The Heisman race is only heating up as we race toward the final few weeks of the season, and although there's a favorite in Collin Klein, the final group of five invitees (or fewer, as it may be, but we're expecting five) to the Downtown Athletic Club seems to change by the week, depending on who put up a big game and who struggled that Saturday.
Thus, Klein is leading Heisman betting odds, according to our own Adam Kramer—but the field is still volatile behind him.
Slight change in Heisman odds, Manziel gaining steam at @bovadalv: Klein (2/5), Manziel (11/4), Barner, Te'o, Lee (10/1), Miller (30/1).— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) November 16, 2012
You'll notice Braxton Miller coming in as a long shot there at 30-to-1. We don't advocate betting around here (seriously, don't bet on sports, your life will be better for it), but we do wonder if perhaps Miller is being a little undervalued there.
Here's the thing about Heisman voters: By and large, they're journalists. Journalists are rarely Xs-and-Os experts as much as they're just plain writing experts, and writers need hooks. Specifically, Heisman voters want as much of five different factors when evaluating Heisman candidates: Visibility, Record, Stats, Highlights and Recent Play.
No position in football is more visible and thusly important to a Heisman voter's sense of value than quarterback, and for proof one need only look at the fact that quarterbacks have won 10 of the last 12 Heisman Trophies—and that the top two candidates this year are also QBs.
Braxton Miller, like Klein, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Matt Barkley, Geno Smith and most of the other names that have been in Heisman consideration this year, is a quarterback. No issue there.
We probably don't need to tell you that Ohio State is 10-0, and it's largely been through the effort of Braxton Miller. Record is not an end-all, be-all determinant for Heisman consideration by any stretch, but it's worth noting that last season's winner, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, just so happened to be the first Heisman winner on a team with more than two losses since Doug Flutie and Boston College in 1984.
Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame are all also undefeated, so Klein, Mariota and Te'o are also doing as well as Miller on this front, but it's impossible to do better.
Here, Miller suffers slightly. Klein is the eighth-best passer in the NCAA from an efficiency standpoint. Mariota is the best. Manziel is 25th—which doesn't augur well for his long-term Heisman prospects.
Meanwhile, Miller is 41st.
Miller at least has more passing touchdowns (14) than Klein (12), but that gets canceled out by Klein's advantage in rushing touchdowns, 19 to 13.
That said, Miller is also the best rusher of the four QBs here, with 1,166 yards and (again) 13 touchdowns to show for himself. Manziel has also cracked 1,000 yards rushing and has 15 rushing TDs. Mariota, for his remarkable athleticism, has only 516 yards and three TDs. Klein's touchdown total is superior, but his 748 yards rushing are rather lacking.
Oh, you best believe Braxton Miller has highlights. Roll 'em!
And here's where Miller can make up some ground in these final few weeks with big games against Wisconsin and Michigan. These could very well be Ohio State's two toughest games of the season, and all eyes will be on the Buckeyes to see if 12-0 actually happens.
The 12-0 needs to happen, because if Miller catches a loss this late in the year, he's already at such a disadvantage that his Heisman campaign's over. Look how fast Geno Smith's candidacy crumbled—and he wasn't just another contender, he was a mortal lock midway through the season. Whoops.
Ohio State going undefeated, though? And doing so with two big games against two tough defenses with all the pressure of the conference weighing on those players? That's noteworthy, and in a relatively weak Heisman field altogether (any of the top four finalists from 2011 would take home the Heisman in a walk this year), two big games with big stats could thrill voters enough to send Miller to Washington.
And in the grand scheme of things, that's about all Miller can ask for—a place at the table. He can't stop Kansas State from going undefeated, and he can't limit Manziel's production. He's not out there trying to tackle Marqise Lee in the open field. He's not trying to throw over Te'o or beat him to the corner. He's just playing his own game and doing the best he can.
But it sure would be nice if Miller earned his way to the Downtown Athletic Club by the time December comes. He's had a hell of a year thus far, and he's far closer to a nomination for recognition than anyone else in the conference. And in a season where not a whole lot has gone right for the conference, just sending a guy to New York—a sophomore, to boot—sends the message to the rest of college football that reports of the Big Ten's demise are once again greatly exaggerated.