2011 Heisman Trophy Watch: Crowning Andrew Luck And The Power Of Bad Defense

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 08: Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes upfield against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Can Trent Richardson overcome the wave of conditional wisdom? And is it fair to punish Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III because they can't make their respective defenses play better?

Last week's top two are still this week's. Is it too late for anybody else?

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. Alabama had the week off in preparation for LSU, but here's a reminder of his current pace (if 'Bama wins the SEC West and plays 14 games): 1,700+ rushing yards, 350+ receiving yards, 30+ touchdowns. Luck is leading the Conventional Wisdom race, but I'm honestly not sure why. This should be, at worst, a two-man dead heat.

Kellen Moore, Boise State. The Broncos also had the week off, giving Moore a chance to rest and prepare for the season's final six games. Here's what I said about him last week, since nothing has changed since then:

It really is incredible what Moore is doing this year despite the loss of two NFL receivers from last year's passing game and struggling with some nagging injuries. His pace for this season: 3,700 passing yards, 76-percent completion rate, 8.8 yards per pass, 45 touchdowns, nine interceptions and, of course, 12-13 more wins. His go-to guy changes on a weekly basis (Matt Miller one week, Tyler Shoemaker another, Mitch Burroughs another), but he doesn't.

Rueben Randle, LSU. Yet another bye week for a top team. LSU might have a slight advantage in the passing game on Saturday night, and if the Tigers take out the Tide, I have the feeling Randle will be the primary reason why. (That, and crazy Les Miles antics, of course.) His full-season statistics are only good, and not spectacular (thanks to the simple fact that LSU doesn't throw a lot), but the nation will be watching him this weekend.

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State. Why Weeden instead of Justin Blackmon? Because quite simply, Blackmon has not been as spectacular this year. He has been exactly what OSU needs, mind you -- a big red zone target and a guaranteed 11 yards on third-and-10 -- but unless he picks up the pace significantly, he is not going to come anywhere close to his 2010 pace of 1,782 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. (Then again, if he has more games like his 13-catch, 172-yard performance against Baylor...) Weeden, meanwhile, is on pace to slightly better his. Weeden has been wonderfully adept at spreading the ball around to multiple targets, and though the underrated OSU defense is as responsible for the Pokes' high standing as the offense, Weeden still deserves quite a bit of recognition here.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma. For a future minister, Landry Jones still wasn't very charitable toward Kansas State's heart-warming run last Saturday in Manhattan. Sure, he handed them two first-half interceptions, but the end result was just obscene: 35-for-47 passing, 505 yards, five touchdowns. That pushes his full-season pace to 5,000+ passing yards and 40+ touchdowns. (His primary target, Ryan Broyles, meanwhile, is on pace for 130 receptions and 1,700+ yards.)

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 is, even more than Robert Griffin III, the poster boy for Heisman absurdity. The last two weeks, against two top-ten defenses on the road, Wilson has produced the following stat line: 34-for-53 (64 percent), 476 yards (9.0 per pass), five touchdowns and two interceptions. He has come through with fourth-quarter heroics to boot, first pulling the Badgers back from 14 points down to tie against Michigan State, then leading a comeback from 12 points down in the final four minutes to take the lead on Ohio State. But because his defense suffered ridiculous breakdowns in the final 30 seconds of both games, his stock has slipped. Sad.

Case Keenum, Houston. When Houston's Andre Ware won the Heisman in 1989, he threw for 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns. Case Keenum's current pace (with a 14-game schedule): 5,633 yards, 56 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Keenum, the top of the list is too strong this year. Ware had to fend off Indiana's Anthony Thompson and West Virginia's Major Harris. Keenum's looking up at, at the very least, a quarterback getting "Best NFL prospect ever?" hype (Andrew Luck) and a running back threatening to better Thompson's numbers on a national title contender.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma.

Trent Richardson, Alabama.

LaMichael James, Oregon. Statistically, Oregon is in better shape this year than last year. But in missing two games to injury (and looking only semi-effective in his first game back), James probably won't return to New York this year. His pace is still ridiculous, however, all things considered. If Oregon makes the Pac-12 title game (a big 'if' with Stanford looming), James could still post 1,700-1,800 rushing yards. Of course, that assumes he finds his pre-injury rhythm very quickly.

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+.

Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State. My internal debate above was Weeden-versus-Blackmon, but Randle is looking better and better. He rushed for 152 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries against Baylor last weekend; yes, it was against Baylor, but 10.9 yards per carry is still ridiculous. Despite playing in a pass-first offense, and despite splitting carries with the more-than-adept Jeremy Smith, Randle is still on pace for over 1,350 rushing yards, 250 receiving yards and over 25 touchdowns. Not bad.

Trent Richardson, Alabama.

Denard Robinson, Michigan. Interceptions have wrecked any true shot Robinson had at the Heisman this year (he has 11 in eight games), but it is still fun to sit back and admire what a true, statistical oddity he has become. In general, the 2,000/1,000 club is still pretty limited in its membership, but even in a season that has included a brief, if earnest, debate on whether he should continue to even be Michigan's starting quarterback, here is Robinson's pace (for a 13-game season): 2,300+ passing yards, 18 passing touchdowns (and 18 interceptions), 1,300 rushing yards, 16 rushing touchdowns. If Michigan sneaks into the Big Ten title game, then he sneaks toward 2,500/1,500.

LaMichael James, Oregon.

B.J. Daniels, South Florida. I'm cheating a bit on this one. Today's surprise is the effectiveness of the South Florida run game, which could produce three players between 600 and 1,000 yards despite facing a solid stretch of run defenses. The leader is Colorado transfer Darrell Scott (511 yards, five touchdowns), but I'm going to take this opportunity to acknowledge the growth of Daniels, a previously one-dimensional quarterback who has done well in sprouting a second dimension for an admittedly underachieving USF squad. Daniels has rushed for 439 pre-sack rushing yards (6.4 per carry), but his passing has improved a decent amount this year. He is completing 62 percent of his passes and is on pace for 3,400 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. A Heisman contender, he is not, but improvement should be recognized.

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.

Aaron Murray, Georgia. That Georgia ranks second in Passing S&P+ doesn't make a lot of sense until you look at who they have played. Sure, Murray's pace is pretty good -- 3,000+ passing yards, 30 touchdowns -- but it looks a lot better when you consider that former opponent Boise State ranks first in Def. Passing S&P+, South Carolina ninth and Florida 21st. The worst FBS pass defenses they have faced still rank 43rd (Mississippi State), 45th (Vanderbilt) and 46th (Ole Miss).

Kellen Moore, Boise State.

Robert Griffin III, Baylor. There's always next year, Hot Tub. I had to come to grips this week with the fact that Griffin just isn't going to be considered a Heisman candidate this year, especially not with the defense he has at his disposal. He is still completing 75 percent of his passes, and he is still on pace for 4,400 passing yards, 40+ passing touchdowns (with only about seven interceptions) and about 750 pre-sack rushing yards. But the Bears have lost three of four and still must face Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas. Win out, and he's a contender. But they aren't going to win out with a defense that ranks 97th in Def. F/+.

Darron Thomas, Oregon. Like James, Thomas is probably not a true contender because of injuries (and last week's ineffectiveness). Still, this is a good time to acknowledge how efficient Thomas has been this year despite the loss of Jeff Maehl. He has a 162.8 passer rating, is averaging a healthy 8.5 yards per pass and has thrown 18 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

Most Prolific And/Or Statistically Impressive Runner

These running backs have the highest Adj. POE in the country with at least 50 carries.

Trent Richardson, Alabama.

Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State.

Montee Ball, Wisconsin. The disappointment of the last two weeks has not done much to dampen Ball's statistics. If Wisconsin makes the conference title game (still a strong possibility), he should approach 1,500 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards and over 35 touchdowns.

LaMichael James, Oregon.

Henry Josey, Missouri. Missouri's offensive identity has evolved throughout the course of the season, but right now it consists mostly of bullish runs from quarterback James Franklin and heavy doses of the elusive Josey. Injuries to others made him the feature back by default, and after receiving only 15 carries the first two games, he has been incredible ever since, averaging 147 rushing yards per game and 8.5 yards per carry in his last six games. Keep that pace up, and he could approach 1,800 rushing yards for the season.

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.

Andrew Luck, Stanford. Luck almost made a devastating mistake Saturday night versus USC, throwing a late pick six that gave the Trojans the lead. He rebounded however, and Stanford eventually won in triple overtime. In terms of passer rating, Saturday saw his second-'worst' game of the year -- he 'only' had a 161.5 rating -- but the bad version of Andrew Luck would be the spectacular version of most other quarterbacks. He is completing 72 percent of his passes and could approach 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns if Stanford makes the Pac-12 title game. He should clearly be considered one of the favorites, but it bothers me that he is seen as the favorite.

Robert Griffin III, Baylor.

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/+.

Courtney Upshaw, Alabama. The Tide have the best run defense in college football, and their killer linebackers are the primary reason why. Upshaw has been by far the biggest playmaker of the bunch; in a 14-game season, he could hit 20 tackles for loss.

Tyrone Crawford, Boise State. Crawford has to share his big plays with others -- Boise State has 23 players who have taken part in at least one tackle for loss -- but he still leads the team in TFLs, sacks and quarterback hurries. He will have to fight to hold off Shea McClellin in these categories, however.

Morris Claiborne, LSU. Again, from last week:

After his "invisible for one game, suspended for the next" routine, I am at least temporarily off the Tyrann Mathieu bandwagon. On a defense that has seen 23 players pull down at least one tackle for loss and seven players pick off passes, it is silly to focus on a single player anyway. Instead, this week I'm focusing on Claiborne, who, on any other secondary in the country, would be the marquee star. He has three picks, four passes broken up, a tackle for loss and some serious kickoff return skills (not that there are many kickoffs to return).

Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State. Last week, we gave some love to underrated end Jamie Blatnick; today, we head to the safety position. OSU has perhaps the best pair of safeties in the country (yes, really) in Martin and Daytawion Lowe, and Martin has the slight edge in terms of play-making: he has four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and seven passes broken up. If he had recovered those two fumbles and taken them back for touchdowns, he would be Tyrann Mathieu.

Devon Still, Penn State. Still was spectacular in Penn State's snowy 10-7 win over Illinois. He was second on the team with 7.0 tackles, half of which came behind the line of scrimmage. That gives him 15.5 tackles for loss for the season, a total that would be rather ridiculous for a linebacker or rush end but is simply spectacular (and nearly Suh-like) for a tackle. Penn State still has quite a bit of work to do to reach the Big Ten title game, but if they make it, Still probably deserves more credit than anybody else.

The Verdict

Who Would Probably Win If The Vote Were Today:

1. Andrew Luck
2. Trent Richardson
3. Landry Jones
4. Case Keenum
5. Kellen Moore

My Vote

1. Trent Richardson (Last Week: 1)
2. Andrew Luck (3)
3. Russell Wilson (4)
4. Robert Griffin III (2)
5. Landry Jones (NR)
6. Case Keenum (6)
7. Kellen Moore (5)
8. Denard Robinson (7)
9. Brandon Weeden (NR)
10. Devon Still (NR)

It is a quarterback-heavy year, but I still have a running back on top.

Archive

Week Three
Week Four
Week Five
Week Six
Week Seven
Week Eight

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