Week two of the college football season is in the books, and we’re beginning to get a little more data to help us figure out where the Heisman Trophy race stands.
Fate has not been kind to the prospects of two of our preseason favorites. Both Denard Robinson and Montee Ballhave stumbled to the point where they are now longshot candidates. Their fall has opened the door for a few wild cards who have emerged in the early going.
Nonetheless, USC’s Matt Barkley remains the strong leader in the race. With 10 touchdown passes already, he’s on pace to have a statistically superior season for a traditional power challenging for a national title. There is no better combination to have when it comes to winning the Heisman.
Keep in mind that the goal of this Heisman Watch is not just to track who is playing well from week to week. This is not a college football version of Kasey Casem’s top 40. The goal here is to figure out who will ultimately win the trophy. We take a long view of the race, factoring in not only individual performance, but also schedule, team success and the historical voting trends of the Heisman electorate.
These are the players who currently stand the best chance of actually winning the Heisman Trophy. Keep in mind that some players not on this list will undoubtedly finish in the top 10 of the final Heisman voting. That’s all well and good, but this Watch does not exist to gauge their prospects.
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC – While Barkley didn’t throw for a lot of yards against Syracuse, he did tie his school record with six touchdown passes. Through two games, he has thrown 10 TDs against just one interception. At this rate, he’d have 65 touchdown passes by the time the Heisman vote is due. No, I don’t expect him to maintain this torrid pace, but his numbers are likely to be seen as more than Heisman worthy when all is said and done. This week’s game againstStanford gives him a chance to peform well against a ranked opponent. Barring an upset or a string of subpar performances, he’s a lock to get to New York and remains a strong favorite to win the Heisman.
2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia – Smith and West Virginia were off this past weekend, but his prospects still improved thanks to Montee Ball’s struggles. This week’s opponent, James Madison, won’t offer much resistance, and Smith is likely to continue to pad his numbers. The real test for his candidacy will come in October with games againstTexas and Kansas State. His best shot at overtaking Barkley is to be clearly better season statistically while his team makes a BCS bowl.
3. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia – No one is talking about Murray’s Heisman prospects right now, and his teammateJarvis Jones is getting more Heisman love, but the longer the Bulldogs remain undefeated, the more that’s going to change. Murray is off to a good start so far, with 500 passing yards and six touchdowns in his first two games. The schedule sets up well, and the Bulldogs should be favored the rest of the way. If Murray continues to play at this level and his team exits October unblemished, then a trip to the SEC title game is all but assured. An SEC quarterback with more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns on an unbeaten team gunning for a national title is going to go to New York as a Heisman finalist.
4. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon – Thomas continues to wow the college football world with his highlight-reel performances. He has touched the ball just 21 times this season but has already scored five touchdowns. His touchdown-to-touches ratio and his penchant for the spectacular will serve as the prime hooks for his candidacy. The date with USC on Nov. 3 will ultimately decide his Heisman fate. If he plays a big part in a Ducks win over the Trojans, he’ll supersede Barkley as the Pac-12′s top candidate.
5. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State – As with Murray’s chances, Manuel’s hopes rest in his team remaining undefeated and in the hunt for a BCS title game berth. As long as Manuel backs up his team’s success with good production, he stands a chance to challenge for the Heisman. He has done well against two ultra-cupcakes, but the schedule will soon toughen up. The game with Clemson on Sept. 22 could serve as a springboard for his Heisman hopes — or might be the reason he is removed from this list.
6. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State – Bell followed up his 210-yard rushing game in week one with just 70 yards against Central Michigan, but major production wasn’t really needed in a game where MSU cruised to an easy win. He still maintains a 140-yards-per game average heading into this week’s matchup with Notre Dame, which will be the first test of his candidacy. If MSU beats the Irish and Bell has another 100-yard effort, he’ll move up on this list.
7. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson – Boyd is off to a solid start with 437 yards and four touchdowns, but his numbers should get a boost this week with the return of Sammie Watkins to the Clemson arsenal. If he can lead the Tigers by FSU in a couple weeks and then go on a tear to finish out the season, he’s got a chance be in the Heisman conversation in late November.
8. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – Miller is the most intriguing name on this list. He has rushed for 302 yards and passed for 362 so far and he leads the Big Ten in total offense with 332 yards per game. He appears to be on his way to a special season and he may do it despite not having much of a supporting cast around him. Games againstMichigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan give him a chance to play well against (potentially) ranked opponents, but the main question is how the NCAA probation will affect his candidacy. He’ll have to win the Heisman in 12 games, while others might play 13. If he keeps improving and ends up with a 2,500/1,500-type season and 50 total touchdowns, then it may not matter much.
9. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee – Bray is off to a good start with 643 yards and six touchdowns in his first two games. He is a real talent who should put up good numbers this season, but to jump into the Heisman race he’ll have to elevate his team into contention for the SEC East title. This week’s matchup with Florida is his first test and a Sept. 29 trip to Georgia is his second. If he passes both tests with flying colors, he’ll head into the late October game againstAlabama with a chance to shake up the Heisman race.
10. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State – Klein was brilliant against Miami, running and passing for 281 yards while totaling four touchdowns. It’s highly unlikely that Kansas State is going to go undefeated, so that means Klein will have to produce a stand-out statistical season in order to be seriously considered for the Heisman. Throwing for 25 touchdowns and rushing for 25 touchdowns, while leading his team to at least 10 wins, just might do the trick.
Others to watch: Landry Jones, Oklahoma; Taylor Martinez, Nebraska; Denard Robinson, Michigan; Montee Ball, Wisconsin; Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA; Marqise Lee, WR, USC; Kenjon Barner, Oregon.