College Football Rankings: Heisman Watch, Post-Week 1 Edition

Peter Emerick@@peteremerickSenior Writer IISeptember 3, 2012

College Football Rankings: Heisman Watch, Post-Week 1 Edition

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    The first week of college football is almost in the books, and it provided fans with a plethora of mesmerizing, Heisman-caliber performances.

    While some may say it's too early to predict Heisman candidates, it's never too early to reward top performers by ranking them and their Heisman potential.

    From Geno Smith's near-perfect performance, to Le'Veon Bell's epic rushing performance against Boise State, there are a number of players who are establishing themselves as legitimate Heisman contenders.

    Ahead is a ranking of the top eight Heisman candidates, after the first week of college football. 

8. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

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    2012 Stats: 10 REC, 202 YDS, 1 TD

    Marqise Lee put on an absolute clinic against Hawaii in USC's opening game. Sure, it was against Hawaii, but any time a receiver accounts for over 200 yards in a single game, it grabs national attention.

    What is even more impressive about Lee's performance is that he out-preformed his more experienced teammate, Robert Woods, who had six receptions for 42 yards and two touchdowns.

    If we learned anything about USC from its performance in Week 1, it's that it is dangerous on the ground and in the air with Barkley under center. Penn State transfer Silas Redd will be more than capable of carrying the load in the backfield as long as Woods and Lee are putting up Heisman-like numbers through the air.

    If Lee keeps dominating like he did against Hawaii, he could certainly add his name to the short list of sophomores who have won the Heisman trophy. 

7. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

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    2012 Stats: 23 ATT, 110 YDS, 2 TD

    Marcus Lattimore's stats aren't exactly setting the college football world on fire, but they are extremely impressive when you consider the fact that Vanderbilt's defense was keying on him the entire game.

    Coming back from injury, Lattimore put together an impressive performance that ultimately saved his team from being on the wrong end of this college football season's first upset.

    If it wasn't for Lattimore and his tenacious running, the South Carolina Gamecocks would have lost to Vandy, and those kind of gutsy performances are what the Heisman Trophy is all about. Putting up ridiculous numbers is also a part of winning the Heisman Trophy, but game-saving efforts are arguably more important.

    The Gamecocks need to establish some sort of passing game if they want to compete in the SEC, and if they want to help Lattimore's Heisman campaign. There is no way he can win the Heisman if the Gamecocks can't pass the ball. 

6. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska

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    2012 Stats: 26 CMP, 34 ATT, 354 YDS, 76.5 CMP%, 5 TD

    Nebraska's offense looked shockingly efficient against an above-average Southern Miss defense, and it did so under the leadership of junior quarterback Taylor Martinez.

    Last season, Martinez had flashes of brilliance, especially when he was rushing the ball well in the option, but it looks like he's finally figured out how to shred defenses through the air instead. He made his receivers all look like 5-star recruits, and that's the sign of a good quarterback.

    Southern Miss isn't a terrible defensive team, and that adds to the Martinez's impressive performance. Time will tell if he can perform at the same level against legitimate Big Ten defenses.

    Once Martinez starts rushing the ball in the option too, he'll be even more dangerous, which should also increase his Heisman odds. 

5. De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR, Oregon

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    2012 Stats: 3 ATT, 64 YDS, 1 TD, 4 REC, 55 YDS, 2 TD

    De'Anthony Thomas touched the ball eight times in Oregon's opening-day win against Arkansas State. He turned those eight touches into 119 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.

    Yeah, that's ridiculously impressive. Just imagine the kind of production he could have put out if he touched the ball a few more times.

    Efficiency is a huge part of being a Heisman candidate, and Thomas is currently the definition of efficiency in college football right now. Thomas is also an electrifying playmaker, and that certainly helps his Heisman odds too.

    Everyone likes watching a playmaker who can make defenses miss, and that's what Thomas brings to the field. Oregon is going to be one of the most electrifying teams in the country and Thomas' play will be at the foundation if it. 

4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

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    2012 Stats: 14 CMP, 24 ATT, 207 YDS, 58.3 CMP%, 2 TD, 17 ATT, 161 YDS, 1 TD

    Ohio State might not be able to play in a bowl game, but that doesn't mean Braxton Miller can't be a Heisman candidate.

    Miller still looked a bit shaky throwing the ball, but on the ground he was absolutely electrifying. He protected the ball and when his team needed him to make a play, he did.

    To continue to be a Heisman favorite throughout the season Miller is going to have to put a bit more polish on his passing attack, because Devin Smith won't always be able to bail him out like this.

    Accounting for 368 total yards and three touchdowns, even if it's against Miami (OH), is a good way to solidify yourself as a Heisman candidate. Miller looks like he is going to thrive in Urban Meyer's new offensive scheme, and he might just be Meyer's next great Heisman winner. 

3. Matt Barkley, QB, USC

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    2012 Stats: 23 CMP, 38 ATT, 377 YDS, 60.5 CMP%, 4 TD

    Coming into the 2012 college football season, everyone had Matt Barkley pinned as one of the Heisman hopefuls. In his first performance of the year, he backed up that talk and solidified himself as a Heisman front-runner.

    While Barkley looked a bit shaky at times, there were more times than not when he looked absolutely on point. The way he controlled the offense and got the ball to his playmakers, like Silas Redd, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, was impressive to say the least.

    The most impressive part of Barkley's performance against Hawaii was that he identified defenses and made audibles with ease, which even further solidifies him as one of the top two quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL Draft class.

    Barkley has one of the most dynamic wide-receiver duos in college football, and that is going to help him out exponentially as the season moves on and he faces more difficult and more complex defensive schemes. 

2. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State

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    2012 Stats: 44 ATT, 220 YDS, 2 TD, 6 REC, 55 YDS,

    Le'Veon Bell was hands down the most impressive running back during Week 1 of college football.

    Michigan State had no other options on offense, and Boise State still couldn't stop him. Boise State knew that he was getting the ball, and even when the Broncos stacked the box they couldn't touch him.

    Bell ran defenders over, he made them miss tackles and most impressively he hurdled his 244-pound frame over a Boise State safety at one point in the game. Watching Bell take over the game for Michigan State was nothing short of mesmerizing.

    He accounted for 275 total yards on 50 touches, and even at the end of the game, on his 50th touch, he still looked like he had energy to play another three or four quarters of football. Bell is a special talent, and if he can dominate like he did against Boise State, his name will be amongst the Heisman hopefuls for the longevity of the entire season.

    The only question is if he can continue to run defenses over in Big Ten play if his offense can't establish some resemblance of a passing attack. 

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

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    2012 Stats: 32 CMP, 36 ATT, 323 YDS, 88.9 CMP%, 4 TD, 8 ATT, 65 YDS, 1 TD

    Holy Geno Smith Batman! Smith absolutely went off against Marshall's defense in what was considered a "rivalry game."

    Sure, Marshall isn't a daunting foe, but at the same time any rivalry game means both teams give a little bit more effort on both sides of the ball. The fact that Smith completed nearly 90 percent of his passes is unbelievable.

    Accounting for nearly 400 yards and five touchdowns makes his performance that much sweeter. The way that Smith shredded Marshall's defense through the air and on the ground was a sight to see, and it's something that he will certainly be doing all season.

    Now that West Virginia is playing in the Big 12, where defense is optional, it's safe to say that Smith will continue to shred defenses all season long, similar to the way that 2012 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III played last season. Smith is in the driver's seat for the 2013 Heisman Trophy. It's time to see how well he can continue to perform under pressure.