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2012 Heisman Watch, Week 11: The race has a new leader(s)

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Collin Klein is probably your overall front-runner, but the Heisman Horse Race has a new, two-way tie for the top spot. Klein still has some work to do.

Stephen Dunn

Make no mistake: Collin Klein is leading the Heisman race right now, and deservedly so. Even after a mostly poor game versus TCU, the tight end-sized quarterback is still on pace for 2,600 passing yards (16 touchdowns, four interceptions) and 975 rushing yards (25 touchdowns) on a team looking more and more like it will go undefeated. After coasting through most of the first two months of the season without any truly brilliant statistical performances, he basically produced three straight against West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. And he was probably due a poor week (5.2 yards per pass attempt, 5.8 yards per carry, 195 total yards) against a crafty TCU defense. If he struggles against Baylor's woeful defense this coming Saturday, then that might legitimately open the door to a challenge from others. But until then, he is definitely your leader.

That said, in the horse race format I've been using this year, someone has finally caught Geno Smith for the season lead. Two have, actually, and neither is Klein. At this point, I think it is safe to say we know three of this year's Heisman finalists: Klein, USC's Marqise Lee and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. The latter two took the horse race lead this past week, and any further slippage from Klein could turn this into a fascinating race. Meanwhile, another redshirt freshman quarterback is threatening to leave his mark on the race as well, and another freshman found his way into the top five performances of Week 11. This has been a unique year, hasn't it?

1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona

Yes, it was against Colorado. No matter. Against what is technically a BCS conference opponent, Carey gained 366 yards in just 25 carries, scored five touchdowns, and caught two of two passes for 34 yards just for good measure. Do the math: that's 400 yards in 27 touches. For the season, 63 of 124 FBS teams are averaging 400 yards per game for the season. Carey did it by himself. Colorado or not, that earns you the No. 1 spot.

This was the showcase performance, obviously, but Carey has had himself one hell of a year. Projected over 13 games, he is on pace for 1,800 rushing yards, 350 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns, and in a year devoid of major star wattage at the running back position, he could end up an All-American (though he would be behind Kenjon Barner, obviously, and Giovani Bernard on my non-existant ballot).

2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
3. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Differentiating between these two redshirt freshmen was the toughest part of this week's piece. Mariota was easily the superior performer statistically -- he completed 27 of 34 passes (to eight different receivers) for 377 yards and six touchdowns and threw in six carries for 42 yards against California -- but Manziel was part of the week's biggest game, completing 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and four sacks versus Alabama and throwing in 107 rushing yards on 14 carries.

That Manziel averaged 6.8 yards per pass attempt and 7.6 yards per carry against Alabama's ferocious defense should perhaps give him the nod, but I chose Mariota. Cal's defense was dead set on forcing Mariota to win the game for the Ducks. They sold out against the run and held Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas to minuscule per-carry averages; but not only did Mariota do well enough through the air to beat the Bears, he torched the Bears. He averaged 11.1 yards per pass attempt and threw for six touchdowns in just 34 passes. That is simply absurd no matter how old you are.

Giving Manziel the third-place nod still puts him in the lead (or at least tied for it) in the horse race standings below, but this should also serve notice that Johnny Football is not the only redshirt freshman performing at a ridiculous level. Mariota hasn't faced a defense as good as Alabama's yet, but he is the quarterback of an undefeated team that is currently on pace for the national title game. I doubt he makes it to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but if he has a big three coming weeks against stellar competition (and with less help from an ailing defense), he could technically still make more than enough noise.

4. Prince Shembo, Notre Dame

The week's only defensive entry (though it was very hard to keep UCLA's Anthony Barr, Kansas State's Meshak Williams and Buffalo's Cortney Lester out) comes from a game mostly defined by defense. Go figure. Notre Dame gained 65 percent of its yards and scored two-thirds of its points the first three drives of an eventual 21-6 win over Boston College, but that was more than enough for a dominant defense led by Shembo, who posted 4.5 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery. Manti Te'o is the face of the defense, but it wouldn't be as dominant without the performances of players like Shembo and, especially, Stephon Tuitt. This is a big, fast, mean defense, one that might get the Irish to the national title game despite a sporadic offense.

5. Duke Johnson, Miami

Miami's star freshman has been interesting in spurts this season and has proven himself capable of changing a game via ground, air or kickoff. In an eventual 41-40 loss to Virginia, Johnson evidently also needed to play defense, but he did everything possible to earn Miami a win: 16 carries for 150 yards and a touchdown, one catch for four yards, and four kick returns for 214 yards, including a 95-yard touchdown. Johnson is a Noel Devine type -- even though he has struggled plenty this year, it feels like he might score anytime he touches the ball. And projected over 14 games (with the optimistic thought that the Hurricanes could still win the ACC Coastal division -- and yes, the 5-5 'Canes could still win the Coastal), he could end up with 1,000 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards and an average of 35 yards per kick return. Not bad for a player who is still clearly trying to figure things out at the BCS level. Lord help the ACC if (when) he puts it all together.

(But seriously, if he wanted to play some cornerback, too, that might be quite welcome...)

6. David Ash, Texas

This is David Ash's second Top 10 appearance of the season, which is a strong accomplishment considering his iffy October performance. Against Iowa State, wearing a "DKR" decal on the horn on his helmet, Ash completed 25 of 31 passes against a strong ISU defense for 364 yards and two touchdowns, tossing in three carries for 21 yards for good measure. Considering how poor he looked against Oklahoma and Kansas, it is reassuring to see Ash coming up with such good performances. It is also incredible to realize that he is currently ninth in the country in pass efficiency, ahead of, among others, Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Connor Shaw and Seth Doege.

7. Marqise Lee, USC

He did lose a fumble for the second straight week, and that alone knocked him below Johnson and Ash (and into a tie, overall, with Manziel), but Lee still had a rather Lee-like stat line in a win over Arizona State: 14 targets, 10 catches, 161 yards and a touchdown receiving, plus six carries for 66 yards and two pass interference penalties drawn. And, of course, the requisite long touchdown.

I have learned something about myself over the past couple of years. For all of us, there is a specific position (and elite play at such position) by which we are more seduced than any other. Some love heady, ferocious linebacker play like that of Manti Te'o. Some crave a De'Anthony Thomas (or Duke Johnson) type flying out of the backfield. Some adore a Le'Veon Bell type of back dishing beatings between the tackles. Some love watching a quarterback pick apart an offense, either with precision (the Chase Daniel type), or rugged dual-threat ability (Collin Klein), or a pro-style hand cannon (Matt Barkley) or just plain fun (Johnny Manziel). Maybe some get their kicks watching brilliant defensive tackles (Ndamukong Suh) imploding lines on a play-by-play basis. I love all of those things, of course, but what tickles my fancy more than anything else is the receiver who can score from anywhere at anytime.

Perhaps my most rewarding season as a Mizzou fan, at least when it comes to experiencing individual talent, was watching Danario Alexander lay waste to the entire Big 12 in 2009. That he was not even named a Biletnikoff finalist after finishing with 113 catches, 1781 yards and 14 touchdowns will always annoy me, long after it stops annoying him. But ... Marqise Lee's current pace (projected over 14 games): 137 catches, 2,025 yards, 18 touchdowns. Plus 11 yards per carry and 29 yards per kickoff return. That isn't Biletnikoff-worthy, that's Heisman-worthy.

8. Montee Ball, Wisconsin

It has been a disappointing year of sorts for Ball, who returned for his senior season at Wisconsin after producing video game stats last year (2,200 rushing and receiving yards, 39 touchdowns). But most of that disappointment is because of an awful September. Over the last five weeks, with a rotating cast of quarterbacks no less, Ball has rushed for 155 yards per game and 10 touchdowns. Against Indiana on Saturday, in a game that all but clinched a bid in the Big Ten title game for the "disappointing" Badgers, Ball carried 27 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns. And he'd have probably done even more damage had fellow back James White (14 carries, 161 yards, two touchdowns) not stolen some of the glory. A combined back of Montames Whall and his 41 carries for 359 yards and five touchdowns would have ... well, it would have placed second on this list. Because Ka'Deem Carey still did better than that.

9. Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
10. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

I also struggled to differentiate between these two, but both earned Top 10 inclusion. With a third-string quarterback throwing him the ball, Stewart caught 13 of 15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, and he scored on a 46-yard run as well. Passes from quarterback Clint Chelf to everybody else went just 9-for-16 for 120 yards. Chelf leaned on Stewart, and Stewart produced.

That Stewart was catching balls from a backup, and that his team beat West Virginia by three touchdowns, gave him the edge over Bailey, who certainly did about all he could for the Mountaineers. Bailey caught 14 of 20 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. Bailey's nagging injuries did as much to derail the West Virginia offense as anything else earlier this year, but with him running full speed again, WVU still couldn't get totally on track. Geno Smith completed 22 of 34 passes for just 139 yards to players not named Bailey, and WVU lost its fourth straight game overall.

2012 Heisman Horse Race Totals (Through 11 Weeks)

Week 11 Honorable Mention

  • Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (26-for-34 passing for 334 yards, two touchdowns and one interception; eight carries for 44 yards and a touchdown versus UL-Monroe)
  • Dri Archer, Kent State (13 touches for 205 yards and three touchdowns versus Miami-Ohio)
  • Deion Barnes, Penn State (5.0 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack versus Nebraska)
  • Anthony Barr, UCLA (6.0 tackles, three tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one quarterback hurry, one blocked kick versus Washington State)
  • Bene Benwikere, San Jose State (5.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, one fumble returned for 37 yards and a touchdown, one interception, one pass broken up versus New Mexico State)
  • Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (22 touches for 170 yards and two touchdowns versus Georgia Tech)
  • Tyler Bray, Tennessee (37-for-54 passing for 404 yards, four touchdowns and 7.2 yards per pass attempt versus Missouri)
  • Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (36-for-49 passing for 424 yards, three touchdowns and an interception versus Syracuse)
  • Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech (23 touches, 158 yards, five touchdowns versus Texas State)
  • Seth Doege, Texas Tech (45-for-59 passing for 476 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and 7.9 yards per pass attempt versus Kansas)
  • Cory Dorris, Tulsa (4.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks, one fumble recovery, and one interception returned 22 yards for a touchdown)
  • Trayion Durham, Kent State (22 touches for 198 yards and two touchdowns versus Miami-Ohio)
  • Joey Ehrmann, Wake Forest (4.0 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one QB hurry versus N.C. State)
  • Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (7.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, three passes broken up versus Ole Miss)
  • Nathan Jeffery, UTEP (25 touches for 188 yards versus UCF)
  • Brendon Kay, Cincinnati (13-for-21 passing for 244 yards, two touchdowns and 10.3 yards per pass attempt versus Temple)
  • Vad Lee, Georgia Tech (6-for-10 passing for 169 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 14.8 yards per pass attempt; 22 carries for 118 yards and two touchdowns versus North Carolina)
  • Alec Lemon, Syracuse (12 targets, nine catches, 176 yards, two touchdowns versus Louisville)
  • Cortney Lester, Buffalo (2.5 tackles, three interceptions returned for 71 yards, one pass broken up versus Western Michigan)
  • Ja-Mes Logan, Ole Miss (12 targets, eight catches, 160 yards versus Vanderbilt)
  • Jordan Matthews (18 targets, nine catches, 153 yards and a touchdown versus Ole Miss)
  • Curtis McNeal, USC (32 touches for 185 yards and three touchdowns versus Arizona State)
  • Sio Moore, UConn (5.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, two passes broken up versus Pittsburgh)
  • Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (15-for-23 passing for 246 yards, three touchdowns and 10.0 yards per pass attempt versus Louisville)
  • Art Norman, N.C. State (3.0 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble versus Wake Forest)
  • Tony Pierson, Kansas (17 touches for 202 yards versus Texas Tech)
  • Darrin Reaves, UAB (39 touches for 221 yards and two touchdowns versus Marshall)
  • Keenan Reynolds, Navy (8-for-15 passing for 159 yards and 7.9 yards per pass attempt; 18 carries for 146 yards and three touchdowns versus Troy)
  • Theo Riddick, Notre Dame (23 touches for 160 yards versus Boston College)
  • Logan Ryan, Rutgers (6.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, one fumble returned for 18 yards, three passes broken up versus Army)
  • Anthon Samuel, Bowling Green (32 touches for 186 yards versus Ohio; BGSU's other 21 plays gained just 102 yards)
  • Bishop Sankey, Washington (41 touches for 175 yards and two touchdowns versus Utah)
  • Connor Shaw, South Carolina (14-for-22 passing for 272 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and 10.2 yards per pass attempt; five carries for 27 yards and a touchdown versus Arkansas)
  • D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina (11.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception returned 69 yards for a touchdown, one quarterback hurry versus Arkansas)
  • Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (21 touches for 161 yards and two touchdowns versus Oregon State)
  • James White, Wisconsin (14 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns versus Indiana)
  • Meshak Williams, Kansas State (6.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, one pass broken up versus TCU)
  • Zach Zwinak, Penn State (24 touches for 178 yards and a touchdown versus Nebraska)

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