Heisman Watch: Why Collin Klein and Kenjon Barner Are Only Legitimate Contenders

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent INovember 6, 2012

Collin Klein
Collin KleinEd Zurga/Getty Images

With apologies to Marqise Lee, Braxton Miller, AJ McCarron and Manti Te'o, the Heisman race has been narrowed down to just two candidates at this point in the season.

Collin Klein has been at the top of everyone's list for awhile now, and Kenjon Barner made his case last weekend after gashing the USC defense for over 320 yards and five touchdowns.

For starters, the winner of the Heisman trophy is typically on one of the best teams in the country. Robert Griffin III was an exception to this rule last season, but his eye-popping stats made him hard to ignore. In addition, nobody else made nearly the push that he did at the end of the year.

This eliminates both Braxton Miller and Marqise Lee, but fortunately for fans of USC and Ohio State, the two will return next season.

Lee might be atop the list if the Trojans had lived up to their preseason hype, but three losses take him out of contention, especially with other players making big statements.

Miller is much improved from last season, but he's still completing less than 60 percent of his passes while Klein is completing over 70 percent. He also has 13 rushing touchdowns compared to Klein's 17.

In a head-to-head comparison of the Top-2 dual-threat quarterbacks, Klein takes the cake.

And while Miller is on an undefeated Buckeyes team, the fact that they are ineligible to play in a bowl game hurts his case.

But both AJ McCarron and Manti Te'o belong to undefeated teams in the Top 4, you say. And you'd be correct, but can you name the Heisman winners who played on defense? After Charles Woodson, there aren't any.

Ndamukong Suh made a run at the trophy several years ago, and Tyrann Mathieu made his case last year. But neither finished in the Top 3.

There's little doubt that Te'o oozes greatness every time he steps onto the field. But a defensive player won't win the award unless he posts a historically great season and the top contenders on offense fail to provide fireworks.

AJ McCarron has made an interesting case for the award, but his offense takes him out of the competition.

Alabama looks to establish the run before letting McCarron sling the ball downfield. And when he does he's been extremely accurate, completing over 65 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

But at this point you have to not only look at the stats in big games, but the value each player has to their team as well. Without McCarron, the Crimson Tide would probably trot out another great quarterback who manages each game efficiently. They're probably still a one-loss team, and they might even be undefeated.

But Kansas State would have nowhere near the same season it's having without Klein. He's nearly as efficient as McCarron through the air, having thrown for 12 touchdowns with just two interceptions. But his 17 touchdowns on the ground take him to another level.

McCarron is an excellent quarterback, but Klein gets the nod by being the more dynamic playmaker.

In the beginning of the season, Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, and Geno Smith were near the top of most Heisman lists. They've since dropped out of the picture due to poor play and multiple losses.

Thus, we're left with the front-runner, Collin Klein, and his latest challenger, Kenjon Barner. What separates Barner from the other candidates making a run at the top spot?

Well, the stats speak for themselves. He has nearly 1300 yards on the ground to go along with 19 touchdowns. He could conceivably break the 2000-yard mark.

He had one of the great performances in recent memory against USC, which was Oregon's toughest test to date. He'll continue to get carries in Oregon's spread offense, and he'll get a chance to show his stuff against two of the top run defenses in Oregon State and Stanford.

But while neither player is perfect, their weaknesses have nothing to do with their talent.

Barner has been hurt by Oregon jumping out to enormous first half leads, which has significantly limited his carries in the second half. Klein could be hurt by a recent injury, but head coach Bill Snyder is hopeful that he'll be playing this Saturday, according to the Washington Post.

Each player will continue to be in position to shine, and the odds that either will drop off the map are slim to none.

Both Barner and Klein have separated themselves at this point in the season. While four or five players will likely be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, the race is down to just two.


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