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The Countdown

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

The 2011 Heisman

P.S.R. Heisman Watch: Week 8

We’re still waiting for that moment, the single play that catapults a player from inside the Heisman conversation to the top of the heap. Name your play: Sam Bradford going high over the pylon against Oklahoma State; Eric Crouch catching a touchdown pass against Oklahoma; Desmond Howard’s touchdown return… the list goes on. We haven’t seen that yet, though it’s coming. I hope so, at least. Is Andrew Luck too mechanical — too Manning-like in his perfection — to give the Heisman voters such a moment? That may be the case, though his body of work should be enough. Could Kellen Moore ever have such a moment against Boise State’s weak remaining schedule? Probably not. Will a 90-yard touchdown pass against Michigan State be the play for Russell Wilson? I wonder. And now, This Date in Heisman History:

Oct. 19, 1974 Ohio State running back Archie Griffin became the most prolific running back in Big Ten history after rushing for 149 yards and a pair of scores in the Buckeyes’ 49-9 win over Indiana. The total gave Griffin 3,321 yards rushing for his career, topping the previous mark of 3,315 yards set by Purdue’s Otis Armstrong.

1. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford (Last week: No. 1)

Week 7 W 44-14 at Washington State (23 of 36 for 336 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT; 1 carry for 0 yards)
Year to date 128 of 181 for 1,719 yards, 18 TD, 3 INT; 13 carries for 60 yards, 1 TD

Did Luck break a sweat against Washington State? Nope. Wake me up when he does, alright? Waking up on Saturday and throwing for 300-plus yards and multiple scores has become so common that it’s now expected, which makes us overlook all that Luck is achieving over the first half of 2011. His 63.9 percent completion percentage against the Cougars was a season low, which says something. Luck’s 173.4 efficiency rating was his second-worst of the year, which also says something. What does it say? I don’t have to spell it out: it means Luck is doing some awful special things in leading Stanford to 6-0, and if he continues to excel against the meat of the Cardinal’s schedule I can’t think of any reason why he won’t cruise to a Heisman victory.

Next vs. Washington, Saturday

2. QB Kellen Moore, Boise State (Last week: No. 2)

Week 7 W 63-12 at Colorado State (26 of 30 for 338 yards, 4 TD)
Year to date 151 of 199 for 1,729 yards, 21 TD, 4 INT

Moore missed on only four attempts against Colorado, two in each half, to get the Broncos off to a rousing start to life in the Mountain West — though it may be a short stay, should the Broncos head to the Big East. Moore’s been outstanding over his last two games after putting together the worst passing performance of his career in Boise’s 30-10 win over Nevada on the first day of October. His game against Colorado State was even better than the show he put against Toledo last month: Moore set new season highs in completion percentage (86.7), yards per attempt (11.3) and efficiency rating (225.3), and his four touchdown passes was his second-most on the year, trailing only his five against the Rockets. So, to recap: new conference, same old story. With a win Saturday against Air Force, Moore will tie Colt McCoy for the most wins by a quarterback on the F.B.S. level. He’ll stand alone after the Broncos beat U.N.L.V. a week from Saturday.

Next vs. Air Force, Saturday

3. RB Trent Richardson, Alabama (Last week: No. 5)

Week 7 W 52-7 at Mississippi (17 carries for 183 yards, 4 TD; 2 receptions for 30 yards)
Year to date 132 carries for 912 yards, 15 TD; 15 receptions for 179 yards, 1 TD

I know it’s only Mississippi, but it’s clear that Richardson is picking up steam. He set a new season high with four touchdowns against the Rebels, set a new season high with 183 yards rushing, and did both despite, once again, landing less than 20 carries. Richardson is a horse; he can be a 25-carry back, if Alabama so chose. And the Crimson Tide will someday call on Richardson for 25, 30 carries — and that day will probably come on Nov. 5, when the Tide call his number again and again as a battering ram against the L.S.U. front seven. For now, it’s on Richardson to make a name for his Heisman candidacy against lesser foes with a diminished workload. He’s done just that.

Next vs. Tennessee, Saturday

4. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma (Last week: No. 3)

Week 7 W 47-17 at Kansas (29 of 48 for 363 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT)
Year to date 171 of 253 for 2,177 yards, 16 TD, 6 INT

You can’t really blame Jones for Saturday: the Sooners were playing Kansas, and it’s hard to make your mark when going against the worst defense in college football. Jones did his job, throwing for 363 yards and 3 scores, but this wasn’t a game tailor-made to boost a player’s candidacy. The rest of the year, however, is chock-full of such opportunities. There’s Texas Tech this coming Saturday — in prime time, though I’m not sure if it’ll be the national game or a regional affair. Then comes Kansas State, which gets Kansas this weekend and should be 7-0 when it hosts the Sooners to end October. Then A&M, then Baylor, and after a snoozer against Iowa State it’ll be Bedlam, and Jones has the good fortune of having the chance to make a final mark in the Heisman standings. Barring a loss, Jones is going to Manhattan.

Next vs. Texas Tech, Saturday

5. QB Russell Wilson, Wisconsin (Last week: No. 4)

Week 7 W 59-7 at Indiana (12 of 17 for 166 yards, 1 TD; 2 carries for 42 yards)
Year to date 95 of 128 for 1,557 yards, 14 TD, 1 INT; 24 carries for 182 yards, 2 TD

Wilson has attempted only four passes in the fourth quarter all season, which says two things: one, Wisconsin is really good; and two, Wisconsin hasn’t played too tough a schedule. That’ll change in short order, as the Badgers travel to Michigan State on Saturday in advance of games against Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State to end the regular season. Is that schedule all that tough? Nope. But it gets harder from here, and with the increased level of difficulty come chances for Wilson — like Jones — to make his mark. But if Wilson is one of four quarterbacks to end the regular season with a perfect record, joining Luck, Jones and Moore, is he the pick for the Heisman? I don’t think so. But he’s in the mix, obviously.

Next at Michigan State, Saturday

6. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (Last week: N/A)

Week 7 W 56-45 at Maryland (8 receptions for 105 yards, 2 TD; 1 carry for 33 yards; 5 KO returns for 207 yards, 1 TD)
Year to date 46 receptions for 728 yards, 8 TD; 20 carries for 127 yards; 11 KO returns for 338 yards, 1 TD

He’s really, really good. Watkins is the best player in the A.C.C., the most important on-field figure behind Clemson’s run to 7-0, and based both on his numbers and his impact deserves to be included in the Heisman conversation. And he’ll remain in the mix as long as he puts together games like the one he had on Saturday. Down 18 points in the third quarter, Clemson needed a spark; Watkins provided that spark. First he pulled in a 13-yard touchdown grab to make it 35-24. Then, later in the quarter, he pulled in a 15-yard score to make it 38-35. After Maryland scored midway through the fourth to retake the lead, 45-42, Watkins broke the Terrapins’ back with an 89-yard kickoff return. That gave the Tigers a 49-45 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. That’s some serious work right there. And alone, if Clemson was 4-3, it wouldn’t be enough. But the Tigers are the talk of the A.C.C., if not the country, and it’s time to give Watkins some love.

Next vs. North Carolina, Saturday

7. QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor (Last week: No. 9)

Week 7 L 55-28 at Texas A&M (28 of 40 for 430 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT; 12 carries for 15 yards)
Year to date 143 of 183 for 1,950 yards, 22 TD, 2 INT; 72 carries for 295 yards, 2 TD

Is it possible that Griffin III impressed more in defeat than he has yet to do in victory? No, not really. But with Denard Robinson falling off the board, Baylor’s star becomes the top quarterback on the board behind the undefeated quartet. It’s hard to lay any blame for the Bears’ loss to Texas A&M on Griffin III’s feet: he threw for a season-high 430 yards in helping Baylor draw within six points late in the third quarter. It was the Baylor defense that failed, not the offense, and Griffin III can’t be blamed for A&M’s offensive explosion. And this is where playing for Baylor helps. At Oklahoma, for instance, two losses through mid-October would leave Jones dead in the water. But this isn’t Oklahoma: it’s Baylor, and if the Bears end the year 9-3 — and if a Wilson or Moore loses a game or two — it’s entirely possible that Griffin III finishes in the top three of four in the final voting. I don’t think he can win, however.

Next at Texas A&M, Saturday

8. QB Keith Price, Washington (Last week: N/A)

Week 7 W 52-24 vs. Colorado (21 of 28 for 257 yards, 4 TD)
Year to date 118 of 170 for 1,466 yards, 21 TD, 4 INT

Folks talk about Luck and LaMichael James before mentioning Price. Folks talk about Luck, James, Matt Barkley, Nick Foles and Price’s own teammate, Chris Polk, before mentioning Washington’s quarterback. Why? Simply because he entered the year without any hype; if anything, Price entered 2011 as a question mark, seeing that he was replacing Jake Locker under center for the Huskies. It’s time to get on board with Price, who currently leads the Pac-12 and is tied for second nationally in touchdown passes with 21. The numbers aren’t everything, however. Despite battling through a knee injury against Nebraska, Washington’s lone loss on the year, Price has led the Huskies to a 5-1 start and national ranking in advance of Saturday’s huge game against Stanford. That game grants Price an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the nation’s best, Luck, in a game with conference and national title implications. If he plays well in leading the Huskies to a win, Price’s name is going to leap to the forefront.

Next at Stanford, Saturday

9. CB Tyrann Mathieu, L.S.U. (Last week: No. 8)

Week 7 W 38-7 at Tennessee (1 tackles))
Year to date 42 tackles (5 for loss), 1.5 sack, 3 INT, 4 FF, 3 FR

Tennessee’s Da’Rick Rogers didn’t get the better of Mathieu, making 3 receptions for 63 yards, but Mathieu was largely a non-factor on the defensive side of the ball in L.S.U.’s win on Saturday. We’re just used to more, that’s all. Mathieu made only a single tackle, though he did break up a pass and return a pair of punts for 22 yards. What does Mathieu need to do on a weekly basis to remain in the Heisman conversation? Well, I think we can all agree — barring some sort of miracle — that Mathieu is not going to take home the hardware. But he can continue to impress, especially against Alabama in two weeks, by continuing to play cornerback at such a high level in the nation’s premier conference.

Next vs. Auburn, Saturday

10. QB Case Keenum, Houston (Last week: No. 10)

Week 7 bye
Year to date 170 of 238 for 2,309 yards, 17 TD, 2 INT

Keenum is deadly at home, which doesn’t bode well for Marshall and Rice, Conference USA foes making trips to Houston over the next two weeks. Keenum also seems to be nearing his 2008-9 form, if Houston’s win over East Carolina two weeks ago is any indication. In that win, Keenum completed 30 of 37 attempts for 304 yards and 3 scores; while perhaps not deadly on the yardage, he looked in the zone. While it’s never safe to predict Houston to beat anyone — well, nearly anyone — all signs point towards the Cougars entering a huge conference game on Nov. 19 against S.M.U. undefeated. Keenum needs the Mustangs to similarly run the table to that point to give him a marquee opponent against which to show his stuff.

Next vs. Marshall, Saturday

Dropped out

QB Denard Robinson, Michigan (Last week: No. 6)
RB LaMichael James, Oregon
(Last week: No. 7)

Previous weeks

Week 7 list Andrew Luck, No. 1
Week 6 list Andrew Luck, No. 1
Week 5 list Andrew Luck, No. 1
Week 4 list Andrew Luck, No. 1
Week 3 list Andrew Luck, No. 1
Week 2 list Andrew Luck, No. 1
Preseason list Andrew Luck, No. 1

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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  1. Parker says:

    Hi Paul,

    Behind Keenum, Houston averages 604 yards per game so far.

    It’s early, but that pace is 2nd best ever. In the history of college football.

    Currently, the Run & Shoot Houston teams hold down the 1 & 2 spots in yards per game over the course of a season.

    625 per game in 1989
    587 per game in 1990

    Only a handful of other teams have ever managed 570+

    BYU – 584 in 1983
    Texas Tech – 583 in 2003
    USC – 580 in 2005
    Tulsa – 570 in 2008

    We’ll see how the 2nd half of the season goes for Keenum and the Coogs.


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