2011 Heisman Trophy Watch: The Home Stretch

It's time for someone to seize control of the Heisman Race in the stretch run. Who will it be?

This season, I have attempted to take a slightly different approach to the Heisman race, using some advanced statistics to make sure we were looking at the right set of candidates. Turns out, we are. Aside from Andrew Luck, every major Heisman candidate has been quite statistically sound and justifiable. So as we reach the home stretch of the season, with candidates facing either one or two remaining games, we will eschew the statistical categories and go straight to the candidates, their important stats, and what they need to do with their remaining opportunities to take home the prize. The rankings below are a combination of what I think should happen and what I think will happen. That is a difficult balance to attain.

Casting a wide net, only 10 players, I think, still have a chance to make it to New York. Realistically, it is probably less than that. Stopping at ten might be unfair to Landry Jones, but that's what we're going to go with here.

10. Montee Ball, Wisconsin

Important Stats: 223 carries, 1,466 yards (6.6 per carry), 25 touchdowns; 16 receptions, 233 yards, five touchdowns. Wisconsin is fifth in the country in Rushing S&P+, and his Adj. POE of plus-43.9 is best in the country, more than eight points higher than that of No. 2 Trent Richardson.

What He Needs To Do To Win: It is almost certainly too late for Ball to win, but he still has an opportunity to make a strong late run; the Badgers play Penn State this weekend, and if they win, they play Michigan State next weekend. If he can post huge games against two Top 10 run defenses (according to Rushing S&P+), then in theory he could win quite a few last-second votes in the Midwest, but ... we know how this silly process works. Half of the voters have probably already decided who they're voting for, and it almost certainly isn't Ball, even though he may be the best running back in the country this year.

9. Kellen Moore, Boise State

Important Stats: 248-for-336 (74 percent), 2,915 yards (8.7 yards per pass), 35 touchdowns, six interceptions. Boise State ranks fifth in Passing S&P+, seventh on standard downs. And this is neither here nor there, but Moore is five points (and quite a few missed field goals) away from an undefeated career record.

What He Needs To Do To Win: That a 2010 Heisman finalist can complete 74 percent of his passes and probably not make it back to New York tells you something about how stacked this Heisman field is. Moore has been hobbled a bit, but he is still probably the most purely efficient passer in the country. Still, with only games with Wyoming and New Mexico remaining, Moore could complete 100 percent of his passes for a combined 1,000 yards, and nobody would probably notice. The Broncos needed to be undefeated to give him a chance, unfortunately.

8. Matt Barkley, USC

Important Stats: 273-for-404 (68 percent), 3,105 yards (7.7 yards per pass), 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions. USC ranks ninth in Off. F/+ and 15th in Passing S&P+.

What He Needs To Do To Win: Come back for his senior season. Barkley just got too late a start, posting solid stats in underwhelming USC wins in September. He was not included in any of my stat-based Heisman pieces here because USC was not elite in any set of stats. Still, he has had some monstrous games. He threw for 468 yards and four touchdowns against Arizona and 318 and six touchdowns against Colorado, and he saved his best performance for last, passing for 323 yards (with a 77-percent completion rate) and four touchdowns in an upset of Oregon. Still, USC's season is over, and too many others got a head start on him this season. But if he chooses to return next year, with another year of getting to target Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, he will begin the season as one of the presumptive favorites.

7. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin

Important Stats: 170-for-231 (74 percent), 2,506 yards (10.9 yards per pass), 26 touchdowns, three interceptions, and 397 pre-sack rushing yards. Wisconsin is first in the country in both overall Off. F/+ and Passing S&P+.

What He Needs To Do To Win: Wilson has been high on my list all year, and why not? His raw stats are the most impressive of any quarterback in the country, and he would absolutely be a finalist if I were king. But the more I think about it, the more I realize two things are going to trip him up: 1) Wisconsin has lost two games when they were considered a darkhorse national title contender. That qualifies as slightly "disappointing," even though neither loss (both last-second losses that included opponents completing long desperation passes) had hardly anything to do with Wilson. 2) He is going to split votes with Montee Ball, especially in the Midwest. Like Ball, he has a nice chance to differentiate himself against two excellent defenses, and a couple of Wisconsin blowout wins could get one Badger to New York, but neither has a chance to win, I'm afraid.

6. LaMichael James, Oregon

Important Stats: 173 carries, 1,285 yards (7.4), 13 touchdowns; 14 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown. Oregon is third in the country in Rushing S&P+, and James' plus-24.3 Adj. POE is 11th despite his missing two games to injury.

What He Needs To Do To Win: Honestly, James had his chance last week. He had reentered the race despite the injury, but he gained only 78 yards on 20 carries last week in a home upset loss to USC. That loss not only knocked James out of serious Heisman contention, but more importantly, it also knocked the Ducks out of the national title hunt. With remaining games versus Oregon State and, potentially, the Pac-12 South champion in the conference title game, James could still put together enough of a resume to get to New York. But he won't win.

5. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

Important Stats: 355-for-486 (73 percent), 4,111 yards (8.5 yards per pass), 34 touchdowns, 12 interceptions. Oklahoma State ranks 11th in Off. F/+, 17th in Passing S&P+ and sixth in Standard Downs S&P+.

What He Needs To Do To Win: Weeden was in even better position than James heading into last weekend's games. Oklahoma State was headed for the national title game, and with Andrew Luck's struggles, he was considered one of the new frontrunners. And then he went out and threw three devastating interceptions on national television in an upset loss to Iowa State. Weeden had gone from seventh to second on my list, but considering the numbers other front-runners have been producing, he couldn't afford a slip-up, and he suffered one. He could very well make the list of finalists, especially with some 400+ yard, four-touchdown performance in a win versus Oklahoma next week. But I will be surprised if he wins at this point.

4. Case Keenum, Houston

Important Stats (not counting today's ongoing game versus Tulsa): 309-for-421 (73 percent), 4,269 yards (10.1 yards per pass), 38 touchdowns, three interceptions. Houston ranks fourth in Off. F/+, ninth in Passing S&P+ and fourth in Passing Downs S&P+.

What He Needs To Do To Win: I will admit that I may be overrating Keenum. Weeden very well might be in the No. 4 slot right now, especially considering the fact that while Weeden slipped up on national television, Keenum hasn't really been on national television. But he has two things going for him: 1) an undefeated record, 2) a potentially likely BCS bowl bid, and 3) positively obscene stats. He has re-written the NCAA record book, and in a weaker year of candidates, he might be able to sneak out a win. He won't win, but I will be a little annoyed if Keenum remains undefeated but does not receive an invitation to New York.

3. Andrew Luck, Stanford

Important Stats: 241-for-343 (70 percent), 2,937 yards (8.6 per pass), 31 touchdowns, eight interceptions. Stanford ranks seventh in Off. F/+, 16th in Passing S&P+ and eighth in Standard Downs S&P+.

What He Needs To Do To Win: I have made my thoughts clear regarding Andrew Luck. I think he is an excellent pro prospect, and he has carried a good Stanford team to great records in each of the last two years. But he just doesn't get my (non-existent) Heisman vote, at least not at this point. If he torches Notre Dame Saturday evening while other front-runners stagnate, we'll see. But the player who has spent most of the season as the assumed frontrunner just has not differentiated himself from quite a few other candidates. He hasn't won any more than Keenum or Weeden, he hasn't put up the gaudy stats (even when adjusting for pace) of Keenum, Wilson or Robert Griffin III, and he hasn't produced any sort of "signature" moment that voters so crave. I find it ridiculous that he might still be the assumed favorite. He hasn't earned it, at least not yet, and he's running out of opportunities.

2. Robert Griffin III, Baylor

Important Stats: 245-for-336 (73 percent), 3,572 yards (10.6 per pass), 33 touchdowns, five interceptions. Baylor ranks second in Off. F/+, seventh in Passing S&P+ and seventh in Standard Downs S&P+.

What He Needs To Do To Win: Let's face it: if Griffin played for a team with an elite defense, he would be the absolute runaway favorite. But his team is just 7-3, in part because of a defense that ranks 95th in Def. F/+. It isn't fair to judge him by his defense, and if I had a vote, he would get it at this moment in time. But I think his record keeps him from winning it in the end, at least unless he produces incredible stats against Texas Tech tomorrow night and even more incredible stats versus Texas on ABC next weekend. He will have a chance to make more impressions like the one he made in Baylor's signature win over Oklahoma last weekend, but I'm just cynical enough to assume that his defense will prevent him from taking home the prize.

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama

Important Stats: 236 carries, 1,380 yards (5.8 per carry), 20 touchdowns; 26 receptions, 322 yards, two touchdowns. Alabama ranks eighth in Off. F/+ and first in Rushing S&P+, and Richardson ranks second in Adj. POE at plus-35.5.

What He Needs To Do To Win: So I have complimented the depth of this year's field, and then I have damned all of the major favorites with fatal flaws -- Weeden with his Iowa State performance, Keenum with his invisibility, Luck with his only-good stats, and Griffin with his team's defense. So that leaves Richardson, almost by default. And I'm mostly okay with that. Richardson has served both as a workhorse back with serious explosiveness and as Alabama's No. 2 receiver. He had himself a ridiculous, Heisman-esque run against Ole Miss. And at this moment in time, he is quite likely the offensive star of one of the two participants in the BCS championship game. He could have salted the award away with a huge performance against LSU, but even though he produced almost every good offensive play for the Tide, a) they lost, and b) he still only ended up with 89 rushing yards (and, of course, 80 receiving yards). That could sway voters back toward Luck, Griffin or Weeden. If Richardson posts 175 rushing yards tomorrow in a win over Auburn, then he becomes the outright favorite. If he only rushes for 100, or if Alabama loses, then he might have blown his opportunity.

With two Saturdays remaining, I really just hope someone seizes control of the award, whether it is Richardson torching Auburn, Baylor posting ridiculous numbers versus Texas, Luck going for 500 yards versus Notre Dame, Weeden going for 600 yards versus Oklahoma, or Keenum going for 800 in the Conference USA title game next weekend. Griffin surged back into the race with his performance last weekend, but otherwise everybody either took horizontal or backwards steps. Time for someone, anyone, to take control.

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