When the market decides to self-correct, it can sometimes be pretty harsh about it. Geno Smith is the Horse Race leader? Oh yeah? Let's see what happens after he turns in an iffy performance, a bad performance and a really bad performance. Braxton Miller is second? Okay, he's going to perform poorly then get hurt against Purdue. Johnny Manziel is an up-and-comer? Are you still saying that after three picks against LSU?
The Horse Race concept has been an interesting one thus far. First of all, it shows us how powerful the overall narrative is. Eight weeks into the season, Geno Smith has still had more good weeks than pretty much anybody else in the country. But after three iffy performances, he finds himself still in the Horse Race lead ... and basically eliminated from contention by everybody with a vote or a website. Smith's transition from "sure thing" to "no way" has opened the door for ... somebody. It appears we aren't sure yet. Last week's darling (Manziel) only played at an okay level in his marquee game versus LSU. This week's new favorite is a quarterback who has played at a truly elite (statistical) level just once but has been consistently strong. We do know for sure, however, that Week 8 was one of corrections. Three strong quarterbacks who had not yet made a Top 10 finished 1-2-3 last week, and nobody who had amassed any sort of strong point total found the Top 10. The more the merrier in this suddenly tight, odd race.
1. Collin Klein, Kansas State
The idea behind the Heisman Horse Race was to track who "won the week," so to speak, and weight each week evenly. That has done Klein no favors. If the Heisman were awarded to the most valuable player in the country, he would be an absolute no-brainer pick, with perhaps only Georgia's Jarvis Jones giving him chase. But before Week 8, he was not producing eye-popping, Heisman-level stats on a week to week basis. In his first six games of the season, Klein averaged 179 passing yards and 85 rushing yards per game. That adds up to a lovely 2,000/1,000 season, but it never jumps off of the page. Klein was pretty consistently pulling in Honorable Mention status in the Horse Race posts but never making it into the Top 10. Meanwhile, with Geno Smith faltering and Kansas State continuing to win, he became the default No. 1 or No. 2 guy according to conventional wisdom. Klein is simultaneously the best game manager you'll ever see (he is in complete control at all times, it seems) and a terribly underrated (even by me) athlete, but can you actually win the Heisman without ever having some sort of breakout performance? Even if your team goes undefeated, can you take the big trophy by averaging seven yards per pass and falling forward on every third-and-3? And even if, statistically, Braxton Miller was posting better stats, also on an undefeated team? Klein and the building hype were single-handedly rendering moot the idea of the Horse Race.
But then Klein set fire to Morgantown. Let's just say that if he performs like he did last Saturday a couple more times, then the Horse Race and conventional wisdom will end up agreeing quite nicely.
Klein went 19-for-21 passing for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Not including one sack, he rushed for just 50 yards on 11 carries, which is lower than average, but he also scored four times on the ground. It was a staggering performance, even taking into account the simple fact that West Virginia's defense is a Baylor-level abomination. Those stats would be impressive if they came against a decent Texas high school defense. That they came in what was possibly the most hyped game of the week, in a 41-point win on the road ... well, Mr. Klein has his Heisman moment.
Klein's new season pace (projected over 13 games): over 1,000 rushing yards, over 25 rushing touchdowns, over 2,500 passing yards, over 18 touchdown passes and fewer than five interceptions. You can talk me into voting for him with those stats. Klein's still behind in the Horse Race, but let's just say that I'm more confident in future performances clearing up any uncertainty. At least, if Klein has more performances like that left in him. The way this race has gone so far, this weekend's upcoming trip visit from Texas Tech will completely change things again. That's what happened when Geno Smith faced Tommy Tuberville, anyway.
2. Matt Barkley, USC
Welcome to 2012, Mr. Barkley! After another slow start to the season, Barkley and the USC offense have been improving in fits and starts of late. But it all came together against, admittedly, a truly awful Colorado squad. In a 50-6 win, Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards and six scores. As with Klein, you have to adjust for the opponent at hand, but as with Klein, the stats are so impressive that he makes the top of this list anyway.
3. A.J. McCarron, Alabama
It was a big week for less-hyped quarterbacks leading great teams. For weeks, we've heard some "McCarron should be getting some Heisman hype" rumblings from the South, but like Klein, McCarron has never really stood out in a given week, even on a per-pass basis (and with Alabama always leading big and moving at a snail's pace, you pretty much have to judge him on a per-pass basis). But then he took on Tennessee and completed 17 of 22 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns, and on a knee he tweaked just a week earlier.
4. Kasey Carrier, New Mexico
It's pretty easy, really: rush for 338 yards on 39 carries and score three times, and you'll make the Top 4 in the week's Horse Race, even if a) those yards came against Air Force (against whom I'm pretty sure I could rush for 75 yards in a given game), and b) your team ends up losing that game. New Mexico is 4-4 thanks to a quality ground game (it's what head coach Bob Davie knows, and with the Lobos' currently less-than-optimal quarterback situation, it's what he's going to lean on, and lean on, and lean on), and despite the loss to Air Force, there are winnable games remaining against UNLV, Wyoming, Nevada and Colorado State. Carrier is now second in the country in rushing yards per game, and it would be pretty cool if he were able to ply his trade in a bowl game just one year after missing an awful, 1-11 season with a knee injury.
5. Aaron Murray, Georgia
Georgia's defense is iffy (to put it kindly), the running game has disappeared (mostly because of an offensive line that also got him sacked three times on Saturday), and one of his top targets (Michael Bennett) is out for the season with injury. But none of that stopped him from making his second Top 10 appearance of the season, completing 30 of 38 passes for 427 yards and four touchdowns against Kentucky.
6. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
8. Passes targeting Northwestern receiver Tony Jones on Saturday. Three were caught by Jones for 36 yards, and four were broken up by Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Pretty sure that goes down as a win for the Husker defensive back.
Rarely does a cornerback so thoroughly own his opponent like Jean-Baptiste owned poor Jones, and he earned a Top 10 spot because of it.
7. Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Against West Virginia, no single Kansas State defender posted the kind of stats that typically earn you a Top 10 spot, but the Wildcats so thoroughly destroyed the previously untouchable West Virginia offense (Geno Smith averaged just 3.3 yards per pass attempt and was sacked four times and picked off twice) that somebody needed to be here. Brown (6.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception) gets the nod over others like Meshak Williams (4.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble) and Adam Davis (2.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks). That Brown is basically the quarterback and the face of the defense doesn't hurt.
8 (with a Bonus Point). J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State
As with Middle Tennessee's Benny Cunningham last week, Walsh earns a bonus point for the fact that he is hurt and lost for the season with a knee injury. But Walsh also earned an actual Top 10 spot for completing 32 of 47 passes for 415 yards and a touchdown and rushing eight times for 49 yards against a good Iowa State defense ... despite the fact that he suffered his knee injury in the first quarter of the game. Honestly, he probably should have finished higher than No. 8 for that, huh?
9. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
If Arizona State had put up more of a fight on offense, perhaps Mariota could have posted some truly silly numbers. But in basically one half of play, he still managed to gain 140 rushing yards in just nine carries and complete nine of 12 passes, albeit for just 46 yards. His touchdown pass was a fade with perfect touch, and he put the game out of reach with his legs. Brutally efficient.
10. Robert Woods, USC
Quite a few candidates could have found themselves in the week's No. 10 spot -- Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy, Eastern Michigan's Bronson Hill, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (like Klein, a perpetual Honorable Mention recipient), Stanford's Stepfan Taylor -- but Woods gets the edge for the fact that he was targeted eight times by Matt Barkley, caught all eight, and scored on four of them. Like Mariota, he could have put up some truly silly stats had Colorado actually stuck around long enough to keep Woods in the game.
Bonus Point. Chris Thompson, Florida State
Thompson injured his knee and was lost for the season (his second season-ending injury in two years) against Miami, but we will give him a nod here. He was the most consistent aspect of a Florida State offense that is both occasionally brilliant and shaky.
- Denicos Allen, Michigan State (9.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, one pass broken up versus Michigan)
- Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (30 touches for 209 yards and two touchdowns versus Duke)
- Joe Bergeron, Texas (19 carries for 117 yards and five touchdowns versus Baylor)
- Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (21-for-25 passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns; 10 carries for 74 yards versus South Florida)
- Colby Cameron, Louisiana Tech (29-for-37 passing for 400 yards and two touchdowns versus Idaho)
- Amari Cooper, Alabama (eight targets, seven catches, 162 yards, two touchdowns versus Tennessee)
- Vintavious Cooper, East Carolina (27 touches for 202 yards and three touchdowns versus UAB)
- Mike Davis, Texas (10 targets, six caches, 148 yards and a touchdown versus Baylor)
- Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech (17 carries, 232 yards, six touchdowns versus Idaho)
- David Fluellen, Toledo (29 touches for 168 yards versus Cincinnati)
- Nick Florence, Baylor (30-for-41 passing for 352 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and 7.8 yards per pass attempt; eight carries for 77 yards versus Texas)
- Bronson Hill, Eastern Michigan (29 touches for 252 yards and two touchdowns versus Army)
- Jeremy Hill, LSU (19 touches, 134 yards, one touchdown versus Texas A&M)
- Jawan Jamison, Rutgers (25 touches for 195 yards and a touchdown versus Temple)
- Landry Jones, Oklahoma (19-for-28 passing for 291 yards, three touchdowns, 9.5 yards per pass attempt versus Kansas)
- Tavarres King, Georgia (11 targets, nine catches, 188 yards, two touchdowns versus Kentucky)
- Alec Lemon, Syracuse (nine targets, eight catches, 166 yards, one touchdown versus UConn)
- Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois (20-for-33 passing for 223 yards and two touchdowns; 20 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns versus Akron)
- Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (29-for-39 passing for 342 yards, three touchdowns and 7.6 yards per pass attempt; 15 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown versus Northwestern)
- Jonathan Meeks, Clemson (2.5 tackles, two interceptions returned for 74 yards, one pass broken up)
- Pat Moore, South Alabama (three solo tackles, all for loss, one forced fumble and two blocked field goals versus Florida Atlantic)
- Latavis Murray, Central Florida (27 touches for 209 yards and two touchdowns versus Memphis)
- Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (14-for-20 passing for 251 yards and two touchdowns versus UConn)
- Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (28 touches for 174 yards and two touchdowns versus Iowa State)
- Taylor Reed, SMU (4.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions, one pick six versus Houston)
- Telvin Smith, Florida State (7.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and two passes broken up versus Miami)
- Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (28 touches for 175 yards and a touchdown versus Auburn)
- Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (30 touches, 200 yards, one touchdown versus Cal in the Big Game)
- Jason Verrett, TCU (10.0 tackles, two tackles for loss, three passes broken up versus Texas Tech)
- James White, Wisconsin (15 carries for 175 yards and three touchdowns versus Minnesota)
- Terrance Williams, Baylor (14 targets, 10 catches, 183 yards, one touchdown versus Texas)
2012 Heisman Horse Race Point Totals (Through Seven Weeks)
Geno Smith, West Virginia
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
Aaron Murray, Georgia
Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Tyler Bray, Tennessee
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
Nick Florence, Baylor
Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Brandon Sharpe, Syracuse
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Kyle Van Noy, BYU