I always try to take a unique approach to the weekly Heisman column. Otherwise it's just no fun -- you're going to deliver the same names as everybody else, and you're going to basically be writing the same column from week to week. The goal of the Heisman Horse Race was to basically award a Heisman each week, and giving out points for a Top 10 performance (10 points for first place, nine for second, et cetera) and keeping a running, cumulative point total each week. I had no idea what this approach was going to tell us, but it turns out our Horse Race winner is almost certainly going to be the real winner, too: Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
We did learn two things with this approach, however. First of all, September performances really don't count for much. It's how you do when the real games start that seems to matter. Second, in the real Heisman race, you can be penalized. In the Horse Race, you cannot. The primary example for each of these lessons: Geno Smith.
The Top 10 from Week 14
1. Geno Smith, West Virginia
Entering October, Geno Smith had built more of a Heisman case than anybody had ever done in just a month of action. Smith put up absolutely silly statistics against mostly bad defenses, and West Virginia reached 5-0 and fifth in the AP poll without any semblance of a defense whatsoever. But then October happened. Smith was rendered inefficient by actually decent defenses, and, more importantly, West Virginia lost five games in a row. Smith was completely eliminated from the actual Heisman race, but because of his gaudy early point totals, he remained atop the Horse Race standings into November.
Smith's slump lasted long enough that Johnny Manziel was able to eventually pass him, but wow, did he finish the regular season on a high note. Yes, West Virginia had the luxury of playing against Kansas' defense in the season finale, but as I've said many times, you can still prove yourself against bad opponents. And I would say that Smith proved himself: 23-for-24 passing, three touchdowns, one interception, and a ridiculous 16.0 yards per pass attempt. Anybody can average 8.0 yards per pass attempt versus Kansas. Not just anybody can double that. Smith had one of the oddest years in recent memory, but wow, did he know how to punish bad defenses. Despite the fact that these two teams really weren't actually playing for anything, a 96-percent completion rate earns you the top spot on the list.
2. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
A week after being rendered moot against Stanford, Franklin exploded in the rematch. He carried 19 times for 194 yards and two touchdowns and caught three more passes for 22 yards. Stanford just doesn't allow those types of yards, but UCLA figured out ways to free up Franklin, and it almost won them the Pac-12 title.
3. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Eddie Lacy runs strong and mean, and his performance in the SEC title game was probably the strongest and meanest of his life. Alabama faced a double-digit deficit in the second half and couldn't really throw the ball very well, so they just handed to Lacy, and then T.J. Yeldon, and Lacy, and Yeldon. Yeldon's 153 yards earned him Honorable Mention status on this list, but Lacy gained 181 on just 20 carries and set a tone that Georgia could not counter.
(Side note, you could probably more accurately give the No. 3 spot to center Barrett Jones, or make it a five-way tie among Alabama's offensive linemen. But Lacy still earned quite a few of those yards even if the Alabama line was dominant.)
4. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
When your third-string running back rushes for 200 yards, it is safe to say that you probably won big. And when you earn the No. 4 spot on this list with just nine touches, it is safe to say you did something special.
That Melvin Gordon's coming-out party came in the Big Ten title game was both unique and impressive, but it was indeed a coming-out party. Gordon carried the ball nine times and gained 216 yards. That's a per-carry average of 24 yards. That's also ridiculous. And I already linked to it yesterday, but I can't help but do it again. This run was simply spectacular.
5. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
One other interesting aspect to the Horse Race: Stedman Bailey's three or four incredible games were big enough to get him all the way to fourth place in the final standings. It is worth noting that, while Smith indeed struggled against better defenses, and while WVU's defense was still the primary culprit in the Mountaineers' slide, a nagging injury to Bailey probably made as big an impact as anything else. When healthy, he is outstanding. He caught 11 of 11 passes on Saturday for 159 yards and two scores. And yes, he is the second of three WVU offensive players on this list. Again, it's one thing to dominate a bad defense; it's another to decimate it.
6. Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Manti Te'o is the real Heisman finalist, but Jones produced the best stats in 2012. He finished the regular season by doing Jarvis Jones Things™ versus Alabama, logging 4.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble and serving as, probably, the primary reason why Georgia almost built a big enough lead to hold off the Tide and reach the national title game. He almost single-handedly won a couple of games for Georgia this season, and he was incredible again on Saturday.
7. Collin Klein, Kansas State
Klein threw just 14 passes and rushed 15 times in a grind-it-out-then-explode win over Texas, but on a per-play basis he was his old Klein self. In his final game in Manhattan, he completed eight of 14 passes for 184 yards, a touchdown and a pick, averaged 12.1 yards per pass attempt, and ground out 105 rushing yards and two scores. He should just patent that stat line. It feels like he pulled that one off a few different times this season.
8. Tavon Austin, West Virginia
515. Rushing yards gained by West Virginia's Tavon Austin in three games since his move to running back, or at least a running back-like position. Against Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas, Austin rushed 47 times for 495 yards and three touchdowns. He also still caught 14 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown (he had 77 rushing yards and 110 receiving yards in Saturday's 59-10 win over Kansas). Not that he could have maintained this pace for a full 12 games, but if he had … that's a pace for 1,980 rushing yards, 1,164 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. That's also a pace for a free trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony. Alas. (Call this West Virginia Heisman What-If No. 2.)
Really, players No. 4-8 on this list were entirely interchangeable, and Austin's performance was just as deserving of the No. 4 spot as Gordon's.
9. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Wisconsin and West Virginia dominated this week's list (five of the top nine, with two other offensive players garnering Honorable Mention), and for obvious reasons. Neither team could be stopped. Ball logged a nearly effortless, 202-yard, three-touchdown performance against Nebraska, and while I'm still a little miffed that he was named a Doak Walker Award finalist over Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, the two finished with the same number of points in the Horse Race, so I guess I cannot complain anymore.
10. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State
Joplo Bartu, Texas State
Akeem Daniels, Northern Illinois
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
For the third straight week, I couldn't decide who most deserved the No. 10 spot, so I gave it to a lot of people. Aplin completed 19 of 21 passes, averaged 11.3 yards per pass attempt, and gained 64 rushing yards in six carries in a Sun Belt title-winning performance against MTSU. Bartu logged eight tackles for loss, which is amazing even against New Mexico State. Daniels dominated Kent State, gaining 195 yards in 22 touches in the MAC title game win that earned NIU an Orange Bowl bid. Donald destroyed USF's offense (with plenty of help from USF itself) and, basically, got Skip Holtz fired with four tackles for loss and a pass break-up. And Seastrunk did this.
I'm going to enjoy a full year of Seastrunk as Baylor's No. 1 back next fall. Stay healthy, Lache.
2012 Heisman Horse Race Totals (Through 14 Weeks)
- 38 points: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (HEISMAN FINALIST)
- 36 points: Geno Smith, West Virginia
- 30 points: Marqise Lee, USC
- 27 points: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
- 26 points: Collin Klein, Kansas State (HEISMAN FINALIST)
- 24 points: Jarvis Jones, Georgia
- 20 points: Aaron Murray, Georgia
- 19 points: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
- 18 points: Tavon Austin, West Virginia; Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State; Giovani Bernard, North Carolina; Johnathan Franklin, UCLA; Braxton Miller, Ohio State
- 16 points: Eddie Lacy, Alabama
- 15 points: Kenjon Barner, Oregon
- 14 points: David Ash, Texas; Denard Robinson, Michigan
- 13 points: Connor Shaw, South Carolina
- 12 points: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame (HEISMAN FINALIST)
- 11 points: Montee Ball, Wisconsin; Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
- 10 points: Andrew Buie, West Virginia; Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina; Jeff Driskel, Florida; E.J. Manuel, Florida State; John Simon, Ohio State
- 9 points: Matt Barkley, USC; Tajh Boyd, Clemson; Seth Doege, Texas Tech; Zach Mettenberger, LSU; Stephen Morris, Miami
- 8 points: Morgan Breslin, USC; Montel Harris, Temple; Robert Marve, Purdue; A.J. McCarron, Alabama; Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
- 7 points: Kasey Carrier, New Mexico; Stefphon Jefferson, Nevada; Duke Johnson, Miami; Taylor Martinez, Nebraska; Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech; Prince Shembo, Notre Dame; De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon; Terrance Williams, Baylor
- 6 points: Kolton Browning, UL-Monroe; Ray Graham, Pittsburgh; Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas; Damien Holmes, UCLA; Alec Lemon, Syracuse; Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee; Theo Riddick, Notre Dame; Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
- 5 points: Tyler Bray, Tennessee; Allen Chapman, Kansas State; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon; Nick Florence, Baylor; Khaseem Greene, Rutgers; Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska; Bacarri Rambo, Georgia; Brandon Sharpe, Syracuse; Kyle Van Noy, BYU
- 4 points: Arthur Brown, Kansas State; Derek Carr, Fresno State; Mike Gillislee, Florida; Austin Hill, Arizona; Chris Thompson, Florida State; J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State; Bjoern Werner, Florida State; Damien Williams, Oklahoma
- 3 points: Michael Carter, Minnesota; Kain Colter, Northwestern; Brandin Cooks, Oregon State; Deandre Hopkins, Clemson; Brett Hundley, UCLA; Dee Milliner, Alabama; Stepfan Taylor, Stanford; Robert Woods, USC
- 2 points: Andre Ellington, Clemson; Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois; Sam Montgomery, LSU; Adam Muema, San Diego State; Jordan Poyer, Oregon State; Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma; Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
- 1 point: Joplo Bartu, Texas State; Bene Benwikere, San Jose State; Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest; Akeem Daniels, Northern Illinois; Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh; Devin Gardner, Michigan; Everett Golson, Notre Dame; Marion Grice, Arizona State; Cody Hoffman, BYU; Stephen Houston, Indiana; Landry Jones, Oklahoma; Eddie Lackey, Baylor; Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina; Matt McGloin, Penn State; Akeem Shavers, Purdue; Kerwynn Williams, Utah State
Week 14 Honorable Mention
- Ken Bishop, Northern Illinois (6.0 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hurry versus Kent State)
- Terrance Broadway, UL-Lafayette (13-for-20 passing, 168 yards, one touchdown; 15 carries for 123 yards and one touchdown versus FAU)
- Andrew Buie, West Virginia (14 touches for 157 yards and one touchdown versus Kansas)
- Marcus Cromartie, Wisconsin (6.0 tackles, one interception returned for touchdown, two passes broken up versus Nebraska)
- Xzavier Dickson, Alabama (4.0 tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks versus Georgia)
- William Dukes, FAU (13 targets, nine catches, 204 yards, two touchdowns versus UL-Lafayette)
- Todd Gurley, Georgia (26 touches for 125 yards and two touchdowns versus Alabama)
- Nathan Herrold, Arkansas State (7.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception returned 45 yards, one pass broken up versus MTSU)
- Ben Heeney, Kansas (6.0 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack versus West Virginia)
- Jason Hendricks, Pittsburgh (3.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, one pass broken up versus USF)
- Karl Joseph, West Virginia (5.5 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one interception returned 22 yards, one pass broken up versus Kansas)
- Brendan Kelly, Wisconsin (4.0 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks versus Nebraska)
- Tavarres King, Georgia (six targets, five catches, 142 yards versus Alabama; all other Georgia passes: 14-for-28 for 139 yards)
- Eddie Lackey, Baylor (13.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception returned for touchdown)
- Sean Mannion, Oregon State (20-for-23 passing 211 yards, two touchdowns versus Nicholls State)
- Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (29 touches for 162 yards versus Baylor)
- Albert Rosette, Nevada (11.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, one pass broken up versus Boise State)
- Jared St. John, Tulsa (3.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one quarterback hurry versus UCF)
- Nick Temple, Cincinnati (5.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one pass broken up versus UConn)
- Scott Vallone, Rutgers (3.0 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack versus Louisville)
- Lorenzo Waters, Rutgers (four solo tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception returned 29 yards, one pass broken up versus Louisville)
- Markus Wheaton, Oregon State (13 targets, 12 catches, 123 yards, one touchdown versus Nicholls State)
- James White, Wisconsin (16 touches for 131 yards and four touchdowns; 1-for-1 passing for three yards and a touchdown versus Nebraska)
- Damien Williams, Oklahoma (22 touches, 154 yards, two touchdowns versus TCU)
- Karlos Williams, Florida State (9.5 tackles, one game-clinching interception versus Georgia Tech)
- T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (25 carries for 153 yards, one touchdown versus Georgia)