Heisman Watch 2012: Previewing the Top Contenders' Matchups for Week 4

Carl StineCorrespondent ISeptember 19, 2012

Heisman Watch 2012: Previewing the Top Contenders' Matchups for Week 4

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    The Heisman Watch List changed significantly from last week to this, by virtue of some upsets and serious big-time performances.

    I think most of us would agree that Matt Barkley's Heisman hopes took a serious blow with USC's high-profile loss to Stanford.

    And we can safely assume that the current front-runner is Geno Smith.

    However, this season, the race for the trophy appears to be wide open heading into Week 4.

    Let's hope it stays that way until late in the season.

15. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan

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    Next Up: at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. NBC

    Yep, "Shoelace" is still hanging around the Heisman discussion.

    In spite of four interceptions through three games, compared to only six touchdowns through the air, Robinson continues to pop up on these lists by virtue of his ability to make plays with his feet, shoeless or not.

    While Notre Dame's defense has been solid this season, Denard has been a nightmare for the Irish, scoring eight touchdowns and amassing 948 total yards in two games as a starter against them.

    In 2010, he burned them for 258 yards on the ground and 244 through the air.

    In 2011, the Irish did a better job of limiting him on the ground to only 108 yards, but Denard torched the Irish secondary for 338 yards on only 11 completions.

    With another game similar to either of those, Robinson will force himself into the discussion of major Heisman contenders.

14. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

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    Next Up: vs. Vanderbilt, 7:45 p.m. ESPN2

    This will be a solid test for Murray.

    Vanderbilt has been very good against the pass this season, allowing only 100.7 yards per game through the air over the course of three games.

    Before you laugh, two of those games were against BCS conference opponents, and the Commodores already limited one top-10 SEC foe to fewer than 70 yards through the air in the season-opening game against South Carolina.

    Murray has been excellent so far for Mark Richt's squad, but this will give us a better gauge of where the Bulldogs offense will settle in this season.

13. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

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    Next Up: vs. Missouri, 3:30 p.m. CBS

    Lattimore has a big chance to make some noise against a solid defense on national television this weekend.

    He has not overpowered us with huge numbers yet this season, but Missouri is one of the better rushing defenses in the nation and provides an SEC foe against which Lattimore can prove that he belongs in this discussion.

    There are few running backs in the nation with his talent, strength and speed all in one package, and it will show against Missouri this week.

12. Deandre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

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    Next Up: at No. 4 Florida State, 8 p.m. ABC

    Last week's game against in-state foe Furman was Hopkins' worst, as he only had seven catches and 95 yards.

    Florida State is no Furman, and if Hopkins gets to 95 yards against the 'Noles, he will be doing very well, especially considering Jimbo Fisher's team has allowed only 69.7 passing yards per game.

    Of course, that was against Murray State, Savannah State and, most recently, Wake Forest, so matching up with a loaded Clemson offense may be a wake-up call for the 'Noles, rather than a death knell for Hopkins' Heisman candidacy.

11. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

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    Next Up: at No. 4 Florida State, 8:00 p.m.

    Boyd and his Tiger teammates have had a successful season thus far, posting a 3-0 record including a win over Auburn.

    Now things get legit, as the Tigers square off against the Seminoles in the first matchup of top-10 ACC teams since 2007.

    The Florida State defense has put up insane numbers this season, but that's going happen when you play Cupcake University every week.

    Boyd has the opportunity to either expose them or prove that they are an elite defense by failing to be effective.

10. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

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    Next Up: Off

    Fresh off his stellar performance against top-ranked USC, Taylor has forced his way into this discussion.

    After his monster 153-yard rushing, 60-yard receiving performance in prime time against the Trojans, Taylor gets to take a break before a Thursday game next week.

    If he can continue to produce against ranked Pac-12 opponents, he will continue to climb these rankings.

9. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

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    Next Up: vs. Cal, 6:00 p.m. Pac-12 Network

    Cal couldn't stop Ohio State's passing game last week, so there is no reason to expect them to stop USC's this week.

    This means another big day may be in the works for Lee, especially if the Trojans come out looking to put up points and make a statement.

    There is nobody on Cal's defense that can match up with Lee, and you better believe both he and quarterback Matt Barkley both know it.

8. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia

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    Next Up: vs. Vanderbilt, 7:45 p.m. ESPN2

    Jones sat out last week against FAU, but he is ready to go against the 'Dores this weekend.

    If you haven't seen him in action yet, watch this game.

    Jones is one of the most dynamic, exciting defensive players in the game today, and against an SEC opponent, even one as traditionally weak as Vanderbilt, he will make some plays that will continue to keep him in the thick of this discussion.

7. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

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    Next Up: at FIU, 7:00 p.m. ESPN3

    If you haven't already, it's time to sit up and pay attention to Bridgewater.

    He's averaging 285 passing yards per game in meetings with Kentucky, Missouri State and North Carolina.

    He has yet to throw an interception and leads a Louisville offense that has scored more than 30 points in each of their three contests.

    Teddy Bridgewater, meet the 111th-ranked passing defense in the nation, the FIU Panthers.

    Have fun.

6. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State

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    Next Up: at No. 6 Oklahoma, 7:50 p.m. Fox

    Things get tough for Klein and company this weekend.

    Oklahoma at home is no easy proposition, and Klein has not yet demonstrated the ability to take advantage of the Sooners' weaknesses in the passing game.

    At least, that's what we thought.

    Look at his numbers: Klein has completed almost 73 percent of his passes this season, for 609 yards.

    His passing touchdown numbers are pedestrian, but he has nine total and only two interceptions.

    Against an Oklahoma defense that is 10th in the FBS in total defense, the Wildcats get their first real challenge.

5. Matt Barkley, QB, USC

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    Next Up: vs. Cal, 6:00 p.m. Pac-12 Network

    How the mighty have fallen!

    The Trojans must regroup quickly against an explosive Cal offensive.

    The good news is that the Golden Bears could not cover Ohio State's mediocre receivers last week, nor could they stop Braxton Miller from throwing four touchdown passes.

    Now they have an angry Matt Barkley and elite receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods on their hands. This contest is not going to be pretty, at least not for Cal.

4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

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    Next Up: vs. UAB, Noon, Big Ten Network

    It's plays such as this 55-yard scamper that made defenders look ridiculous that have fans buzzing again about Braxton Miller.

    But that's not Miller's only foray into the end zone this season.

    He has scored a total of 12 times and only thrown two interceptions so far, with hapless UAB coming next to the Horseshoe.

    While he's unlikely to see the entire game if the Buckeyes make this one a laugher, he will make his impact felt again this week before he leaves the field.

3. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA

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    Next Up: vs. Oregon State, 3:30 pm ABC

    Oregon State already shut down Wisconsin and running back Montee Ball.

    They now set their sights on Johnathan Franklin and the Bruins, yet another Pac-12 team off to a great start.

    Franklin has been ridiculous this season, averaging 8.2 yards per carry and over 15 yards per catch this season.

    He has dominated the Bruins' opponents this season, but will find a little tougher sledding against a stingy Oregon State defense.

2. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

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    Next Up: vs. No. 22 Arizona, 10:30 pm ESPN

    After Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech, things get real this weekend for Thomas and the Ducks.

    Arizona, a surprisingly solid team, comes to town seeking their second win over a ranked opponent in this still young season.

    The Wildcats have not been particularly impressive on defense, so you can expect Thomas and fellow Duck Kenjon Barner to have a big day and get far more touches than they have in any game thus far.

1. Geno Smith, QB, WVU

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    Next Up: vs. Maryland, Noon, FX

    Check this guy out.

    Smith has scored 10 times already this season, nine through the air and one on the ground.

    He has completed 88 percent of his attempts and gained 734 yards through the air through two games.

    Dana Holgorsen's offense seems to be making Smith feel extremely comfortable, and that is going to continue against a Maryland defense that at times appears lost on the field.

    Smith is going to go off this weekend.