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2012 Heisman Watch, Week 12: Too late, but Tavon Austin had himself a week

It has to be Johnny Manziel right now, right?

Justin K. Aller

The 2012 Heisman race has had three clear, "It's his to lose" front-runners*: West Virginia's Geno Smith, Kansas State's Collin Klein, and now Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. If 2012 has taught us anything, it's that "his to lose" is not nearly the same thing as "can't lose." But the stars have certainly aligned for Manziel at this point. Consider the following:

1. The two other primary contenders (to my eyes, anyway), are Klein and USC's Marqise Lee, and both of them now have baggage. Klein has now looked mediocre (at best) for two straight weeks, and his numbers in KSU's loss to Baylor are far worse than mediocre: three interceptions, 5.2 yards per pass attempt, 3.6 yards per carry. Baylor's defense has been, to date, terrible.

2. Lee has now lost fumbles in three consecutive games, and his team, though not due to him personally, is probably the most disappointing in the country this year.

3. Neither Klein nor Lee will be playing in their conference's title game -- Klein won't because his conference doesn't have one, and Lee won't because USC's loss to UCLA handed the Pac-12 South title to the Bruins. So each has only one remaining shot to make a serious Heisman case. Lee could still win if he blows up Notre Dame to the tune of 300+ receiving yards or something, and the Trojans knock the Irish out of the national title hunt. Klein could if he does something positively absurd against Texas next Saturday. But for both, the margin for error has disappeared. Meanwhile, Manziel only has one game remaining, too, but that's a good thing. If he has another typical Manziel game against Missouri on Saturday, then he will be your clear, distant leader in the clubhouse.

4. So if Klein and Lee don't have much of a chance, that leaves ... who, exactly? Manti Te'o? The Notre Dame linebacker is absolutely incredible, but since his transcendent performance versus Oklahoma on October 27, I'm not sure he's made enough plays to have a chance. He has just one tackle for loss (a sack), one interception, and 14.0 tackles in three games. If anything, he has fallen victim to the fact that the entire Notre Dame front seven has begun to dominate. Players like Prince Shembo have stolen his stats in recent weeks, and while that's great for the Irish, it is probably bad for Te'o, especially considering that whole "Defenders almost never win the Heisman" thing.

Braxton Miller, then? While Ohio State also continues to win, the Buckeye quarterback's stats have long since drifted away from Heisman-worthy. In the last four games, Miller is completing just 49 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two picks, and he has only once rushed for more than 73 yards after doing so six times in the first seven games. Again, the Buckeyes are winning, and that's the most important thing, but Miller doesn't have much of a case anymore.

Kenjon Barner? The Oregon running back made this a four-way race with his 321-yard, five-touchdown performance against USC on November 3. But in the last two weeks, which include a tough home loss to Stanford, he has gained just 131 yards in 41 carries. That's more like Le'Veon Bell II than a Heisman winner.

The 2012 Heisman race has become a war of attrition, and only Manziel appears to still be firing at full functionality. If he lays an egg against Missouri the same way Klein did against TCU and Baylor, then we'll talk. Otherwise, it appears we will be seeing our first redshirt freshman Heisman winner in a couple of weeks.

* It's four if you count USC's Matt Barkley, since he was the consensus front-runner in the preseason. But you shouldn't count him because preseason Heisman opinions are worth absolutely, positively nothing. As it currently stands, we are about to see the third out-of-nowhere Heisman winner in four seasons. Nobody saw Mark Ingram coming in 2009, nobody saw Cam Newton coming in 2010, and it probably goes without saying that, if Johnny Manziel does indeed hold on to win, nobody saw THAT coming either. At least, nobody outside the bubble of Aggie Confidence. But are we going to continue building up Heisman hype every offseason? Of course we are!

The Top 10 from Week 12

1. Tavon Austin, West Virginia

The months of October and November have been crippling disappointments for West Virginia, as was last Saturday's epic, 50-49 loss to Oklahoma. But wow, did Tavon Austin have a game. Wow, wow, wow. Austin took on a new role against the Sooners, carrying 21 times and getting targeted with just five passes. The result? A whopping 344 rushing yards, two touchdowns, four catches and 82 yards. That's 426 yards. Four hundred twenty-six. That's more than 79 FBS teams have averaged this season. Disappointment or no, that might be one of the three or four best games anybody has had this year. The Mountaineers have two more chances to land Win No. 6 of this season. They better do it, too, because I want three more chances to watch Austin, not just two.

2. Tajh Boyd, Clemson

WVU-Oklahoma overshadowed the offensive fireworks of the Clemson-N.C. State game, but hopefully everybody still saw what Tajh Boyd produced. In a 62-48 win that moved the Tigers to 10-1 for the season, Boyd completed 30 of 44 passes for 426 yards, five touchdowns and the requisite two picks (he does have five in three week), and he also rushed 18 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns. N.C. State's Mike Glennon had a hell of a game, too (493 passing yards, five touchdowns), and his team somehow came up 14 points short.

3. Montel Harris, Temple

Seven rushing touchdowns gets you pretty high up on the list, even if they come against Army. Harris rushed 36 times, gained a ridiculous 351 yards and scored a season's worth of touchdowns in an easy Temple win.

4. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

I had trouble figuring out where to put Manziel, who torched Sam Houston State's defense like a lot of good, FBS-level quarterbacks would. This seemed like a nice spot for a performance that saw him complete 14 of 20 passes for 267 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception (average yards per pass attempt: 12.3) and rush 15 times for 109 yards and two more scores. It seems pretty easy for him at this point. Manziel basically plays like a hyper Chase Daniel, and if he torches Daniel's alma mater, he should be lugging a large trophy back to College Station soon.

5. Alec Lemon, Syracuse

Hey, speaking of Missouri ... the Tigers' offense finally got on track a bit against Syracuse, but their defense had absolutely no answer for Lemon, who caught 12 of 17 passes for 244 yards and two scores in a road win that got the Big East's hottest team bowl eligible after a sluggish start to the season.

6. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

Kansas State's ability to prevent big plays was a major reason for the Wildcats' rise to No. 1 in the BCS standings. But Seastrunk still did this:

A couple of KSU defenders had solid angles on Seastrunk, and it just didn't matter.

For the game, Seastrunk carried 19 times for 185 yards, and he makes this list despite some spotty receiving stats (four targets, two catches, one yard).

7. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

Bailey was overshadowed by Austin's ridiculous performance (and by some of his own from earlier this year), but against Oklahoma he looked healthy and, once again, ridiculous. Bailey caught 13 of 20 passes for 205 yards and four touchdowns, including three fourth-quarter scores that gave WVU the lead, if only briefly.

8. John Simon, Ohio State

The Ohio State offense pulled a vanishing act, but the Buckeyes were still able to pull off an overtime win at Wisconsin and remain undefeated, thanks mostly to the work of two players: Simon and Ryan Shazier. Simon was particularly ridiculous, creating a one-man pass rush and logging four sacks among his 5.5 tackles.

9. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois

Honestly, Lynch should probably be higher on this list, if only because of the ridiculous consistency he has shown this season.

9. Consecutive games in which Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch has thrown for at least 190 yards and rushed for at least 125. Projected over 14 games, Lynch is now on pace for 3,300 passing yards and 28 touchdowns, and 1,900 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. That is complete silliness. It is distilled, concentrated Chandler Harnish.

Against Toledo in mid-week MACtion last week, Lynch completed 25 of 36 passes for 407 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and 10.9 yards per pass attempt ... oh yeah, and he rushed 29 times for 165 yards.

10. Dri Archer, Kent State
Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
Devin Gardner, Michigan
Everett Golson, Notre Dame
Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Matt McGloin, Penn State
Kerwynn Williams, Utah State

I had no idea who most deserved the No. 10 spot this week, so I gave it to everybody under consideration. Dri Archer gained 254 yards and scored twice in just 18 touches against Bowling Green. Ka'Deem Carey gained 212 yards in 28 touches versus Utah. Johnathan Franklin gained 185 yards in 31 touches against USC and put the game away with a lovely, 29-yard touchdown run. Kerwynn Williams basically outdid them all with 287 yards and three scores in 25 touches in the WAC game of the year against Louisiana Tech. And on the quarterback side lof the ledger, Gardner, Golson, McGloin and Jones averaged the following passing line against Iowa, Wake Forest, Indiana and West Virginia, respectively: 25-for-34 for 402 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Gardner threw in three rushing touchdowns as well. They all picked the wrong week to do something ridiculous; they had plenty of competition in Week 12.

2012 Heisman Horse Race Totals (Through 12 Weeks)

Week 12 Honorable Mention

  • Isaiah Anderson, Oklahoma State (six targets, four catches, 174 yards, three touchdowns versus Texas Tech)
  • Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky (38 touches, 252 yards, two touchdowns versus UL-Lafayette)
  • Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (28-for-42 passing, 369 yards, four touchdowns, one interception; 12 carries, 85 yards versus Troy)
  • Cody Bauer, Rice (4.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble versus SMU)
  • Terrance Broadway, UL-Lafayette (23-for-33 passing, 258 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, 7.8 yards per pass attempt; 14 carries, 145 yards, one touchdown versus Western Kentucky)
  • DeAundre Brown, Tulsa (8.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, three passes broken up versus UCF)
  • Kolton Browning, UL-Monroe (25-for-34, 324 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 9.2 yards per pass attempt versus North Texas)
  • Cyrus Coen, Washington State (6.5 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack versus Arizona State)
  • Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma (eight solo tackles, one interception, three passes broken up)
  • Quinshad Davis, North Carolina (19 targets, 16 catches, 178 yards versus Virginia)
  • Andre Ellington, Clemson (25 touches, 171 yards versus N.C. State)
  • Cody Fajardo, Nevada (18-for-27 passing, 133 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 4.3 yards per pass attempt; 18 carries, 194 yards versus New Mexico)
  • Arsenio Favor, Southern Miss (16-for-22 passing, 374 yards, two touchdowns, one interception versus UTEP)
  • Chris Gallon, Bowling Green (16 targets, 10 catches, 213 yards, two touchdowns versus Kent State)
  • Mike Glennon, N.C. State (29-for-53 passing, 493 yards, five touchdowns, one interception, 8.2 yards per pass attempt versus Clemson)
  • Khaseem Greene, Rutgers (9.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks versus Cincinnati)
  • Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (4.5 tackles, two interceptions returned for 68 yards versus Tennessee)
  • Alexander Hansen, Air Force (4.5 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks versus Hawaii)
  • Jajuan Harley, Middle Tennessee (3.5 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery versus South Alabama)
  • Nick Harwell, Miami (Ohio) (13 targets, 11 catches, 215 yards, one touchdown versus Central Michigan)
  • Gerald Hodges, Penn State (9.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, one pass broken up versus Indiana)
  • Savon Huggins, Rutgers (41 carries, 179 yards versus Cincinnati)
  • Josh Johnson, Purdue (5.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, two forced fumbles, two passes broken up versus Illinois)
  • Chuckie Keeton, Utah State (20-for-34 passing, 340 yards, two touchdowns, 9.5 yards per pass attempt; 16 carries, 128 yards, two touchdowns versus Louisiana Tech)
  • Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (20-for-23, 246 yards, four touchdowns, 9.7 yards per pass attempt; six carries, 23 yards versus Washington State)
  • Eric Kendricks, UCLA (8.0 tackles, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble, one interception, one blocked kick versus USC)
  • Eddie Lackey, Baylor (7.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, four quarterback hurries versus Kansas State)
  • Marqise Lee, USC (16 touches, 155 yards, one touchdown versus UCLA)
  • Khalil Mack, Buffalo (10.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles versus UMass)
  • Sean Mannion, Oregon State (24-for-34 passing, 325 yards, four touchdowns, one interception, 9.0 yards per pass attempt versus California)
  • Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (21-for-29 passing, 308 yards, two touchdowns, 10.1 yards per pass attempt; seven carries, 26 yards versus Minnesota)
  • Tre Mason, Auburn (13 touches, 187 yards, two touchdowns versus Alabama A&M)
  • Curtis McNeal, USC (25 touches, 186 yards versus UCLA)
  • Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss (12 targets, six catches, 161 yards, two touchdowns versus LSU)
  • Aaron Murray, Georgia (18-for-28 passing, 330, four touchdowns, 10.5 yards per pass attempt versus Georgia Southern)
  • David Nwabuisi, Northwestern (4.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception returned for touchdown, one pass broken up)
  • Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech (21 targets, 11 catches, 181 yards versus Utah State)
  • Keith Price, Washington (22-for-29, 248 yards, five touchdowns, 7.5 yards per pass attempt versus Colorado)
  • Adam Replogle, Indiana (6.5 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack versus Penn State)
  • Sam B. Richardson, Iowa State (23-for-27 passing, 250 yards, four touchdowns; 11 carries, 43 yards, one touchdown versus Kansas)
  • Corey Robinson, Troy (26-for-35 passing, 417 yards, one touchdown, 10.9 yards per pass attempt versus Arkansas State)
  • Tyler Russell, Mississippi State (19-for-32 passing, 274, four touchdowns, 7.9 yards per pass attempt versus Arkansas)
  • Alvin Scioneaux, Wofford (10.0 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one interception, one quarterback hurry versus South Carolina; no, Wofford is not FBS, but holy moly)
  • Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (10.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one pass broken up)
  • Ryan Simmons, Oklahoma State (seven solo tackles, three tackles for loss versus Texas Tech)
  • Brett Smith, Wyoming (25-for-33, 412 yards, three touchdowns, 10.8 yards per pass attempt versus UNLV)
  • Keith Smith, San Jose State (14.0 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, two forced fumbles, one pass broken up versus BYU)
  • Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (19 touches, 171 yards, one touchdown versus Tennessee)
  • Kenny Tate, Maryland (6.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, three sacks versus Florida State)
  • Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (35 touches, 165 yards versus Oregon)
  • Kyle Van Noy, BYU (6.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble versus San Jose State)
  • Damien Williams, Oklahoma (28 touches, 163 yards, one touchdown versus West Virginia)
  • Arius Wright, Western Kentucky (11.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one interception versus UL-Lafayette)
  • Eddie Yarbrough, Wyoming (6.5 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks versus UNLV)