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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 4

It’s not unprecedented for the eventual Heisman winner to lose at least one game during the regular season – in fact, recent history shows that it’s just as common for the winner to lose at least once than it is for him to run the table. Of the last 10 Heisman winners, not counting Reggie Bush, five have lost at least one game during the regular season: Eric Crouch lost once, Carson Palmer lost twice, Tim Tebow lost three times, Sam Bradford lost once and Robert Griffin III lost three times. So the door to the Heisman is far from closed to Matt Barkley, who was unable to lead U.S.C. past Stanford on Saturday night. But one difference between Barkley and the five quarterbacks listed above is that Barkley entered the season as the undisputed favorite; that might help, in a way, but it might also open up a path for one of his prime challengers – De’Anthony Thomas or Geno Smith, for example – to put a stranglehold on the top spot. One thing is clear: Barkley can’t lose again. Before tackling the list, another installment of This Date in Heisman History:

Sept. 20, 1997 Charles Woodson didn’t intercept a pass in Michigan’s 38-3 win over Baylor, though he likely would have, had the Bears actually thrown in his direction. Woodson simply made five tackles on defense while adding 2 grabs for 45 yards on offense, with another catch, a 34-yard would-be touchdown, negated by a false start.

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

Week 3 W 63-14 vs. Tennessee Tech (3 carries for 62 yards, 1 TD; 3 receptions for 73 yards, 1 TD; 4 punt returns for 87 yards, 21.8 per return)
Year to date 13 carries for 228 yards, 4 TD; 11 receptions 154 yards, 3 TD; 7 punt returns for 93 yards, 13.3 per return)

He’s the fastest man in football, according to Sports Illustrated. The proof is in the pudding: Thomas goes from zero to 60 faster than your Corolla; changes direction with less warning than a truck driver on I-95; breaks ankles with a Kathy Bates-like ferocity; embarrasses defenders like a mother on prom night. Through three weeks, he’s reached every expectation placed upon his plate back in August – with no one task bigger than making sure every touch counts, something Thomas did wonderfully during non-conference play. Anything else? Yeah, Thomas showed his game-breaking ability on punt returns. He’s the total package; he’s also the Heisman leader heading into conference play.

Next vs. Arizona, Saturday

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

Week 3 W 42-12 vs. James Madison (34 of 39 for 411 yards, 5 TD; 2 carries for 18 yards)
Year to date 66 of 75 for 734 yards, 9 TD; 10 carries for 83 yards, 1 TD

Blame Robert Griffin III for the proliferation of this factoid: Through two games, Smith has as many touchdown passes, nine, as incomplete passes. Through the first five weeks of 2011, Griffin had 20 incomplete passes against 18 touchdowns. Smith’s season is going down along familiar lines, with incredible numbers heaped upon incredible numbers, but his Heisman campaign differs from Griffin’s in one key regard: West Virginia is really, really good – like win-the-national-title good. But at the same time, Smith can’t rely on simple statistics to forward his cause. He needs to lead his team right into top two or three teams in the Big 12 to hang around the top group.

Next vs. Maryland, Saturday

3. RB Johnathan Franklin, U.C.L.A. (Last week: No. 3)

Week 3 W 37-6 vs. Houston (25 carries for 110 yards; 4 receptions for 58 yards)
Year to date 66 carries for 541 yards, 3 TD; 8 receptions for 121 yards, 1 TD)

Franklin still leads the F.B.S. in rushing, even if his totals came back down to Earth in Saturday’s win against Houston. Nevertheless, I find nothing nitpick-worthy from Franklin’s torrid start, unless I quibble over his inability to get into the end zone as a ball-carrier over the last two weeks. But consider two factors that stands firmly in Franklin’s corner: one, he’s been the engine behind U.C.L.A.’s unexpectedly hot start; and two, he’s made a huge move up the ladder while former frontrunners like Montee Ball, Marcus Lattimore and Le’Veon Ball have dropped out of the picture.

Next vs. Oregon State, Saturday

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

Week 3 W 52-0 vs. Wake Forest (15 of 24 for 176 yards, 2 TD; 8 carries for 48 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 42 of 59 for 525 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT; 13 carries for 86 yards, 1 TD

Manuel wasn’t perfect against Wake Forest, though neither was he needed: Florida State’s running game pounded the Demon Deacons to smithereens in a 52-0 win – and it should be said that Manuel did a very nice job moving the chains with his legs. As I’ve mentioned over the last few weeks, Manuel’s campaign isn’t built on jaw-dropping totals but by good-enough play that leads the Seminoles to an undefeated regular season. He controls his own fate, but Manuel’s candidacy does rest on his team’s ability to beat a team like Clemson, which visits Tallahassee on Saturday night.

Next vs. Clemson, Saturday

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

Week 3 W 35-21 vs. North Texas (15 of 20 for 230 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT; 11 carries for 85 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 43 of 59 for 609 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT; 46 carries for 210 yards, 4 TD

Heading into Saturday, Klein is completing 10.4 percent more of his attempts than Landry Jones and is averaging 2.9 more yards per attempt than Oklahoma’s senior quarterback. Hey, and the two meet on Saturday! As with Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, Klein’s improved production as a passer has lifted his play to a higher plane – and that’s saying something, seeing that Klein’s prowess as a runner already made him one of the most dangerous skill players in college football. If his strides hold true the rest of the way, it’s safe to say that Klein is going to be a Heisman finalist; you could also say that Kansas State is a B.C.S. bowl threat.

Next at Oklahoma, Saturday

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

Week 3 L 21-14 at Stanford (20 of 41 for 259 yards, 2 INT)
Year to date 66 of 109 for 818 yards, 10 TD, 3 INT

What has a better chance of occurring in 2012: Barkley winning the Heisman or U.S.C. reaching the B.C.S. title game? I’d say the former, since all Barkley really needs to do is erase the memory of Saturday’s loss – something he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do over the next two months. U.S.C., on the other hand, doesn’t control its own fate; the Trojans need help in the A.C.C., Big 12 and elsewhere to earn a date against Alabama or L.S.U. in January. Impossible? No, just not probable. But Barkley’s hiccup won’t doom him to irrelevancy in the Heisman race, especially if the Trojans’ offensive line gels during conference play.

Next vs. California, Saturday

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

Week 3 W 56-20 vs. Florida Atlantic (14 of 19 for 342 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT; 3 carries for 20 yards, 2 TD)
Year to date 51 of 80 for 842 yards, 8 TD, 2 INT

It’s only been three games, with one only game, Missouri, coming against a team with a pulse. Yet there’s something to be made of this item. In 2011, 28.6 percent of Murray’s completions traveled 15 or more yards; 12.7 percent traveled 30 or more yards. Through the first three games of 2012, 43.1 percent of Murray’s completions have traveled 15 or more yards while 23.5 percent have gone 30 or more yards. Part of this improvement is due to games against Buffalo and Florida Atlantic – and you’ll see these percentages tick down once the Bulldogs enter the heart of SEC play. But another part of Murray’s increased production is certainly due to his growth as a third-year starter, as it’s in a quarterback’s third year that every light in the building turns on. Murray is poised for a banner season.

Next vs. Vanderbilt, Saturday

8. RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (Last week: N/A)

Week 3 W 21-14 vs. U.S.C. (27 carries for 153 yards, 12 TD; 5 receptions for 60 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 67 carries for 338 yards, 3 TD; 10 receptions for 89 yards, 1 TD

Another year, another Stanford skill player in the Heisman mix. Unlike Andrew Luck, who entered his junior season atop the heap, Taylor didn’t earn national acclaim until last Saturday, when he carried the Cardinal to that touchdown win over the Trojans. What that victory did was point out Stanford’s true colors on offense – no longer quarterback-driven, the Cardinal are now smash and smash, with Taylor the standard-bearer behind the Cardinal’s offensive identity. It’s very likely that he ends the year with more than 1,500 yards and 15-plus touchdowns, totals that, in conjunction with a run towards a B.C.S. bowl, might be enough to earn Taylor an invite to Manhattan.

Next at Washington, Sept. 27

9. QB Teddy Bridgewater, L’ville (Last week: N/A)

Week 3 W 39-34 vs. North Carolina (23 of 28 for 279 yards, 3 TD)
Year to date 72 of 88 for 855 yards, 5 TD

Louisville is 5-0 when Bridgewater completes at least 70.0 percent of his attempts. If that continues to be the case, the Cardinals won’t lose a game all year. The progression has run far ahead of schedule: Bridgewater was an up-and-comer heading into his sophomore season – undisputedly the best quarterback in the Big East – but was he really going to be this good, this soon? It’s hard not to be impressed by his pitch-perfect play against Kentucky and Louisville, wins that sandwich a laugher over Southwest Missouri State. And it’s hard not to be excited about his potential over the next two years, due not only to Bridgewater’s own mammoth abilities but also the amount of youthful talent that Charlie Strong has accumulated on the offensive side of the ball.

Next at Florida International, Saturday

10. QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State (Last week: N/A)

Week 3 W 35-28 vs. California (16 of 30 for 249 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT; 12 carries for 75 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 48 of 78 for 611 yards, 7 TD, 2 INT; 56 carries for 377 yards, 5 TD

Miller has to offset a few negatives: he’s a sophomore; he’s still developing a well-rounded game, even if he’s done a far better job throwing the football than most expected he would; he’s due to have at least one awful game, befitting his lack of experience; and most of all, he’s starring at quarterback for a team currently serving under a one-year postseason ban. Try as I might, I can’t imagine a scenario where a team not eligible for the postseason puts forth a Heisman winner. To me, Miller’s ceiling is an invite to Manhattan – that’s certainly in range, however. Where Miller truly shines is in his ability to make at least one highlight-reel play every Saturday; he’s like Denard Robinson in this way, though Miller has already flashed an ability to throw the football with more consistency than his double in Ann Arbor.

Next vs. U.A.B., Saturday

Dropped out

RB Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (Last Week: No. 7)
RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin (Last Week: No. 9)
LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia (Last week: No. 10)

Previous Weeks

Week 3 list Matt Barkley, No. 1
Week 2 list Matt Barkley, No. 1
Preseason list Matt Barkley, No. 1

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  1. jtt says:

    It would be cool to see klein win the heisman this year.

  2. dnak says:

    Statistically there’s no much separating Braxton Miller and Denard Robinson as passers (Denard is 41 of 75 for 699 yards, 6 TD, 4 INT; 40 carries for 351 yards, 4 TD), and Braxton didn’t have to play Alabama.

  3. Dave says:

    The difference between Barkley and RG3 last year was that none of Baylor’s losses could be blamed on the latter. In contrast, you see USC’s coach calling out his quarterback’s decision-making in the wake of this past weekend’s loss. And sanctions or no sanctions, a few losses at USC is subpar, while a few losses at Baylor (in a VERY deep Big 12) is nothing short of spectacular. No statue for Barkley.

  4. jjncaa says:

    Unfortunately the next year will be the last for Bridgewater in Louisville, yeah, he’s that good. I’m happy that i’ve seen him in person, because Teddy is a future NFL star, exceptionally mature and has an awesome throwing mechanics

  5. dennis says:

    why isn’t A.J. McCarron on this list? He has a 196.6 QB rating!
    Comp 36/56, 64.3%, 607yds, 10.8ypp, 7 TD, 0 Int 196.6Rtg

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