Another week, another twist in this year’s quest for the Heisman.
Kansas State’s Collin Klein took full advantage of his team’s matchup with West Virginia this past Saturday, running and throwing for seven touchdowns to wrench control of the race away from Geno Smith. Klein’s status as a productive senior quarterback on an upstart team challenging for the national title means the trophy is now his to lose.
It’s not just that Klein has played well, it’s that most of the field arrayed against him has either stumbled, or hasn’t achieved the kind of production normally associated with winning the Heisman.
Smith has now had two sub-par games in a row and his team has been kicked to the outer regions of the polls. Despite what many think, he’s still in the race, but he has to finish strong and knock off Oklahoma along the way. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller struggled against Purdue before getting hurt and, as a result, his candidacy is starting to lag.
AJ McCarron’s numbers are looking better each week, but his team has yet to depend on him to win a game and he hasn’t really distinguished himself from the Tide’s other successful game manager-type quarterbacks under Nick Saban.
Let’s do a thought exercise. Let’s imagine that each of the players I’ve mentioned finish out the season at their current statistical pace. Let’s also imagine that each of their teams win out. Here’s what that would look like:
Collin Klein – 2,400 passing yards, 70% completion percentage, 17 TD passes, 3 interceptions, 948 rushing yards, 24 TD rushes, 176.08 rating; 12-0 team record.
Geno Smith – 4,140 passing yards, 74% completion percentage, 45 TD passes, 3 interceptions, 172.04 rating; 10-2 team record.
AJ McCarron – 2,743 passing yards, 69% completion percentage, 30 TD passes, 0 interceptions, 183.63 rating; 13-0 team record.
Braxton Miller – 2,076 passing yards, 59% completion percentage, 17 TD passes, 8 interceptions, 138.30 rating, 1,440 rushing yards, 15 TD rushes; 12-0 team record.
The numbers you see are a decent–though not perfect–representation of what the maximum potential for each candidacy might look like at this point. They are all, on the surface, Heisman worthy statistics. It’s certainly possible that one or more of the players above will improve their current statistical pace, but I doubt it would be enough of an improvement to make an appreciable difference in the race.
What’s likely to happen is that some or all of these players will stray from their current productivity paths as the season winds down (for instance, I believe it’s highly unlikely that McCarron will finish the season without an interception). This dropoff will leave some players in a stronger position in the race when compared to the other candidates. Those falling behind will be eliminated from contention accordingly.
When most things are equal between two or three players–statistics, wins, etc.–voters will look for other factors. How well did he play against ranked teams? Has he lifted his team to never-before-seen heights? Is his style of play fun to watch? What is his future pro potential? What does he mean to his program?
Right now, Klein has the edge in many of those categories. The winner of the trophy is usually the player who best captures the spirit of a given season. Klein’s dramatic transformation from a clunky 2010 sophomore to a confident and proficient 2012 senior parallels the way his team has improved from being barely bowl eligible in 2010 to challenging for the BCS title in 2012.
So, on to this week’s Heisman Watch. Remember that the goal of this 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. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State – Klein’s exploded for seven touchdowns against West Virginia to move into the top spot on this week’s Watch. Underpinning his candidacy is good production, solid name recognition, wins against ranked teams on television and overall team success. The schedule from here on out looks favorable and all eyes will be looking his way to see if he can keep it going. The trophy is his to lose.
2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia – Smith has been in a bit of a funk these past two weeks, but he can easily crawl back into contention if his next five games look more like his first five. Remember that Baylor’s three losses last year didn’t prevent Robert Griffin III from winning the Heisman. As long as Smith’s season-ending numbers are impressive and West Virginia doesn’t completely collapse, he’s got a shot.
3. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama – McCarron has a chance to go down as the best single-season passer in Alabama history. He currently leads the nation in passing efficiency and he maintains a clean 16-to-0 touchdown to interception ratio. With the meat of the schedule approaching and games against three ranked teams on tap, he has a chance to show he’s a legitimate candidate. A huge game against LSU in two weeks could be the spark he needs.
4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – Miller got hurt against Purdue and missed out on a chance to lead the Buckeyes to a dramatic comeback win. His production has tapered off a bit and he’ll need to pick up the pace in the next couple weeks or risk dropping out of contention. With few high-profile games left on the schedule, he has the make the most of his opportunies. This could prove difficult if his injury lingers.