2011 Heisman Trophy Watch: Starting Over

After Andrew Luck's struggles against Oregon, we hit the reset button on the Heisman race. Who is in the pole position now that the battle is much closer than it was a week ago?

At the very least, I guess I got my wish. A week ago, I railed against the "Andrew Luck Consensus." Now, the only Andrew Luck consensus is that his stock was damaged by Stanford's loss to Oregon. Poor Luck was forced to step into a quickly-collapsing pocket and attempt passes to extremely well-covered receivers; his dinged-up Cardinal were just outmanned by the Ducks' defense. But his stumble (even if it was more his team's than his own) have officially taken the Heisman race from "foregone conclusion" to "wow, I have no idea."

spoke this morning about Arkansas' BCS chances and how the No. 6 team is unlikely to make up too much ground with three weeks remaining. Well, anything is possible if last week's No. 7 contender can, for all intents and purposes, draw even with the frontrunners in just one week. It was that kind of Saturday: Luck stumbled, Trent Richardson was underwhelming, Robert Griffin's team almost lost to Kansas ... everything we thought we knew fell into question, and now we have to basically hit the reset button.

To the candidates!

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. On a per-play basis, LSU's offense has been quite a bit more proficient than we tend to believe. They take their time, and they don't have to take many risks because of their brutally effective defense and special teams, but they are good when they have to be. Randle has been the most explosive reason for that, even if he did completely disappear against Alabama. He did what was needed against Western Kentucky, catching three of six passes thrown his way, gaining 76 yards and scoring a touchdown.

Trent Richardson, Alabama. Richardson had a golden opportunity to seize control of the race, but in the end he only did fine in the Tide's 24-7 win over Mississippi State. He did what was needed: he ground out 127 yards on 32 carries (he also caught two passes for 26 yards); with the Bulldogs gaining only 131 yards all game, 'Bama didn't need explosive play, only efficient, time-consuming offense. He gave them that. He just didn't create any Heisman moments at a time where a couple of highlights would have gone a long way.

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State. Something of an afterthought a week ago, Weeden might actually be a frontrunner now. While other candidates were stalling or regressing, Weeden dominated. In the Cowboys' 66-6 win over Texas Tech, he completed 31 of 37 passes for 423 yards and five touchdowns. Tech actually slowed down the OSU running game a bit, at least for a while (Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle combined for just 91 yards on 23 carries, then backup blue-chipper Herschel Sims came in and gained 109 yards on 13 carries), but they couldn't even get a finger on Weeden, whose career trajectory is quickly beginning to resemble that of Heisman winner (and national champion) Chris Weinke.

LaMichael James, Oregon. Can you win a Heisman despite missing time to injury? Do we have a lot of precedent for that? Because James is pretty quickly re-entering the conversation. He rushed for 146 yards (7.3 per carry) and three touchdowns against a solid Stanford defense, and his 58-yard beauty was something worthy of dissection.

Kellen Moore, Boise State. An absolutely incredible tidbit made the rounds after Boise State's loss to TCU: at this moment, Moore is five points away from an undefeated college career. Boise State has lost three games under his watch: 17-16 to TCU in 2008, 34-31 to Nevada in 2010, and 36-35 to TCU last weekend. Boise also missed four field goals in these three losses, all under 40 yards. Moore is now an afterthought in the Heisman race, primarily because he hasn't added a 35-yard field goal to the repertoire. (That, and he hasn't figured out a potion to keep his secondary healthy.)

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. Like Moore, Wilson has almost become an afterthought because of the failings of other units on his team. If not for the two desperation bombs allowed by the Wisconsin defense at the end of the Michigan State and Ohio State games, Wilson's 16-for-17 effort against Minnesota would have kept him right at the top of the Heisman candidates list. Wilson's efficiency numbers are simply staggering this year: 73-percent completion rate, 25 touchdowns to three interceptions, 201.6 pass efficiency rating. He has also amassed almost 400 pre-sack rushing yards. He has been outstanding in leading the No. 1 offense in the country (according to F/+), and he should be receiving more consideration than he currently is.

LaMichael James, Oregon.

Rueben Randle, LSU.

Case Keenum, Houston. At some point, the ridiculous numbers make him a viable candidate, even if they are coming against terrible defenses, right? As I've mentioned before, Keenum is well above the pace set by Andre Ware when Ware won the Heisman two decades ago, and the numbers are just getting sillier -- the Cougars gained 11.0 yards per play in scoring 73 points on Tulane. Unfortunately for him, there is a healthy crop of contenders this year, and that will prevent him from winning. Just as a reminder, however, here is his current season projection: 5,500 passing yards, 52 touchdowns, four interceptions. Absurd. While I assume Alabama would harness the Houston offense reasonably well, I want to see that matchup in the Sugar Bowl in a couple of months, just for the sake of curiosity.

Jacory Harris, Miami. Miami took a while to get going against Florida State, but they continue to exceed offensive expectations for the season as a whole. Harris' 161.1 pass efficiency rating well exceeds what he has produced in previous years, and while he is not a legitimate Heisman candidate, his improvement, both in terms of completion percentage (from 55 percent in 2010 to 64 percent in 2011) and interceptions (from a 5.6-percent interception rate in 2010 to 2.2 percent), is worth noting and celebrating.

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. Randle didn't need to do much against Texas Tech (which is good because he didn't do much), but OSU's spot on this list is a good reminder that if you somehow shut down Weeden and the passing game, OSU can still beat you on the ground. Randle, Jeremy Smith and the precocious Herschel Sims can grind out a win if they need to.

LaMichael James, Oregon.

B.J. Daniels, South Florida. Like Harris, Daniels isn't a serious Heisman candidate, but his running ability has given USF a second dimension on the ground. They have been quite effective in that regard, even if the passing game holds them back at times. Assuming USF plays 13 games, Daniels' season-long pace is a fun one: over 900 pre-sack rushing yards and over 3,000 passing yards.

Denard Robinson, Michigan. Robinson is still the best thing going for the Michigan ground game, and he is still on pace for an interesting season-long stat line (he should still squeeze out a 2,000/1,000 season), but I was tempted to go with running back Fitzgerald Toussaint here for effect. The sophomore from Youngstown has gained 420 yards over the last three games and is picking up the slack for a fading, banged-up Robinson.

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 and A.J. McCarron, Alabama. We once again politely clap for two "game manager" quarterbacks who have done a better job than they are probably given credit for doing. Lee has actually lost a good percentage of his snaps to Jordan Jefferson, but he should be commended for his early-season accomplishments in Jefferson's absence. McCarron, meanwhile, is completing 65 percent of his passes and has managed a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio despite the fact that he really only has two targets who are guaranteed to show up from game to game, and one of them is Richardson (the other: Marquis Maze). The rotating cast of characters competing for the No. 2 spot continues to be in flux, but McCarron should still easily pass for over 2,500 yards with a slow-paced, run-heavy offense.

Aaron Murray, Georgia. Murray was magnificent in Georgia's route of Auburn. He completed 14 of 18 passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns, and he actually tallied 33 non-sack rushing yards as well. I mention it every week, but Murray is quite underrated, posting the numbers he has posted despite a rough stretch of defenses. His completion percentage is now over 61 percent, and he should approach 3,200 yards and well over 35 touchdown passes should the Dawgs make the conference title game.

Darron Thomas, Oregon. After taking a brief step backwards following an injury, Thomas has begun to once again look sharp and efficient. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns in the rout of Stanford, and he three in five non-sack carries for 45 yards, just to keep the defense off of James' scent. He is also not a serious Heisman candidate, but Oregon's is an underrated passing attack.

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. Aside from iffy defense, one other factor is probably hurting Russell Wilson's candidacy: Ball. Ball gained 166 yards on 23 carries against Minnesota, and it could certainly be said that his proficiency has made life pretty easy for Wilson. His current pace (if UW can make the Big Ten title game): 1,750 rushing yards, 325 receiving yards and almost 40 touchdowns. Wow.

Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State.

Trent Richardson, Alabama.

Collin Klein, Kansas State. This is supposed to be a list of running backs, not quarterbacks, but ... come on. Klein is Kansas State's featured running back at this point. Let's put it this way: against Texas A&M last week, "real" running backs John Hubert and Angelo Pease attempted 15 carries. Not even including sacks, Klein attempted 31 carries and ground out 126 yards and five touchdowns. Despite a lack of consistent receivers (Chris Harper and Tyler Lockett have made occasional appearances) and despite the fact that Hubert and Pease are only decent backs, Klein has willed that offense to success, and he deserves to be on this list. His current pace: 1,950 passing yards (~13 touchdowns), 1,300 rushing yards (~31 touchdowns). He is unique, and he is the Kansas State offense.

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. As mentioned in yesterday's Numerical, Griffin pulled off something odd on Saturday: he averaged over 10 yards per pass, over 10 yards per carry ... and his team still almost lost to Kansas. Griffin's pass efficiency rating is a ridiculous 188.6, and he is on pace for almost 4,500 passing yards and 700 rushing yards (and almost 50 combined touchdowns), but ... sigh. I understand he isn't a serious candidate because of his supporting cast. It continues to be a damn shame.

Kellen Moore, Boise State.

Andrew Luck, Stanford. Luck better be careful here -- though he is still probably a front-runner, he almost doesn't qualify in any of these categories. He still has a 71-percent completion rate, and he is still on pace for almost 3,500 passing yards and 40 touchdown passes, but there are too many ridiculous statistics being posted this year. He will need to produce something special against California and Notre Dame to lock down the top spot.

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/+.

Courtney Upshaw, Alabama. Alabama's defense was almost embarrassingly effective against Mississippi State, holding the Bulldogs to 2.2 yards per play and 131 yards overall. Upshaw had just 2.5 tackles, but 1.5 of them went for a loss. He now has 14.0 tackles for loss (tops on the team), 6.5 sacks (tops), an interception, two forced fumbles (tops) and nine quarterback hurries (tops). Leading a ridiculous defense in that many categories gets on you love here.

Tyrann Mathieu, LSU. The Honey Badger had his best game in a while against Western Kentucky: 5.5 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, a pass broken up, a QB hurry and two punt returns for 39 yards. It is difficult to stand out on a secondary this loaded with playmakers (Morris Claiborne has four picks and five passes broken up; Ron Brooks has 4.5 tackles for loss, a pick and five passes broken up; Tharold Simon has 2.5 tackles for loss and eight passes broken up; and Eric Reid made this pick and this hit), but for now we will once again give Mathieu the edge here.

(Seriously, that is a simply ridiculous secondary.)

Devon Still, Penn State. In a game nobody really wanted to play, Devon Still did his part as Penn State lost to Nebraska. He had 5.0 tackles, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble. For the season, then, he has an incredible 16.5 tackles for loss. He should have well over 20 at season's end; he continues to be a bright spot for a Penn State program suddenly desperate for them.

Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State. Martin didn't have much of a job to do against Texas Tech; hard to clean up messes and serve as a safety valve when the team doesn't need one. Still, he and Daytawion Lowe continue to serve as a phenomenal pair of safeties on the bendingest-not-breakingest defense in all of college football.

Eddie Pleasant, Oregon. A new addition to the Def. F/+ Top Five following their brilliant performance versus Stanford, Oregon gets its first representative on this portion of the list. I'm going with Pleasant, a senior rover who has collected something for just about every line in the box score. In nine games, he has 38.0 tackles, two tackles for loss (one sack), three picks (returned for 90 yards) and seven passes broken up. I could have gone with Terrance Mitchell (20.0 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception, eight passes broken up, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery), but the redshirt freshman currently resides on the second string, which is a bit of a hindrance.

The Verdict

Who Would Probably Win If The Vote Were Today:

1. Brandon Weeden
2. Andrew Luck
3. Trent Richardson
4. Case Keenum
5. LaMichael James

My Vote

I'm honestly not sure at this point. Let's go with this:

1. Trent Richardson (Last Week: 1)
2. Brandon Weeden (7)
3. Robert Griffin III (2)
4. Russell Wilson (4)
5. Andrew Luck (3)
6. Case Keenum (5)
7. LaMichael James (NR)
8. Montee Ball (6)
9. Collin Klein (NR)
10. Kellen Moore (9)

I already hate this order, so let's just move on.

Archive

Week Three
Week Four
Week Five
Week Six
Week Seven
Week Eight
Week Nine
Week Ten

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