It’s a low-key slate of Heisman games this week. Barring something out-of-whack happening — wait, this is college football, so something out-of-whack always happens — I don’t expect too much movement in the Heisman race after this weekend. Nonetheless, here are the games that should have the most bearing on the campaign. If you are a Heisman fan or a Heisman voter, you’ll want to keep an eye on them.
No. 8 Stanford at Washington – Here’s a golden opportunity for Stepfan Taylor to make a big move in the Heisman race. He’s on the periphery of the field right now, but the Thursday night matchup means all eyes will be on him. Piling up another 150-plus yards after a similar effort against USC will give him a huge boost with the voters. More important, it could go a long way toward establishing him as the only legit running back candidate in a race dominated by quarterbacks. Of course, a poor outing probably will end whatever prospects Stanford has of sending a player to the Heisman ceremony for the fourth straight year.
No. 25 Baylor at No. 9 West Virginia – This is an ideal situation for Geno Smith. He’s got a ranked team coming to Morgantown, which makes this the most compelling matchup of the early Saturday time slot. Hence, a lot of voters likely are to be watching as these two offensive juggernauts duke it out. Baylor’s defense is suspect (as is WVU’s) and I expect Smith to put up huge numbers in an entertaining shootout. As long as the Mountaineers come out on top, he’s a safe bet to remain the Heisman front-runner.
No. 14 Ohio State at No. 20 Michigan State – If Braxton Miller is to challenge for the Heisman this year, he needs to have a big game in East Lansing. This could be a tall order against the tough Sparty defense. Miller dropped off a bit last week against UAB, and the Buckeyes struggled. It really appears that, as Miller goes, so goes Ohio State. Another 300 yards of total offense and four total touchdowns in a win should get him back into the conversation. A rough performance in either a win or a loss would further diminish his fading Heisman hopes. Also, keep an eye on Le’Veon Bell. If he cranks out another 200-yard game, he could creep back into contention.
No. 4 Florida State at South Florida – On the surface, this game shouldn’t matter much, but I want to see how EJ Manuel does as a follow-up to his performance against Clemson last week. Things are different now, as FSU is being talked up as a title contender and Manuel is being rightfully touted as a Heisman candidate. So there’s some added pressure. Can he handle it? I did make an attempt to talk to Manuel this week as part of my usual Q&A series with the various candidates, but my request was not granted. If Manuel looks masterful against the Bulls, then we can surmise that his state of mind is in the right place. If he struggles, maybe it’s an indication that he’s distracted by the spotlight, which would put his long-term Heisman prospects in doubt.
No. 12 Texas at Oklahoma State – One of the mysteries of the early season is Texas. Are the Longhorns for real? There’s not much buzz coming out of Austin, and I suspect that Texas likes flying under the radar for now. While the Cowboys are not what they were last year, I’m curious to see if David Ash can maintain his hot start to the season. Another high-level game from him would help confirm his growth as a quarterback and bode well for his longshot candidacy, especially with games against West Virginia and Oklahoma coming up.
No. 2 Oregon at Washington State – De’Anthony Thomas came back down to earth a bit last week against Arizona. The Ducks scored 49, but amazingly, Thomas accounted for none of those points. Good production against WSU should be in order. Thomas needs a multiple touchdown game — with some highlight reel plays thrown in — to get back on track.
HEISMAN GAME OF THE WEEK
Tennessee at No. 5 Georgia – I’ve maintained for a while that Aaron Murray has serious Heisman potential, which is why I have him third on my current Heisman Watch. He just hasn’t had the chance to show off that potential this season since the Bulldogs haven’t really been challenged. The CBS Game of the Week against the Volunteers on Saturday gives him the perfect setting to jump into the race with both feet. Murray’s numbers have been good so far, and another stellar outing should give him some buzz heading into next week’s huge showdown at South Carolina (which could make or break his Heisman hopes). However, a letdown or a look-ahead against Tennessee would be devastating to Georgia’s national title quest and would likely extinguish whatever shot Murray has of making a run at the trophy.