So close, yet so far
A hundred years ago, college football teams spent Saturdays playing against all manners of opponents, including men's clubs and high school teams. That, of course, was when they had more than one or two games on the schedule at all.
The 2012 season is a little more new-school. No longer is the game record going to show up in black and white, but in high definition. No longer are student-athletes of average height, and weight, wrestling each other to the ground in leather helmets without facemasks.
Nowadays, these teenage and twenty-something behemoths launch themselves into each other at full speed for a chance for a win in 12 regular season games, not simply a handful. Championships are on the line, as is superstardom and the opportunity to earn the sport's most coveted individual prize: the Heisman Trophy.
Thus, because the college football season is no longer drawing to a close after a few weeks, or even eight or nine contests, we here at Gamedayr have compiled a Heisman Watch List from the perspective of the fan.
Who has impressed? Who has fallen off? Most importantly, who will go down in the annals of college football history and become a small part of the century-old culture of the sport?
Tumbling: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Have you been taking notes, boys and girls? If you ever find yourself stumbling butt-backwards into a race for the Heisman Trophy, don’t play like Smith has over the last two weeks. This dude was a lock for the award, handed to the nation’s greatest college football player each year. However, like pigs to a slaughter, Smith has led his team to two weeks of abysmal football. One can only assume opposing defenses are not vegetarians. After being upset in Lubbock by Texas Tech, 49-14, the Mountaineers hosted Kansas State in a nationally televised Big 12 showdown. More to the point, another Heisman frontrunner, Collin Klein, was coming to town. How did Smith fare? How about his first interceptions of the season in a 55-14 embarrassment to the football gods? Plenty more on Mr. Klein later.
Slipping (nearly out of sight): Stefphon Jefferson, RB, Nevada
The push to get this small-school wunderkind to New York took a massive hit on Saturday when his Wolf Pack lost to San Diego State in overtime. Jefferson did manage to crack 100 yards, but he needed 32 carries to reach the mark. It must be nice to remain atop the national rankings with 1,248 rushing yards, but he no longer holds that distinction for touchdowns. His fifteen now sits at No. 2-overall, but the important mark here is wins and losses. For a guy like Sir Jefferson to break the mold and earn the trip to Broadway, he has to carry a team to at least a nearly unblemished record. Bummer.
Slipping: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The magic bus that has been Johnny Football’s redshirt freshman season – not to mention his program’s first as a member of the SEC – sustained a flat tire on Saturday when the Aggies suffered a home loss at the hands of conference heavyweights LSU. Manziel tossed three interceptions and averaged a mere 1.6 yards per rushing attempt. He looked like a freshman for the first time all season, an unfortunate occurrence for both his team’s SEC standing and his own Heisman chances.
Slipping: De’Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
The Ducks have long been known for their speedy playmakers, and its 2012 roster probably boasts two of the best (more on that later, Gamedayrs). Every single time Thomas get his hands on the football, he is a threat to pull a Vinny Chase and become a superstar. That said, all season long his touches have been far lower than expected, and teammate Kenjon Barner was the star of the show last Thursday on national television. This little playmaker is going to have to dominate far more than his 12 rushing attempts for 25 yards dictates if he has any prayer of taking that all-expenses-paid trip to the Big Apple.
Dark Horse Candidate: Beau Blankenship, RB, Ohio
His Bobcats were off this weekend, giving this 7-0 program two weeks to prepare for a dumpster fire of a Miami of Ohio football team. Well, that might be a bit harsh for Ben Roethlisberger’s alma mater, but if Beau can take care of business, he will be well over 1,000 yards (he is sitting at 951 currently) and the class of the Mid-American Conference will be sitting pretty at 8-0. An undefeated season and 1,500 rushing yards? That makes a Heisman candidacy in our books.
Dark Horse Candidate: LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State
One more week, one more win for the Bulldogs, and this time it was in convincing fashion: 45-3 over a Middle Tennessee program that had been 4-2 heading into the contest. Mr. Perkins had 20 carries for 125 yards and a solid 6.3 yard per carry average. Perkins the restaurant has crazy tasty muffins and hangover food, but should Mr. Perkins and Co. find a way to upset powerhouse No. 1 Alabama next weekend, he might just be dining on far finer food in New York City.
Dark Horse Candidate: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Three weeks ago, Murray went through a storm of sorts. He was just 11-for-31 for 109 yards and zero touchdowns in the Bulldogs' blowout loss at South Carolina. That night, his house was vandalized and he found out his dad has cancer. Terrible chain of events to say the least.
Given a week off to bounce back from the insults piled on top of the metaphorical injuries, Murray responded with his best game of the season against a Kentucky team that has not quit on coach Joker Phillips just yet. Murray completed 30 of 38 passing attempts for a whopping 427 yards and four touchdowns. He now sits at nearly 2,000 yards passing on the season with 16 touchdowns. Far more importantly, his team has a chance to knock off undefeated Florida in the World's Largest Cocktail Party over the weekend and earn a spot in Atlanta as SEC East Champions.
Making a push: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
The nation’s only returning Heisman finalist from 2011 has finally rushed himself back into the running, just as his team has slowly begun to right the ship. The Badgers’ early-season 10-7 loss to Oregon State looked like a total disaster at the time, but with the Beavers now sitting pretty at No. 7 in the BCS polls, it is looking like Wisco was only a play or two away from taking down one of the top teams in the nation on the road. Ball himself is fourth in the nation in rushing yards with 982. At this point last season, he had managed only 853 and he has missed time this season due to injury. He may break the nation’s all-time touchdown record. Mad-town takes on Michigan State on Saturday. Big numbers will equal a big push for Ball’s resuscitated Heisman campaign.
Making a (massive) push: Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders of Lubbock have been known for running crazy-stupid, video game offensive schemes for years now, and Doege is the most recent to benefit from college football’s latest incarnation of the Fun ‘n’ Gun. In fact, when all is said and done, Doege may prove to have been the best to ever come through the program. Tossing seven touchdowns in a triple overtime road win over a ranked TCU program will earn you that type of gridiron cred, one would suppose. You may not have any idea how to say his name (Doh-gee? Doj? Do-ee-gee??) but he has tossed 13 touchdown passes in his last two games – both wins against ranked teams – and has moved into the nation’s lead with 28 thrown on the year. Talk about a massive push, TTU heads into Manhattan, Kansas to take on undefeated Kansas State next weekend. Should Doege outperform Heisman favorite Collin Klein, expect to hear his name in the more well-known Manhattan soon enough.
Making a (massive) push: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
In the Ducks’ Week 2 home game against Fresno State, Barner was a burner, going off for 201 yards on 34 carries. Since he was way out on the West Coast, however, no one was paying any attention. He failed to break 100 yards in the two games after, falling off whatever Heisman watch lists he may have been on. All this man has done since is enter ‘beast mode’, shredding defensive fronts and breaking the 100-yard plateau in three consecutive weeks. He averaged 8.9 yards per carry in Oregon’s thrashing of Arizona State on national television, and if fans see more of the same going forward, expect Barner to blow the roof off of Broadway.
Heading to New York? Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
All Te’o does is bash his way into the opposition's backfield and smash his way into the hearts of the Irish faithful. Manti is the heart and soul of a defensive unit that is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in points allowed. Te’o and Co. are only giving up 9.4 points per contest and in its win over BYU on Saturday, the unit only gave up 66 rushing yards on the day. More to the point, Notre Dame’s defense has yet to allow a rushing touchdown all season. Te’o himself finished with 10 tackles, his fifth time reaching double digits in seven games thus far and also hauled in his fourth interception on the season. This Hawaiian knows how to beach hard and ball hard.
Heading to New York? Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Miller’s candidacy took a slight hit on Saturday when he took a hit so big against Purdue that he was knocked out of the football game entirely. At the time, his Buckeyes were down to a putrid Boilermakers squad and had to be led all the way back to an overtime win by backup Kenny Guiton. If Miller is forced to miss an extended period of time, he will be spending December in Ohio, not NYC. Unfortunately, health and an entire season to compile stats and – most importantly – wins is a qualification for the Trophy. No fan wants to see someone go down the way he did, and here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.
Heading to New York? AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
Even a month or so into this very season, McCarron had been perceived by many both outside and within Tide Nation as simply a game manager, as opposed to a game changer. Well, it is looking like AJ is no longer content taking the ‘slow and steady’ approach to his Heisman campaign. Yes, he is the leader and signal caller for the team that is looking like the class of the nation. No, he has not thrown an interception all season. All that being said, he outplayed Tennessee’s Tyler Bray (seen as probably the most talented pure pocket passer in the SEC) on his way to a career-high 306 passing yards, four touchdowns and, again, zero picks. This dude is showing the nation that Bama is not all about rushing the ball and defense – although that is indeed what wins championships.
New king of the mountain: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
In a weekend littered with big games, big names and big final scores, no player or score stood out more brightly that the 55-14 final margin of victory for Kansas State and its Heisman frontrunning quarterback, Mr. Klein. The biggest knock on Klein had been his lack of massive/eye popping/video game numbers. However, after completing 19 out of 21 passes (that’s a crazy high completion percentage of 90.5 for all you math majors out there), throwing three touchdown passes and running for four others, Klein put up the type of numbers expected of Trophy winners in this day and age. More to the point, he did not account for seven total touchdowns against the Kentucky's or Kansas' of the world, but he did so on the national stage and in a showdown with fellow Heisman leader, West Virginia’s Geno Smith. The Wildcats jumped Oregon and are now sitting pretty at No. 3 in the BCS Polls, which is entirely due to the blood, sweat and tears of their quarterback and emotional leader.
Information and statistics sourced from ESPN.com.
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