CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 5: Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal talks to his team as wide receiver Chris Owusu #81 of the Stanford Cardinal is loaded into an ambulance in the second quarter on November 5, 2011 at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon. (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)
It seems the engravers can already begin penciling Andrew Luck's name on the 2011 Heisman Trophy. That is a damn shame, as quite a few players are having seasons at least as good as Luck's, and perhaps better.
A note to anyone with a Heisman vote: Andrew Luck is outstanding. He is a clear choice for the No. 1 pick in next year's NFL Draft, and if he can lead his Cardinal past Oregon this weekend, he could get them all the way to the national title game. He is a special talent. But he has not done nearly enough to have evidently locked away the Heisman before we even reach the second weekend of November.
Every source of conventional wisdom that you can find has all but etched Luck's name on the Heisman, and that is a damn shame. This season has seen more unique, interesting, enjoyable skill position talent than in any recent season, and by crowning Luck, we are denying ourselves opportunities to consider others' exploits.
Trent Richardson almost single-handedly carried the Alabama offense against the LSU defense last weekend. Robert Griffin is on pace for 4,500 passing yards, 800 pre-sack rushing yards and over 40 touchdown passes. Brandon Weeden, also a potential national-title quarterback, has racked up better stats than Luck, and with a better running game pulling away his opportunities. Case Keenum is posting statistics that I would not be able to duplicate on a video game. LaMichael James was hobbled for two games and still might rush for 1,800 yards. Kellen Moore is still Kellen Moore (and his team is also still undefeated). Luck is great, but he has not done enough to salt away the title yet. Can we please let this play out a bit longer first?
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.
Rueben Randle, LSU. I was tempted to list kicker Drew Alleman here since he was clearly the most important member of the LSU offense in Saturday's win over Alabama, but I'll stick with Randle, who was mostly forgettable Saturday night. He was targeted six times and caught just two passes for 19 yards. If you'd have told me that before the game, and I would have wagered heavily on Alabama. Still, I think that says more about the Alabama defense than about Randle.
Trent Richardson, Alabama. Richardson almost literally did all he could. Receiving almost nothing whatsoever from his line, he rushed for 89 yards in 23 carries and caught five passes for 80 yards. He alone accounted for 57 percent of Alabama's offensive output, but because he had to play against LSU and Andrew Luck and Kellen Moore didn't (at least, not yet), apparently Richardson has not only fallen further from the top spot according to the conventional wisdom machine, but he has fallen to third. Makes total sense.
Kellen Moore, Boise State. How high are my standards for Moore? He threw five touchdown passes against in BSU's 48-21 win over UNLV, and I was incredibly underwhelmed. Moore, evidently limping through much of the game, completed 58 percent of his passes at just 6.8 yards per pass attempt (including sacks), and against a program like UNLV, that just isn't going to cut it. But evidently those who set the conventional wisdom were more impressed with Moore than Richardson this week. No, I cannot let that one go.
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State. Weeden and Justin Blackmon raised their games at the precise times that they required raising this past weekend. Kansas State drastically won the turnover battle and gained 507 yards, but thanks to Weeden (36-for-46, 502 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions) and Blackmon (14 targets, 13 catches, 205 yards, two touchdowns), the 'Pokes won anyway. Weeden still has the occasional interception problem (not good news when potentially facing LSU in the national title game), but his statistical pace continues to be incredible: 4,600+ passing yards, 37+ touchdowns, a 72-percent completion rate and 13 interceptions.
Landry Jones, Oklahoma. Jones has now lost his No. 1 running back in Dom Whaley and one of the best receivers in recent college football history in Ryan Broyles. He had a strange, hit-or-miss day against A&M last week even before Broyles went down -- 18-for-38 passing, but with each reception averaging 14.1 yards; he should rack up the stats against Baylor and Iowa State, but we'll see if Jones and a dwindling supporting cast can keep pace with Oklahoma State in a few weeks.
Best Player On Best Offenses
The following five come from the teams currently ranked first through fifth in terms of Off. F/+.
Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. Wilson had a rather easy go of it against Purdue: just turn around and hand the ball to Montee Ball. Still, he completed 15 of 20 passes for 205 yards and carried the ball nine times (not including sacks) for 88 yards. His pace for the year, if the Badgers can reach the Big Ten title game (and, therefore, play 14 games): 3,500 yards, 72-percent completion rate, 33 touchdowns, five interceptions, and over 500 pre-sack rushing yards. That is incredibly similar to what Luck has produced, and against a tougher schedule to boot.
Jacory Harris, Miami. The Hurricanes rank ninth in Passing S&P+, and Harris has compiled a surprising stat line to date. Over the course of a 13-game season, he is on pace for over 2,800 passing yards, almost 30 touchdowns, and only six or seven picks. He completed a tidy 14 of 20 passes (to eight different receivers) for 202 yards and three touchdowns in Miami's massacre of Duke last weekend. Miami's defense may have regressed, due to both turnover in staff and injury issues, but the offense has exceeded expectations.
Case Keenum, Houston. My goodness, Keenum is on fire. No, he is not exactly playing against top-notch defenses, but his recent stat lines would have been difficult to accomplish versus air. A week after throwing nine touchdown passes, Keenum threw just five incompletions -- he went 39-for-44 for 407 yards and two touchdowns. His pace over a 14-game (and possibly undefeated) season: 5,600 passing yards, over 50 touchdowns and about five interceptions. That is absurd.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson. Clemson surged into the Off. F/+ Top Five this week despite a bye, and any -- any -- discussion of Clemson's quality in their first year with offensive coordinator Chad Morris starts and ends with the freshman Watkins. He has caught 63 passes for 972 yards and ten touchdowns, he has 15 catches of 20 yards or more, and he has rushed for 133 yards to boot. And when Clemson needed a big play in the fourth quarter against Maryland, Watkins delivered with an 89-yard kick return touchdown. His 26-yard kick return average ranks him 12th among players with at least 20 returns. He is going to head into 2012 near the top of the Heisman favorites list.
Rueben Randle, LSU.
Best Runner On Most Prolific Rushing Offenses
These five players come from the top five BCS (or major non-BCS) conference teams according to Rushing S&P+.
Trent Richardson, Alabama.
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State. With Weeden and Blackmon exploding against Kansas State, Randle's role was more reserved; still, a) he rushed for 73 yards (4.6 per carry) and caught five passes for 31 yards, and b) his pace is still 1,300 rushing yards, 250-300 passing yards, and 27-30 touchdowns. On a per-play basis, Randle and the OSU running game have paced the 'Pokes.
LaMichael James, Oregon. Injuries will probably prevent him from receiving serious consideration this year, but James looked very much like James again last week in the Ducks' 34-17 win over Washington. He rushed for 156 yards (6.2 per carry), and despite missing two games, he could still potentially rush for 1,800 yards if Oregon can make the Pac-12 title game. That, in and of itself, is pretty amazing.
Montee Ball, Wisconsin. Ball went off against Purdue last week, touching the ball 21 times (20 rushes and a nine-yard reception) and gaining 232 yards in the Badgers' 62-17 win. As mentioned in The Numerical, that is two fewer yards than Purdue gained in their final 12 drives. Ball has just been so damn good this year; he's on pace for 1,600 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards, and well over 30 touchdowns, and as we see below, he is No. 1 in the country in Adj. POE, meaning his production is infinitely beyond what an average running back would have done given the same opportunities.
Denard Robinson, Michigan. Robinson's limitations were very much on display against Iowa last weekend. He missed numerous open receivers downfield, completed just 17 of 37 passes and threw a very ill-timed pick. He was hemmed in for just 71 pre-sack rushing yards as well. His full-season projections are still quite unique -- 1,300 rushing yards, 2,400 passing yards -- but Shoelace's downside has come out a bit too much at times.
Quarterback On Best Passing Offenses
These five players come from the top five BCS conference (or major non-BCS) teams according to Passing S&P+.
Russell Wilson, Wisconsin.
Jarrett Lee, LSU. How good are the LSU and Alabama defenses? The LSU and Alabama offenses combined to produce the following passing line last Saturday night -- 25-for-45, 290 yards, zero touchdowns, three interceptions -- and both moved into the Top Five for Passing S&P+. Neither Jarrett Lee nor A.J. McCarron are Heisman contenders, obviously, but evidently the fact that they were able to complete passes at all earned them an upgrade here.
Aaron Murray, Georgia. Murray was not asked to do much in a rout of New Mexico State, but he was damn impressive: 18-for-23, 238 yards, five touchdowns. He is on pace for 3,200 passing yards and over 35 touchdowns despite a tough slate of opposing defenses and no true go-to receiver, and his Dawgs are two wins (or a win and a South Carolina loss) from clinching the SEC East title.
A.J. McCarron, Alabama. See Lee above. Neither Lee nor McCarron are spectacular, but these numbers do suggest that both lead passing attacks that might be better than we think.
Robert Griffin III, Baylor. I understand that Griffin is not going to win the Heisman, but I am holding out hope that he can at least make the finalists list. He truly is an incredible mix of speedy legs and an accurate arm. He threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri last weekend, and he rushed for 89 pre-sack rushing yards. His completion rate has fallen to 'only' 74 percent, and he has a chance at 4,500 passing yards, 40 touchdown passes, 800 pre-sack rushing yards and well under 10 interceptions. He is such a ridiculously unique athlete.
Most Prolific And/Or Statistically Impressive Runner
These running backs have the highest Adj. POE in the country with at least 50 carries.
Montee Ball, Wisconsin.
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State.
Trent Richardson, Alabama.
Henry Josey, Missouri. Josey got briefly dinged up in the Tigers' loss to Baylor, but he still found time to rush for 132 yards, and assuming Mizzou can pull it together and become bowl eligible, he should be able to break the Tigers' single-season rushing record with well over 1,600 yards and 13-15 touchdowns. He has been a revelation for a young, injury-prone Mizzou squad.
LaMichael James, Oregon.
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.
Case Keenum, Houston.
Robert Griffin III, Baylor.
Andrew Luck, Stanford. There is nothing inherently wrong with Luck's stat line from Stanford's win over Oregon State: 20-for-30, 206 yards, three touchdowns, one interception. When you've got a running game as good as Stanford's, you can get away with averaging 6.9 yards per pass attempt and win easily. But those also aren't inherently Heisman numbers. Overall, Luck is great. His season pace, if Stanford makes the Pac-12 title game: 3,700 passing yards, 40 touchdowns, eight interceptions. Awesome. But look at some of the other projections in this post. Is this infinitely better than what Wilson, Griffin, Jones, Weeden, Moore or Keenum are producing?
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. F/+.
Morris Claiborne, LSU. Claiborne has, to me, surpassed Tyrann Mathieu in terms of quality and overall effectiveness, even if you do not hold the Honey Badger's suspension against him. Claiborne had a pick and a pass broken up against Alabama last weekend, giving him four of the former, five of the latter, a tackle for loss, and some spectacular kick return capabilities. Line him up on offense and throw a couple of bombs his way, and that's how a defensive player wins the Heisman, if not this year, then next year if he returns (and honestly, he might not have a reason to).
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama. Upshaw had a sack and almost had two more against LSU. For the season, he now leads the Tide with 12.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, nine quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. If you lead a superb defense in that many different categories, you land on this list.
Devon Still, Penn State. A week ago, Still was, to me at least, the story of Penn State's season. The Nittany Lions' defense was surging, and Still was putting up almost Suh-like numbers. Now, the narrative has changed just a bit, huh?
Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State. OSU's defense numerically passes the statistical test, if not the eyeball test; they have won over the advanced stats a lot more than the raw stats, and they remain in the Top Five here. We'll stick with Markelle Martin as the OSU representative here -- he has play-making ability both near the line of scrimmage (four tackles for loss) and far away from it (eight passes broken up).
Tyrone Crawford, Boise State. The Broncos took a bit of a dip in the rankings, which is what happens when you allow positive yardage of any kind to UNLV, much less over five yards per play; but Crawford still had a solid day, racking up another 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack. That gives him 10 TFL's and 5.5 sacks for the season. BSU will need to be careful if they want to remain in the Top Five here, however.
Who Would Probably Win If The Vote Were Today:
1. Andrew Luck
2. Andrew Luck
3. Andrew Luck
4. Andrew Luck
5. Andrew Luck
1. Trent Richardson (Last Week: 1)
2. Robert Griffin III (4)
3. Andrew Luck (2)
4. Russell Wilson (3)
5. Case Keenum (6)
6. Montee Ball (NR)
7. Brandon Weeden (9)
8. Morris Claiborne (NR)
9. Kellen Moore (7)
10. Landry Jones (5)