With each passing week, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is tightening his stranglehold on the Heisman Trophy.
Coming into Saturday, Smith was leading the race primarily due to his other-worldly statistics. After Saturday, Smith could claim that those statistics weren’t just pretty numbers put up against lightweight competition–he could claim that they helped lead his team to a road win over the No. 11 team in the country.
The game against Texas was a major test for Smith, a way for voters to gauge his talent against a team with elite talent and tradition. By throwing for another four touchdown passes and no interceptions, he passed that test with flying colors. And if there’s one thing Heisman voters like, it’s a come-through performance in a victory over a highly-ranked team on national television.
Further boosting Smith’s Heisman hopes is the continued decimation of the field arrayed against him. This past weekend saw EJ Manuel of Florida State and Aaron Murray of Georgia both knocked out of contention due to losses suffered by both their teams.
As a result, we are down to four players left in the country with a legitimate chance to win the Heisman. But the three players chasing Smith have a long, long way to go. Indeed, if the vote for the trophy was held today, Smith would win in one of the greatest landslides in Heisman history.
Remember 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 in 2012.
Keep in mind that some players not listed here 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. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia – Smith was 25 of 35 for 268 yards and four touchdowns (with no interceptions) in a thrilling 48-45 road win over Texas. He proved to Heisman voters that he can flourish in a hostile environment against a team with defensive talent. It’s an accomplishment that should go a long way in winning over those voters who were skeptical about the defenses he had faced so far. He’s on pace to have 4,790 passing yards and 58 touchdown passes by the time the Heisman vote is due. His touchdown-to-interception ratio might be one of the more gaudy statistics of all time when it’s all said and done. Smith stands astride the Heisman world like a colossus and remains the overwhelming favorite to win the trophy.
2. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – With the season halfway over, a couple of the main impediments to Miller’s Heisman hopes — potential losses to Michigan State and Nebraska – have been removed from the equation. Miller was instrumental in leading Ohio State to wins over both those ranked teams and now the Buckeyes stand a very good chance of being 11-0 heading into their final game against Michigan. Miller has been a one-man band for OSU and he is on pace for very good numbers: 2,120 passing yards, 1,526 rushing yards and a combined 34 touchdowns. If Miller finishes strong and leads Ohio State to an undefeated season, then he is a lock to get to New York. He can actually win the Heisman, but he’ll need Smith to falter a couple times along the way for that to happen.
3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State – Klein continued to build his Heisman case with another strong performance this past Saturday. He’s an intriguing candidate, with much of his appeal deriving from his role as the MVP of an upstart national-title-contending team. His numbers aren’t spectacular, but they are solid enough to warrant appreciation from voters. He’s on pace for 2,140 passing yards, 984 rushing yards and 34 total touchdowns, so they aren’t too far off from Miller’s production. The big difference between him and Miller when it comes to this race is that, unlike Miller, he will get to go up against West Virginia in a huge head-to-head matchup of top five teams in a couple weeks. Klein has a chance to steal the Heisman spotlight from Smith that day.
4. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon – Thomas isn’t having the kind of season that normally leads to a Heisman-winning campaign. The most recent all-purpose types to win the award were also highly productive at their primary positions, while Thomas is…not so much. He is on pace to have 819 rushing yards, 43 receptions for 442 receiving yards, 520 return yards and 20 total touchdowns by the time the Heisman vote is due. These are nice numbers, but nowhere near enough to cause a significant amount of voters to put him atop their ballots. His one salvation is that he has the potential to go on a tear and rapidly increase these totals as the season wears on. He is also a couple spectacular plays against USC away from creating the kind of buzz that can lead to a late run at the award, as with Tyrann Mathieu last year. Thomas is a long shot at this point but, just like on the field, he has the ability make up ground in a hurry.