Heisman Watch 2012: Previewing the Top Contenders' Matchups

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IIOctober 31, 2012

Heisman Watch 2012: Previewing the Top Contenders' Matchups

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    The Heisman Trophy race is heating up as Week 10 of the 2012 college football season is approaching, and almost all of the top candidates will be in action this weekend.

    The USC Trojans got a Heisman-like performance from Marqise Lee against the Arizona Wildcats a week ago, Collin Klein is helping the Kansas State Wildcats light up the scoreboard and Giovani Bernard might be the best offensive player that no one is talking about, but will they all still be in the mix for college football's top award come Sunday? 

    Click ahead to see who the top 10 Heisman contenders are, who they will be playing against and what fans should expect to see from them on Saturday.

No. 10: Jarvis Jones, Georgia Bulldogs

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    Week 10 Opponent: Ole Miss Rebels

    This weekend's game in at Sanford Stadium will be a great opportunity for the Georgia Bulldogs to get an easy victory over the Ole Miss Rebels and for star linebacker Jarvis Jones to bolster his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

    Jones is coming off his best game of the season as the junior recorded three sacks and 13 total tackles against the Florida Gators last Saturday. 

    Ole Miss is struggling to keep defenders at bay right now and is allowing opposing teams to rack up over seven tackles for loss per game.

    Watch out for Jones to have another big game and slowly start to earn some more votes in this year's Heisman Trophy race. 

No. 9: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M Aggies

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    Week 10 Opponent: No. 15 Mississippi State Bulldogs

    The No. 16 Texas A&M Aggies are off to a 6-2 start in their first season as a member of the Southeastern Conference, and freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has been the biggest reason for Kevin Sumlin's successful debut in College Station.

    Manziel has tossed 16 touchdowns, found the end zone 13 times on the ground and has accrued over 3,000 yards of total offense through eight games.

    As of late, though, Manziel has struggled with turnovers and did not put up big numbers against Texas A&M's tougher opponents this season.

    Manziel has thrown six interceptions in the Aggies' last four games, but the Kerrville, Tex., native should be able to get himself back on track with a clean game against the No. 15 Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville.

    The Bulldogs' defense got exposed last weekend by the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and Manziel will score at least two touchdowns this Saturday. 

No. 8: Giovani Bernard, North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Week 10 Opponent: Idle

    One of the least known Heisman Trophy candidates right now is running back Giovanni Bernard, who has single-handedly carried the load offensively for the North Carolina Tar Heels over the past four Saturdays with eight total touchdowns.

    The sophomore leads the nation in all-purpose yards per game (214) and punt return average (20.75), in addition to a 262-yard rushing effort earlier this season against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

    Bernard has not been held under 135 rushing yards in over a month and no team has been able to keep him out of the end zone this year.

    The only two reasons Bernard is not getting any Heisman recognition is because North Carolina is 6-3 and ineligible for postseason play, in addition to the fact the 5'10", 205-pounder had to miss two games with a knee injury.

    Overall, Bernard has rushed for 930 yards on 126 carries, returned 12 punts for 249 yards, hauled in 32 passes for another 319 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns.

No. 7: Kenjon Barner, Oregon Ducks

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    Week 10 Opponent: No. 17 USC Trojans

    Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly has had call off the dogs in the second half against opponents all season long, and senior running back Kenjon Barner has been one of the biggest reasons why the flashiest team in college football is off to an 8-0 start.

    Barner has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in Oregon's last four victories and finished last Saturday's 70-14 rout of the Colorado Buffaloes with 151 total yards on a mere 11 touches.

    This will be only the third time this year the Ducks have faced a ranked opponent, but the No. 17 USC Trojans are not coming into this game with a full head of steam after giving up close to 600 total yards and 39 points in an upset loss to the Arizona Wildcats in Week 9.

    The Wildcats rushed for 219 yards against the Trojans, and Barner should be able to gash USC for at least half of that yardage this weekend in what is set up to be a shootout at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

No. 6: Marqise Lee, USC Trojans

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    Week 10 Opponent: No. 4 Oregon Ducks

    Sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee firmly thrust himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation after catching 16 passes for 345 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion as the USC Trojans were upset by the Arizona Wildcats last Saturday.

    This weekend's opponent, the No. 4 Oregon Ducks, are giving up over 200 yards per game through the air and Lee will test cornerback Terrance Mitchell like never before.

    In addition to USC's most recent game, Lee had over 100 receiving yards against the Hawaii Warriors, Stanford Cardinal, Utah Utes and Colorado Buffaloes. 

    Lee's Heisman candidacy will earn some more recognition this weekend if Matt Barkley can find him open a couple of times down the field against the Ducks.

No. 5: Geno Smith, West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Week 10 Opponent: TCU Horned Frogs

    Geno Smith and the No. 21 West Virginia Mountaineers will be looking to atone for two straight losses against the TCU Horned Frogs this weekend at Mountaineer Field.

    After racing out to the early lead in the Heisman Trophy race, Smith sputtered in blowout setbacks against the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Kansas State Wildcats, which has caused the 6'3", 214-pounder to fall behind several other contenders. 

    Smith has thrown 26 touchdowns and only two interceptions this season, which is what still has him in the Heisman Trophy discussion, but the Miami, Fla., native needs a big game against a quality opponent in order to become a legitimate contender again.

    This weekend's tilt with the TCU Horned Frogs may not quiet all of Smith's doubters, though, he should be able to throw the ball around against the nation's No. 63-ranked passing defense.

No. 4: AJ McCarron, Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Week 10 Opponent: No. 5 LSU Tigers

    AJ McCarron is no longer just a game manager for the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, which is why the junior quarterback is ranked No. 4 among the Heisman Trophy candidates entering this weekend's tilt with the No. 5 LSU Tigers.

    Although McCarron has yet to throw a touchdown pass against the Tigers in his career, the Mobile, Ala., product has come a long way since the two teams faced off last season and has thrown 18 touchdowns with zero interceptions thus far in 2012.

    Alabama will look to establish the run early against LSU's defense, but McCarron should have plenty of opportunities to find Kenny Bell or Amari Cooper on a play-action pass and bolster his Heisman Trophy resume.

    The Tigers and Crimson Tide will be in a defensive slugfest for 60 minutes this Saturday in Baton Rogue, and McCarron's decision-making is going to determine whether Alabama's perfect season remains intact.

No. 3: Braxton Miller, Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Week 10 Opponent: Illinois Fighting Illini

    Even though the Ohio State Buckeyes are ineligible for postseason play this year, sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller is a major player in the Heisman Trophy race and is the main reason Urban Meyer is 9-0 in his first season as head coach of the Scarlet and Grey.

    Miller is fresh off of a 277-yard and three-touchdown performance against the Penn State Nittany Lions and should easily be able to eclipse those numbers against the struggling Illinois Fighting Illini this Saturday in Columbus.

    The Fighting Illini's defense is giving up 365.88 yards per game, while Miller has only been held under 300 total yards in four games this season, one of which was an injury-shortened 160-yard effort against the Purdue Boilermakers in Week 8.

    Miller will break off some big runs and complete a couple of long pass plays en route to yet another Ohio State victory. 

No. 2: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Week 10 Opponent: Pittsburgh Panthers

    The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are in the national title hunt as a result of their defensive dominance, which is made possible by the nation's top middle linebacker, Manti Te'o, who has 10 or more tackles in six games this season.

    Te'o had a sack, an interception and 11 total tackles in Notre Dame's road victory over the Oklahoma Sooners last Saturday.

    This weekend, Te'o should be able to showcase all of his talents yet again as the Fighting Irish square off with the Pittsburgh Panthers, who are giving up more than five tackles for loss per game and will look to establish a rushing attack with senior running back Ray Graham.

    The future first-round pick will not allow Pittsburgh's offense to get in rhythm and will be flying all over the field to help Notre Dame dominate the Panthers in South Bend.

No. 1: Collin Klein, Kansas State Wildcats

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    Week 10 Opponent: No. 24 Oklahoma State Cowboys

    The clear Heisman Trophy front-runner right now is senior quarterback Collin Klein of the Kansas State Wildcats. 

    Klein has thrown for 1,630 yards, rushed for another 634 yards and 28 total touchdowns, in addition to leading Kansas State to an 8-0 start to the 2012 season with the No. 24 Oklahoma State Cowboys coming into Bill Snyder Stadium this Saturday.

    Although Oklahoma State's defense is much better statistically than it has been in year's past, Klein will prove to be too much for the Cowboys to slow down.

    In Klein's last two games against ranked opponents, the Loveland, Colo., product has completed 38 of 47 passes for 556 yards, carried the ball 24 times for 124 yards and has scored 11 total touchdowns.

    Expect Klein to cross the goal line at least twice on the ground and look out for a deep ball to senior wideout Chris Harper for a third touchdown.

    Kansas State should take care of business in impressive fashion against the Cowboys to remain in the national title hunt and Klein will once again be the No. 1 contender for the Heisman Trophy entering Week 11.