Collin Klein picked a fine time to have his best day.
The Kansas State senior quarterback threw for a career-high 323 yards and three touchdowns on 19 of 21 passing and punched in another four scores on the ground to lead the No. 4 Wildcats to a 55-14 pasting of No. 13 West Virginia.
The matchup in Morgantown was a chance for Heisman voters to compare Klein with Geno Smith, the Heisman front-runner coming into the weekend. What they saw out of Klein was a performance reminiscent of past winners like Tim Tebow and Cameron Newton, while Smith and the Mountaineers offense was impotent against the stingy K-State defense. Things couldn’t have gone better against a ranked foe on prime-time national television.
So where does the Heisman race stand after tonight?
It’s now Klein’s to lose.
While he doesn’t have the advantage of playing for a traditional Heisman power, he has captured the imagination of the college football world by leading K-State into national title contention. He’s done it without a star-studded supporting cast and by virtue of a unique style that combines linebacker toughness with Patton-like leadership, plus an ever-improving throwing touch.
Klein won’t win the trophy with his numbers alone. His Heisman chances will depend more on his team’s success than his individual production, although his game against WVU helped him approach the threshold of Heisman worthiness. Through seven games, he has 1,402 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions while rushing for 565 yards and 14 scores. This puts him on pace to have 2,400 passing yards and 17 touchdown passes plus 960 rushing yards and 24 touchdown rushes by the time the Heisman vote is due.
If he remains on or near that pace while guiding the Wildcats to an undefeated season, or a one-loss season in a year with no other undefeated team, he will become the third player in the last four seasons to win his school’s first Heisman.
What about Smith?
It was obviously another rough outing for the senior signal caller. He was 21 of 32 for 143 yards with one touchdown, but he threw his first two interceptions of the season, ending a remarkable run of more than six games without a pick.
The hyperactive analysis that counts for college football commentary these days will no doubt count Smith out of the race now, but that is a bit short-sighted. It’s worth noting that, despite two relatively poor games, he has 2,414 passing yards along with a still-crisp 26-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. That puts him on pace to have 4,138 passing yards and 45 touchdowns, with about three picks, when Heisman ballots are tallied. Upcoming games against TCU andOklahoma give him a chance to gain back ground that was lost to Klein these past two weeks. Remember that Robert Griffin III’s Baylor team lost three games last season, but it was wins over the Sooners and Texas that gave his effort legitimacy. Smith has the chance to do the same, though he’ll obviously have to find a way to snap out of the funk in which he and his team currently reside.
It wasn’t just Smith who struggled on Saturday. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller totaled just 160 yards of offense and one touchdown against Purdue before leaving with an undisclosed injury. As a result, it’s going to be very difficult for Miller to put together Heisman-worthy statistics, though his status as a quarterback for an undefeated (for now) traditional power will keep him in the conversation. There’s also a question as to how much the injury will affect him going forward.
Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel also stumbled in a 24-19 loss to LSU, illustrating why it’s so hard for freshmen to mount a serious Heisman campaign. He’s got a bright future, but unless he can come back in a few weeks and lead an upset of Alabama, he’s not going to make it to New York.
With the race in apparent flux, other candidates are being bandied about: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner are the names we hear most often, but these three are extreme long shots to actually win the Heisman (getting to New York as a finalist is another question).
We’ve still got five games to go. Klein is in the pole position, but don’t count Smith out yet. If the vote were held today, it would probably look like this:
But the vote isn’t being held today. We’ve got a lot of football to be played … and a few more twists and turns yet to go before the most prestigious award in sports is handed out in early December.