1. Marqise Lee, USC
It is almost impossible to overstate how incredible Marqise Lee's performance against Arizona was on Saturday. It is almost criminal that his team couldn't figure out a way to win that game when they got 16 catches (in 19 targets) for 345 yards, two touchdowns and a key, fourth-quarter kickoff return. Lee's performance ranks among the best receiver games of all-time, and it absolutely earns him the top spot on this week's top 10.
Honestly, if we acknowledge that Collin Klein is the current leader in terms of conventional wisdom, why in the world wouldn't Lee be in second place? He has caught at least 10 passes in five games this season, and over the course of a projected 14-game schedule (assuming USC indeed makes the Pac-12 title game), he is on pace for 133 catches, 1,975 yards and 18 touchdowns, not to mention about 750 kick return yards. Sammy Watkins may have first appeared to be the gem of the receivers from the Class of 2011, but since November 2011, Lee has outpaced Watkins dramatically. If nobody else is driving the Lee For Heisman bandwagon, allow me to take the wheel.
2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Yes, Georgia probably would have found a way to beat Missouri without Jones, but you could certainly make a reasonably viable case that Jones has single-handedly won two games for UGA this season. If you think of the Heisman as something of a "Most Valuable Player" award, then really the race is between Jones and Collin Klein. No one else need apply. Jones had 12.5 tackles in Georgia's 17-9 win over Florida, logging 4.5 behind the line of scrimmage (including three sacks of quarterback Jeff Driskel). Plus, he forced two fumbles (including the strip of tight end Jordan Reed as he approached the goal line in the waning minutes) and recovered two. Georgia probably doesn't win without the efforts of running back Todd Gurley and receiver Malcolm Mitchell. But the Dawgs definitely don't win without Jones. Jones has missed two games this year, and that tends to eliminate players from Heisman contention, but it shouldn't. Jones is as disruptive and explosive a defender as anybody in the country, and his value is damn near immeasurable.
3. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
In this week's Numerical, I said the following:
In four games, Bernard carried 97 times for 717 yards and six touchdowns, caught 20 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown, and returned six punts for 119 yards and a touchdown. He missed two games (both UNC losses) and carried just 29 times in September, but his October alone should probably get him onto people's Heisman lists. With all due, and necessary, respect to Oregon's Kenjon Barner and others, Bernard is the best running back in college football right now.
In a dramatic, last-second win over N.C. State, Bernard rushed for 135 yards and two scores on 23 carries, caught eight of 12 passes for 95 yards, and ripped off the game-winning, 74-yard punt return with 13 seconds remaining. Like Jones, he has missed two games. And he made almost no impact in September, even when he was on the field. But if people are mourning the lack of true Heisman contenders this year (and I have read that sentiment many times in the previous weeks), both Bernard and Lee should be getting taken far more seriously than they are.
4. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Week 9 was huge for players looking to make a name in the Heisman race. First, Lee did what Lee did. Then, Jones re-introduced himself to people. But on Saturday night, Te'o showed that a defense can both a) be crafted entirely around the skills of one player and b) play at an elite level. Te'o was all over the place in Notre Dame's win at Oklahoma, logging 8.5 tackles, swallowing up short passes on more than one occasion, recording two tackles for loss (one sack) and plucking a game-changing interception off of the the Owen Field turf. (Whether he legitimately caught the pass or not is obviously cause for debate.) Notre Dame combines passivity with elite play, and the main reason this works is Te'o. The Irish rarely blitz and play reasonably soft coverage on the perimeter. But Te'o's incredible athleticism and aggressiveness makes it seem like the defense has about 13 men on the field. He is amazing.
5. Collin Klein, Kansas State
Klein makes his second top 5 appearance in two weeks. He still has a shot at a 2,500 (passing yards)/1,000 (rushing yards) season, and quite simply, if you do that for a team that goes undefeated and makes the national title game, you will probably win the Heisman. In a pull-away performance against Texas Tech, Klein completed 19 of 26 passes for 233 yards, threw two touchdowns and was sacked once. He rushed 12 times for 93 yards and two touchdowns, his 15th and 16th of the season. Since becoming the Heisman leader in terms of conventional wisdom, Klein has actually raised his game. Any lead like this is precarious -- just ask West Virginia's Geno Smith -- but Klein has given no indication that he is ready to regress anytime soon.
6. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The Manziel For Heisman bandwagon seemed to empty a bit with three interceptions versus LSU, but Johnny Football is still hangin' around, winging the football around and running like a chicken with his head cut off. In a massacre of Auburn, Manziel completed 16 of 23 passes for 260 yards, two touchdowns and a sack (and no picks) and rushed nine times for 90 yards and three touchdowns. His per-pass and per-carry averages were both better than Klein's, but Klein gets the nod here because, unlike Auburn, Texas Tech didn't just lay down on defense.
7. Austin Hill, Arizona
If we assume for a moment that Marqise Lee is properly rated (and there's almost no way for him NOT to be underrated with the astronomical numbers he has posted this season), then the Most Underrated title has to belong to Hill, a sophomore who is on pace for about 90 catches for 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns year despite almost no acclaim whatsoever. Hill was a three-star recruit and caught 21 passes last year, but he has erupted over the last four weeks, catching 31 passes for 568 yards and six touchdowns. And he caught 10 of 11 for 259 against USC on Saturday, neutralizing enough of Lee's impact to pull out the win. Get to know Hill's name. He's the reason Arizona went from "interesting" to "damn good" in October.
8. Michael Carter, Minnesota
If the week's top 10 were a playlist, Carter would be the random indy B-side I slip in to seem more legitimate. Who is Carter, and why is he on this list? Well, he's a senior defensive back from Pompano Beach, Fla., and he has logged 23.0 tackles this season. But in a somewhat surprising rout of Purdue he was more incredible for tackles he didn't have to make. Carter made 5.5 tackles, sure, but he also picked off a pass (and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown) and broke up six others. He personally drank the milkshake (is that still a relevant pop culture reference?) of Purdue's Gary Bush and Antavian Edison, and when you are personally responsible for seven of Purdue's 22 incompletions, you make this list.
9. Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
It hasn't taken long for the Fresno State transfer, eligible for the last three weeks, to make an impact on the Sooners' offense. On a night in which Oklahoma failed to generate consistent yardage, Saunders did the opposite. He caught 15 of 15 passes for 181 yards. The 31 passes Landry Jones threw to players OTHER than Saunders gained just 185 yards. It is difficult to say a receiver caught 15 passes and was UNDERused, but …
10. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
In a quick rout of poor Colorado, Thomas only touched the ball six times from scrimmage (five carries, one catch), gaining 106 yards and scoring a touchdown in the process. But … he also did this.
It shouldn't have worked, and it probably wouldn't have worked against teams not named Colorado, but it did work. And it gives him a spot in the Top 10.
Bonus Point: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Happy trails, Marcus. Hope to see you back next year.
- Davante Adams, Fresno State (14 targets, nine catches, 198 yards, two touchdowns versus New Mexico)
- Usua Amanam, Stanford (6.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two passes broken up versus Washington State)
- Alex Amidon, Boston College (12 targets, nine catches, 137 yards versus Maryland)
- Derek Carr, Fresno State (31-for-44 passing, 416 yards, four touchdowns, one interception, 8.8 yards per pass attempt; four carries for 25 yards versus New Mexico)
- Kain Colter, Northwestern (6-for-9 passing, 80 yards, one touchdown, one interception; 26 carries for 166 yards and three touchdowns versus Iowa)
- David Cooper, Indiana (6.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack versus Illinois)
- Stefon Diggs, Maryland (13 targets, 11 catches, 152 yards and a touchdown versus Boston Colelge; all other Maryland passes:12-for-29 for 88 yards)
- Reggie Dunn, Utah (three kickoff returns for 222 yards and two touchdowns versus California)
- Will Ebner, Missouri (4.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, one forced fumble versus Kentucky)
- David Fluellen, Toledo (36 touches for 229 yards and two touchdowns versus Buffalo)
- Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (27 touches for 168 yards and two touchdowns versus Arizona State)
- William Gholston, Michigan State (4.5 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one pass broken up versus Wisconsin)
- Ray Graham, Pittsburgh (24 touches for 180 yards and three touchdowns versus Temple)
- Ryan Griffin, Tulane (34-for-42 passing, 466 yards, five touchdowns and one interception versus UAB)
- Todd Gurley, Georgia (29 touches for 141 yards and a touchdown against Florida)
- D.J. Hayden, Houston (3.5 tackles, two interceptions returned for 95 yards and a touchdown, one pass broken up versus UTEP)
- Steele Jantz, Iowa State (36-for-52 passing, 381 yards, five touchdowns, one interception; 10 carries for 54 yards versus Baylor)
- Dennis Johnson, Arkansas (30 touches for 180 yards and a touchdown versus Ole Miss)
- Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (25-for-35 passing, four touchdowns, one interception, 7.5 yards per pass attempt; 10 carries for 77 yards versus UCLA)
- Logan Kilgore, Middle Tennessee (20-for-30 passing, 349 yards, three touchdowns; one carry for 45 yards and a touchdown versus North Texas)
- Lindsey Lamar, USF (12 touches for 183 yards and a touchdown versus Syracuse)
- Brent Leonard, UL-Monroe (13 targets, nine catches, 126 yards, four touchdowns versus South Alabama)
- Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois (18-for-28, 274 yards, four touchdowns; 21 carries for 136 yards and two touchdowns versus Western Michigan)
- E.J. Manuel, Florida State (8-for-16 passing, 282 yards, two touchdowns versus Duke)
- Trent Matthews, Colorado State (6.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble, four passes broken up versus Hawaii)
- Latavis Murray, UCF (18 touches for 194 yards and four touchdowns versus Marshall)
- Phillip Nelson, Minnesota (15-for-22, 246 yards, three touchdowns; nine carries for 37 yards versus Purdue)
- Marcus Peters, Washington (2.5 tackles, one interception, three passes broken up versus Oregon State)
- Bradley Roby, Ohio State (five solo tackles, four passes broken up versus Penn State)
- Matt Scott, Arizona (27-for-50 passing, 369 yards, one interception; 15 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown versus USC)
- Connor Shaw, South Carolina (22-for-32 passing, 356 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 9.7 yards per pass attempt; 16 carries for 58 yards versus Tennessee)
- James Sims, Kansas (29 touches for 178 yards versus Texas; Kansas' other 36 plays gained just 95 yards)
- Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky (7.5 tackles, five tackles for loss, five sacks, one forced fumble versus FIU)
- Terrance Williams, Baylor (20 targets, 13 catches, 190 yards versus Iowa State)
- Zurlon Tipton, Central Michigan (40 touches for 251 yards and three touchdowns versus Akron)
2012 Heisman Horse Race Point Totals (Through Seven Weeks)
Geno Smith, West Virginia
Marqise Lee, USC
Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Gio Bernard, North Carolina
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
Collin Klein, Kansas State
Denard Robinson, Michigan
Aaron Murray, Georgia
Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Andrew Buie, West Virginia
Jeff Driskel, Florida
E.J. Manuel, Florida State
Michael Carter, Minnesota
Kain Colter, Northwestern
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Deandre Hopkins, Clemson
Brett Hundley, UCLA
Dee Milliner, Alabama
Cordarelle Patterson, Tennessee
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
Robert Woods, USC