. Don’t buy into that talk – that’s Dana Holgorsen tweaking the Mountaineers’ in-state rival. What West Virginia should expect, however, is an easy-breezy cruise against an F.C.S. opponent. For Smith, it should be 30 minutes of completions, touchdowns and yardage in bunches, padding an already impressive stat line: Smith was nearly perfect against the Thundering Herd. While this game won’t provide the Mountaineers with much of a test, it could give this team, and Smith, a jolt of national coverage: W.V.U. meets James Madison at FedEx Field, home of the Redskins, which could lead to a nice spot in Sunday’s Washington Post. The article will be found between five pieces on Robert Griffin III. Yes, I’m running out of things to say about Smith.

Next vs. James Madison, Saturday

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

Week 2 W 55-0 vs. Savannah State (11 of 13 for 161 yards, 3 TD)
Year to date 27 of 39 for 349 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT; 5 carries for 38 yards

It was a win all around for Florida State. For starters, it was, you know, a win. Then there was the fact that no one got injured. And both teams opted to use a running clock. Then the game was called early – win, win, win and win. And then there was the fact that Manuel did his job, carving up Savannah State’s overmatched defense before taking a back seat with the rest of his starting teammates. What else can you ask for? Well, you could ask for a date with West Virginia, which could have given Manuel’s candidacy a major, major boost. But all things considered, there were no negatives to take away from the Seminoles’ victory over the woeful Tigers. For Manuel, the rubber meets the road starting on Saturday: Wake Forest comes to town, followed by Clemson, followed by South Florida and N.C. State on the road. Manuel’s Heisman hopes are in full swing should F.S.U. come out unscathed on the other side.

Next vs. Wake Forest, Saturday

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

Week 2 W 51-13 vs. Miami (9 of 11 for 210 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 22 carries for 71 yards, 3 TD)
Year to date 28 of 39 for 379 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT; 35 carries for 125 yards, 3 TD

My word, did Klein break Miami’s back on Saturday. I was reminded of the final scene from “The Crucible”: more weight. And more. And more. And more, and more – Klein and the rest of this offense had Al Golden and the Hurricanes scrambling for the reset button early in the first quarter. What’s been striking thus far hasn’t been Klein’s punishing running style, seeing that the senior’s legs carried the Wildcats to last year’s 10-win finish. Instead, the surprise has come from Klein’s improved production as a passer, even if his delivery remains as herky-jerky as ever. Like a slingshot, Klein reared back, tensed and fired against Miami, hitting on 9 of 11 attempts for 210 yards – hitting on gains of 30, 44 and 58 yards, among others. You knew that Klein was going to wear opponents down with his feet. If he can continue slinging the ball with this level of production, the Wildcats are going to be very difficult to handle.

Next vs. North Texas, Saturday

7. RB Le’Veon Bell, Michigan St. (Last week: No. 4)

Week 2 W 41-7 at Central Michigan (18 carries for 71 yards, 2 TD; 1 reception for 0 yards)
Year to date 62 carries for 281 yards, 4 TD; 7 receptions for 55 yards

Bell got a much-deserved breather on Saturday, when Michigan State dismantled Central Michigan without breaking a sweat. His Heisman campaign reenters the spotlight on Saturday night, when the Spartans play host to Notre Dame under the lights. What does Bell need? He certainly doesn’t need to put together another epic performance like the one that carried his team to a win over Boise State in the opener, but Bell likely must crack the 100-yard mark against the Irish to maintain his spot among the nation’s Heisman-worthy running backs. And a win would help as well, I should add. Now, would greater production from Andrew Maxwell help or hurt Bell? On one hand, a stouter passing game would take some touches away from Bell, hurting his bottom line. But a more balanced offense would help Michigan State claim the Big Ten title, which would be huge for Bell’s Heisman chances. It’s an interesting conundrum to consider.

Next vs. Notre Dame, Saturday

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

Week 2 W 41-20 at Missouri (22 of 35 for 242 yards, 3 TD,1 INT)
Year to date 37 of 61 for 500 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT

It was 10-9 at halftime. Georgia, and Murray in particular, owned the second half against Missouri. This is becoming a bit of a theme for Murray, who has been uneven in the first half of the Bulldogs’ first two games but outstanding in the second – and terrific in the third quarter. Against Buffalo and the Tigers, Murray is a combined 16 of 30 for 241 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception over the game’s first 30 minutes; in the second half, he’s a combined 21 of 31 for 259 yards and 4 scores without a pick. In the third quarter, Murray is 17 of 23 for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns. It’s more than just games that are won in the second half – it’s in the second half that a player enters the brightest spotlight, and it’s in the second half that Murray has twice delivered for his team. For now, there’s no other player from the SEC with his case for the Heisman. And should he keep leading the Bulldogs to victory, Murray’s case, due to the fact that he plays in the SEC, might be even stronger than Smith’s or Manuel’s.

Next vs. Florida Atlantic, Saturday

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

Week 2 L 10-7 at Oregon State (15 carries for 61 yards; 4 receptions for 18 yards)
Year to date 47 carries for 181 yards, 1 TD; 7 receptions for 49 yards

Ball’s in trouble, as is his team. The offensive line is such a mess that Bret Bielema fired his first-year assistant, Mike Markuson, after the Badgers dropped an ugly 10-7 decision at Oregon State. Danny O’Brien has not hit the ground running in a Russell Wilson-like style, though it should be added that few quarterbacks in F.B.S. history have matched the level at which Wilson performed during his senior season. While the concussion he suffered against the Beavers isn’t season-threatening, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis could miss this week’s game against Utah State. While Ball’s junior season was one of the ages, it’s not ridiculous to say that his production stemmed in large part from two factors: Wilson’s superb play and the offensive line. Without those assets in his corner, you may see more average production from the all-American. Remember that he’s set an extremely high standard; Ball now needs to live up to his billing.

Next vs. Utah State, Saturday

10. LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia (Last week: N/A)

Week 2 W 41-20 at Missouri (10 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks; 1 forced fumble; 1 INT; 5 quarterback hurries)
Year to date 17 tackles (4.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks; 1 forced fumble; 1 INT; 11 quarterback hurries

Yeah, Jones had himself a game against Missouri. And it’s only upon a second viewing that you truly comprehend just what Jones did to the Tigers – because not only did he disrupt countless plays, whether as an edge rusher, against the run or in coverage, but Jones also forced the Tigers to manipulate their offensive philosophy in an effort to lessen Jones’ impact. That didn’t work so well for Missouri, did it? It’s obvious that through two weeks, no one defensive player has been as impactful as Jones was on Saturday night. Of course, for a defensive player to win the Heisman he must be a game-changer every week, not just in one specific game. So for Jones, it’ll be a matter of being his all-American self from Saturday to Saturday to Saturday – never stopping, not once. He’s off to a blindingly effective start.

Next vs. Florida Atlantic, Saturday

Dropped out

RB Marcus Lattimore, S. Carolina (Last Week: No. 7)
QB Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (Last week: No. 8)

Previous Weeks

Week 2 list Matt Barkley, No. 1
Preseason list Matt Barkley, No. 1

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  1. Andrew says:

    Paul, he has been mostly ineffective as punt returns because teams have been avoiding kicking to him like the plague, even worse than cliff harris a few years back.

    However you are right, I would like to see him do a little more with the few he does get.

  2. GTWrek says:

    Notre Dame is joining the ACC.

    11 of 15 schools ranked in the top 58 of the US News and World report rankings. Very proud of my conference and wouldn’t trade it for any other conference out there.

  3. Heismomba says:

    So you know, teams have been doing all they can to avoid kicking to De’Anthony… so it’s hard for him to do anything if they won’t kick to him.

  4. southwvboy says:

    GTwrek, are you being sarcastic? BCS wins: WVU 3 ACC 2. And why are you bringing this up in this article?

    Back on topic. I have been a USC hater for many years, Kirk Jerkstreet would make you gag when he would call their games, their last two coaches are major aholes and well that dang fight song is redundant. OK the last one is petty but you get my point. With all of that said if Geno doesn’t win the Heisman this year I would enjoy seeing Barkley win it. He’s just a super kid that represents what’s good about the CFB world and you don’t get it jammed down your throat like you did Tebow.

    I also wouldn’t mind seeing Thomas win it either. He plays the same type of roll of those guys back in the 80′s and 90′s like Tim Brown, Rocket, and Desmond Howard. I’m by far not a ND supporter but enjoyed watching Tim Brown and those guys effect a game in more ways then you can count. If not for Geno getting all the pub out of Morgantown, Tavon Austin would be in the mix.

    Bell really really needed this ND game later in the season. A big game would get him more attention but that memory will fade by November. But a big game Saturday, a solid season from then on and a dominating performance in the B1G title game could be the recipe to land him the bronze stiff arm.

    Even though Geno will put up stupid numbers I think the voters will play the “system” card and realize that Tavon gains 70% of his yards from passes that doesn’t cross the line of scrimmage. WVU has to go undefeated for Geno to win it and even though I drink the WVU cool-aid that probably isn’t going to happen.

    E.J. is E.J. and you know he and FSU are going to Clemson this season up some point.

  5. Matt Rob says:

    Hey kids,

    Robert Griffin III stat of the week:

    Geno Smith currently has as many touchdown passes as incompletions. If you throw in his rushing touchdown he as more touchdowns than incompletions.

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