Heisman Watch: Resetting the race

Anthony Gimino

September 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm.

Geno Smith has been a passing machine for an explosive West Virginia team. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

After four weeks of the college football season, we can hit the eject button and the reset button on the Heisman race.

Many of the most logical preseason picks are either gone or need a Heisman Heimlich to breathe life back into their campaigns.

One loss doesn’t necessarily doom the chances of preseason front-runner Matt Barkley, but his fourth career loss to Stanford a couple of Saturdays ago dealt a serious blow to USC’s whole “unfinished business” storyline. That was the bar of expectation for Barkley: Lead the Trojans to the national title game … and let the stats and the Heisman Trophy take care of itself.

USC is in the position now of having to run the table to elevate Barkley, whose numbers are average — even with a pair of All-American-caliber receivers. He has been picked off four times in the past two weeks and ranks only 51st nationally in passing efficiency.

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball has rolled off the Heisman list, averaging a meager 3.87 yards per carry. Although he is an electrifying runner, Michigan’s Denard Robinson has a combined six interceptions and one touchdown pass in losses to Alabama and Notre Dame. Sorry, Shoelace.

Oklahoma’s Landry Jones might be able to make the final five. No, not the five Heisman finalists; the list of the five best quarterbacks in the Big 12. Even that is a bit shaky.

And then there’s LSU defensive back/kick returner Tyrann Mathieu, who finished fifth in the Heisman balloting last season. Honey Badger never even made it to the opening kickoff of the season, declared ineligible.

So, who’s good?

Let’s take a look at a new list of five front-runners.

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

With Smith playing in Dana Holgorsen’s offense, his numbers are going to be unsurpassed. He has completed a ridiculous 81.4 percent of his passes (96 of 118) for 1,072 yards, with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. When he was “only” 30 of 43 for 363 yards and three touchdowns vs. Maryland on Saturday, Holgorsen pondered Smith’s day and declared, “Geno was a bit off.”

2. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State

The big win over Clemson was Manuel’s Heisman moment. The senior has had plenty of critics over the years, but maybe — just maybe — he and the FSU program are putting it all together for what could be one glorious season. He passed for 380 yards and ran for 102 as the Seminoles subdued the Tigers 49-37. “I don’t remember him making a bad decision all night,” head coach Jimbo Fisher said. If Manuel can keep attacking deep down field, the FSU offense looks scary good.

3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State

Somebody needs to make up an award just for the toughest son-of-a-gun in college football so Klein can win it. Klein willed the Wildcats to a 10-3 record last year and he’s back at it this season, leading K-State to a 4-0 record, which includes last Saturday’s win at Oklahoma. His stats will never match those of, say, Geno Smith, but he’s a good-enough for 19th nationally in passing efficiency and his dual-threat skills will keep him in the discussion if the Cats keep winning big games.

4. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

Murray has all the tools and is off to an excellent start, completing 69 of 104 passes for 1,092 yards, with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. And the Bulldogs have already played two conference games, winning at Missouri and then dispatching Vandy last Saturday, when Murray completed his first 12 passes. He could have quite a shootout this week against Tennessee’s Tyler Bray. Road games against South Carolina (Oct. 6) and Florida (Oct. 27) likely will tell his Heisman tale.

5. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

The Black Mamba will have to make a Heisman push on highlights rather than pure stats, because he doesn’t get all that many touches. He has the appropriate buzz, though, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week and dubbed “The Fastest Man in Football.” He was quiet Saturday against Arizona, which was probably only a brief respite before he strikes for many more long touchdowns.