2011 Heisman Watch: Andrew Luck Remains Front-Runner, But RG3 Gets Our Vote

Your weekly look at the Heisman race. Is Andrew Luck still the overall favorite? Is a vote for Robert Griffin III still a vote for freedom, justice and the American way? And does the Honey Badger really have a chance?

As we move on in this "You must qualify to be considered" experiment, the list of candidates continues to shrink, ever so slightly, from week to week. This makes sense if you think of things in terms of the cream rising to the top. As the schedule-adjusted ratings begin to coagulate, and we get a better read of the top teams and offenses, the pretenders begin to disappear (sorry, Marshall Lobbestael; I was rooting for you).

Along these same lines, wow, is this a strong set of candidates. You've got big-time contributors at top schools, amazing contributors at lesser schools, multiple great quarterbacks and running backs ... I know this was supposed to be Andrew Luck's year, and it may still be, but he has no margin for error here.

As always, let's look at the qualifiers from each category of advanced stats.

Best Offensive Player On Best Teams

Heisman winners usually come from the nation's best teams, so the five nominees from this list come from the five teams ranked No. 1-5 in the current F/+ rankings.

Trent Richardson, Alabama. The Tide took their time in pulling away from Vanderbilt last Saturday, but Richardson still posted an easy 107 yards (5.6 per carry) and a touchdown, giving him a combined 878 rushing and receiving yards and 12 touchdowns through just six games. Over a 14-game schedule (if the Tide are lucky enough to make the SEC West title game), that's a pace of 2,050 yards and 28 touchdowns. If Alabama's in the national title game, Richardson's in New York with that pace.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma. The emergence of Jaz Reynolds has given Jones three fun toys with which to play: Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills and Reynolds. As a result, Jones is beginning to make things look awfully easy. For the season, he is now completing 69 percent of his passes and is on pace for over 4,700 passing yards and 34 touchdown passes. But if he continues his pace from the last three games, he could approach 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. As with Richardson, if OU is in the title game, it is hard to imagine Jones not being a Heisman finalist.

Rueben Randle, LSU. LSU completed only ten passes in their romp over Florida, but Randle caught four of them and took them 127 yards. He is averaging fewer than four catches per game, but on a run-heavy team, he is being targeted with over 30 percent of his team's targets, and he is averaging over 11 yards per target, both excellent figures.

Kellen Moore, Boise State. After an iffy game versus Nevada, Moore was back to his typical robotic exploits versus Fresno State, completing 23 of 31 passes (74 percent, same as his full-season completion rate) for an easy 254 yards and three touchdowns. Projected for a 13-game season, Moore is looking at a final passing line of 3,600 yards, 44 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. The Badgers, a Hipster National Champion candidate, had the week off last week. But it's not "outta sight, outta mind" when you're on pace for 3,900 passing yards, 36 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in a run-heavy offense. Wilson and primary targets Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis have just been incredible so far.

Best Player On Best Offenses

The following five come from the teams currently ranked first through fifth in terms of Off. S&P+.

Trent Richardson, Alabama.

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin.

LaMichael James, Oregon. James has now lodged three consecutive 200-yard rushing games, but of course this last one came at a price. In the fourth quarter of the Ducks' 43-15 win over California, James dislocated his elbow. He is almost certainly out for this weekend's game versus Arizona State, but he swears he will return soon. As long as he doesn't miss more than a game or (maybe) two, he remains a viable candidate.

Robert Griffin III, Baylor. I know my standards are high for a player when I see this stat line (Griffin's from Baylor's win over Iowa State)...

22-for-30 passing, 212 yards, one touchdown, three sacks; 21 carries, 130 yards, one touchdown

...and my first impression is, "Ah, another average game." That said, while Griffin still holds the No. 1 spot on my list below, he is getting attacked by quite a few quarterbacks producing at a rather ridiculous rate themselves.

Denard Robinson, Michigan. Robinson threw for 337 yards and rushed for 117 more in the Wolverines' 42-24 win over Northwestern, but interceptions (three) and nagging injuries once again reared their ugly heads. Still, if he manages to stay upright for a potential 14-game season, the projections are still startling: 2,600 passing yards (23 touchdowns, 21 interceptions), 1,700 rushing yards (19 touchdowns). It is difficult to imagine someone winning the Heisman with such interception problems, but if Michigan keeps winning...

Best Runner On Most Prolific Rushing Offenses

These five players come from the top five BCS (or major non-BCS) conference teams according to a list that combines current Rushing S&P+ and Run-Pass Ratio.

Chris Rainey, Florida. As Rainey's stats have faltered, his statistical profile has been raised, primarily because of a) how much Florida is leaning on him and the run game and b) how difficult Florida's recent schedule has been. Just by playing Alabama and LSU, Florida's rushing rankings rose. And for whatever offensive credit Florida deserves at the moment, Rainey is the reason why. He is leading the Gators with 467 rushing yards (5.4 per carry) and 16 receptions for 245 yards. He is both the primary and secondary weapon for this offense, especially with the Gators' current quarterback quandary.

Denard Robinson, Michigan.

Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech. Smith and the Tech offense had their worst performance of the season in a 21-16 win over Maryland -- Smith managed only 41 rushing yards and 37 receiving yards. Still, he is on pace for 1,000 rushing yards (despite splitting carries with about seven other backs) and is second on the team in receiving. He isn't a legitimate Heisman candidate, but he is a primary reason Georgia Tech is still undefeated

LaMichael James, Oregon.

Trent Richardson, Alabama.

Best Passer On Most Prolific Passing Offenses

These five players come from the top five BCS conference (or major non-BCS) teams according to a list that combines current Passing S&P+ and Run-Pass Ratio.

Nick Foles In A Losing Effort™, Arizona. In six games this season, Foles has thrown at least 42 passes in five, completed at least 68 percent in five, thrown for at least 378 yards in five, thrown a touchdown pass in all six and thrown picks in only two. Still, with a defense allowing 43.0 points per game versus FBS competition, Foles' Wildcats are just 1-5, and their head coach just got fired. Still, in just 12 games, Foles is projected to throw for 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns (and get sacked over 25 times). Keep fighting the good fight, NFIALE™.

Geno Smith, West Virginia. Smith makes his debut on this list after perhaps his best performance of the season, a 27-for-45, 450-yard performance versus Connecticut. West Virginia is now the de facto, runaway favorite in the Big East (unless Rutgers has something to say about that), and Smith is on pace for 4,700 passing yards, a 64-percent completion rate, 35 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Dana Holgorsen has had the intended effect on Smith's stat line.

Tyler Bray, Tennessee. Get well soon, Ty-Ty.

Kellen Moore, Boise State.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma.

Most Prolific And/Or Statistically Impressive Runner

These players have gained the most Highlight Yards (as defined here) in the country thus far.

LaMichael James, Oregon.

Ray Graham, Pittsburgh. Graham was the only thing Pittsburgh had going for it in the Panthers' 34-10 loss to Rutgers. Despite no passing threat whatsoever, Graham rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown. He is now on pace for 1,950 rushing yards (20 touchdowns) and 400 receiving yards for the season. Tino Sunseri has not proven a perfect fit in new coach Todd Graham's system, but his running back has taken to it like Paula Deen to a vat of butter.

Denard Robinson, Michigan.

Lamar Miller, Miami. Miller also makes his debut here after an 18-carry, 166-yard performance versus Virginia Tech. Miller has gained 100 yards in all five games and is on pace for almost 1,800 rushing yards, but his team is 2-3, meaning he'll need to up that pace to something even more obscene to have a chance.

David Wilson, Virginia Tech. Wilson also had his customary great day against Miami, rushing for a cool 128 yards. He has gained at least 123 yards in five of six contests and, assuming no ACC title game for the Hokies this year (they are currently 1.5 games behind Georgia Tech), is on pace for about 1,700 rushing yards over 13 games.

Most Statistically Impressive Passer

These players are the five BCS (or major non-BCS) passers who have produced the strongest raw, unadjusted-for-schedule Passing S&P thus far.

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin.

Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech. Washington's per-pass average of 14.4 is still all sorts of impressive, and his 211.5 passer rating is still gaudy, but he has completed only 10 of 31 passes in the last two games. Yes, he has still averaged 23.1 yards per completion, and yes, Tech is still winning, but the Yellow Jackets' passing game has begun to quickly fall back to earth.

Robert Griffin III, Baylor.

Andrew Luck, Stanford. As I mentioned earlier this week, it's almost as if Luck has gotten bored facing college defenses and has decided to liven things up by completing a pass to every player on the roster. Five Cardinal players have at least 12 receptions, but another 11 have at least one. Ten caught a pass from him last Saturday. For the season, he is on pace for almost 4,000 passing yards (if Stanford makes the Pac-12 title game, anyway) and a 73-percent completion rate with 40 touchdowns and a 7-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. In other words, he has been as good as advertised.

Kellen Moore, Boise State.

Most Explosive Player On Best Defenses

It is a pipe dream, of course -- if Ndamukong Suh couldn't win the Heisman in 2009, no defense-only player ever will -- but occasionally defenders receive some Heisman hype. The following five players are the strongest representatives from the teams ranked first through fifth in terms of Def. S&P+.

Tyrone Crawford, Boise State. It is hard to choose a defender to represent a Boise defense that is as deep as it is dominant. The Broncos have ten players who have recorded between 11 and 20 tackles, 17 players with a tackle for loss and seven players with an interception. Ridiculous. Still, Crawford stands out a hair with his 14.0 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. If he wins the Heisman (and he so very clearly will not), then he can just invite the entire defense up to accept the award, Mike Eruzione-style.

Courtney Upshaw, Alabama. It is just as difficult to choose a representative Alabama defender. I have oscillated between Upshaw and corners Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner, but we will stick with Upshaw, his 16.0 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss (1.5 sacks) and interception this week.

Tyrann Mathieu, LSU. The one defender with a true shot this year, Mathieu 'only' had one tackle for loss and one interception last week versus Florida. Like Robert Griffin III, one expects such ridiculous box score achievements from week to week that an only-excellent performance feels boring. Over a 14-game season, Mathieu is on pace for 80 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, five interceptions, nine forced fumbles, seven rumble recoveries and nine passes broken up. The Honey Badger is one long punt return away from becoming a Top Three contender, I think.

Frank Alexander, Oklahoma. Alexander and Ronnell Lewis were both incredibly dominant versus Texas, but Alexander's full-season stat line is slightly better: 20.5 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss (5.5 sacks), a pick, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and four passes broken up. Yikes.

Devon Still, Penn State. Penn State has perhaps the most underrated defense in the country, and Still is still the primary wrecking ball. He has a chance at 20 tackles for loss, which is positively Suh-like from the tackle position.

The Verdict

Who Would Probably Win If The Vote Were Today:

1. Andrew Luck
2. Landry Jones
3. Trent Richardson
4. Russell Wilson
5. Tyrann Mathieu

My Vote

1. Robert Griffin III (Last Week: 1)
2. Andrew Luck (5)
3. Trent Richardson (2)
4. Russell Wilson (4)
5. Landry Jones (10)
6. Tyrann Mathieu (3)
7. Denard Robinson (6)
8. LaMichael James (7)
9. Kellen Moore (9)
10. Geno Smith (NR)

Archive

Week Three
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