One by one, Collin Klein is knocking down the obstacles that stand between him and the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
A quality Texas Tech team was the latest victim to be disposed of, as Klein combined for 316 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a 55-21 rout of the Red Raiders.
With just four games left on the schedule, it’s getting harder to imagine Klein’s candidacy running into much trouble. None of the remaining opponents–Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas — seem to pose a serious threat to the Wildcats (at least on paper). Only the Horned Frogs have exhibited the kind of defensive prowess that could slow Klein down.
For Klein’s campaign to falter, K-State definitely needs to lose, but it would also require that he get completely shut down in the process. If K-State loses a game despite a valiant Klein effort, he’ll probably still have enough in the tank to win the Heisman, albeit in a close manner.
Here’s what his numbers are on pace to look like by the time Heisman votes are due:
2,448 passing yards, 960 rushing yards, 42 total touchdowns
I would not be surprised if he increases his pace a bit in the last few games and ends up with over 2,500 passing yards, 1,000 rushing yards and 45 total scores. These statistics, combined with his wins over ranked teams, plus the possibility that Kansas State may finish undefeated and in the BCS title hunt, will be enough to ensure a comfortable victory margin in Heisman voting.
What of the other candidates in the race? What has to happen for them to win?
Assuming Klein falters, who stands the best chance to step up into the frontrunner slot?
Consider Geno Smith. Assuming West Virginia’s defense remains a basket case, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to put up huge numbers in the next five games. If he can somehow right his team’s ship and the Mountaineers slip by TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, he’ll be a viable alternative should Klein mess up. He’s on pace to have 4,140 passing yards, 45 touchdown passes and just 3 interceptions, but West Virginia needs to finish no worse than 9-3 for him to have a shot.
There there is AJ McCarron . He’s had a fine season to date, but has yet to have that spectacular game in a big setting that so many voters love to see. This week’s matchup with LSU — and to a lesser extent the following week’s game with Texas A&M — gives him a chance to do just that. He has to show that he is the engine that drives his team rather than a complementary piece of a larger machine. At this point in the season, his passing numbers are on pace to be very similar to those of Cam Newton’s in 2010 — about 2,730 passing yards, 29 touchdown passes and a 182 passer rating. It’s just that he doesn’t have Newton’s 1,400 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns to go with it. Would Newton have won the Heisman with just his passing numbers? I seriously doubt it. McCarron will need to find something else to differentiate himself if he wants to challenge Klein. The magic bullet might be the big fat zero that currently resides in the interception column of his stat sheet.
Braxton Miller has those rushing numbers to go with some decent passing totals. He’s the only candidate in the race who plays for a traditional Heisman power, so he’s going to get some solid support if his team goes undefeated. He’s on pace for 2,040 passing yards, 1,452 rushing yards and 32 total touchdowns. These are intriguing numbers, but probably not superior to those of Klein, who also is on pace to accumulate 3,500 total yards, but is likely to account for a significantly higher scoring total. Miller needs to catch fire in his last three games, especially in the finale against Michigan, which will be played on the next-to-last weekend of the season. One other factor working against Miller is the existence of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who should siphon off votes from the Buckeye quarterback in the Midwest region of the Heisman vote (conversely, Miller will also hurt Te’o).
Outsides of Smith, McCarron and Miller, I don’t see any other candidate out there who can make a credible run at Klein in the remaining month of the season.
As I’ve discussed before, Te’o's status as a pure defender is kryptonite to his candidacy. I do think that his performance against Oklahoma will probably assure he makes it to New York as a finalist, but too many unlikely things would have to happen for him to actually have a chance to win.
Kenjon Barner’s schedule sets up nicely for a late-season run, but his chances are slim due to the fact that his team has been so dominant, he barely plays in the second halves of games. As a result, he just won’t have the kind of numbers needed to seriously challenge for the Heisman.
Johnny Manziel has an outside chance at a late run, but it depends on him leading an upset of Alabama on Nov. 10. I think any candidacy that has to depend on such a thing happening is probably not a serious one.
And so we are where we are: Klein has complete control of the race and, until further notice, he’s the overwhelming front runner.
On to the 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 ultimatelywin 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 combined for 316 yards and four touchdowns running and passing as Kansas State crushed a quality Texas Tech team. He seems to be getting better and better each week, which bodes well not only for his Heisman hopes, but also for his team’s chances at the national title. He’s the overwhelming front runner at this point.
2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia – Smith had a bye last week. He needs a huge game against TCU this weekend to give his candidacy some life after two straight losses. Another rough outing will put an end to his Heisman hopes, but a return to his early-season form might cause voters to take a second look.
3. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama – McCarron was his usual efficient self against Mississippi State, throwing for 208 yards and two touchdowns. This Saturday’s game against LSU gives him a chance to show that’s he’s more than just a game manager. If he leads the Tide to a win by doing more than handing the ball off, he’ll do his Heisman chances a lot of good.
4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – Miller came back from an injury suffered last week against Purdue to pass for 143 and rush for 134 in a hard-fought win over Penn State. He’s doing just enough to stick around the Heisman conversation, but it will take a brilliant last three games for him to get to New York as a finalist.