Heisman Watch 2012: Previewing the Top Contenders' Matchups

Brandon BurnettContributor IIINovember 22, 2012

Heisman Watch 2012: Previewing the Top Contenders' Matchups

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    Week 13 of the 2012 college football season brings the final chance for numerous Heisman Trophy contenders to establish themselves in the running for college football's most prestigious award. 

    Freshman phenom Johnny Manziel has emerged as the front-runner ever since Texas A&M's star quarterback shredded Alabama two weeks ago. However, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o are right in the mix as well. 

    Nearly every potential Heisman finalist has only one gridiron appearance remaining before the award's announcement in December. That includes Lee, Klein, Te'o and dual-threat QB Braxton Miller, whose undefeated Buckeyes are ineligible for postseason play in 2012. 

    With little time for them left to shine, follow along as we preview the must-see matchups Heisman Trophy contenders have in store for college football fans this weekend. 

    Note: Kansas State is idle in Week 13, so Collin Klein will not be previewed in this slideshow. 

Johnny Manziel vs. Missouri

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    Johnny Football is a man on a mission. 

    The face of college football in 2012 added another five touchdowns to his total in a blowout win over Sam Houston State last weekend. Manziel has now thrown for 3,047 yards and 21 touchdowns to just seven interceptions on the year.

    The dual-threat QB has 1,114 yards and 17 scores on the ground as well. Before Manziel, no SEC player had ever thrown for 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 in the same season. He's also the first freshman in FBS history to accomplish the feat.  

    The Aggies will host Missouri at Kyle Field this week. Manziel's numbers are already as good (if not better) as other Heisman-winning QBs in recent years. Consider this weekend a prime opportunity for him to pad them even more. 

    The Tigers are coming off a 31-27 loss to Syracuse in which they allowed QB Ryan Nassib to throw for 385 yards and three TDs. The week prior, Tennessee's Tyler Bray aired it out to the tune of 404 yards and four scores against this defense. 

    Now they'll draw Manziel and an offense scoring 43.5 points per game in 2012. Good luck with that, Mizzou. 

Marqise Lee vs. Notre Dame

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    In addition to losing three fumbles in as many weeks, the Trojans' disappointing season has put a slight damper on Marqise Lee's Heisman candidacy.

    He's still been racking up numbers at a mind-boggling pace, but Notre Dame and the Irish bring the the nation's No. 1 defense to the Coliseum this weekend in one of college football's most storied rivalries. 

    As if that doesn't sound troublesome enough, Lee will be without senior QB Matt Barkley for the game. Barkley is out with a sprained shoulder, and redshirt freshman Max Wittek will start in his place. 

    None of this bodes well for the sophomore receiver. But Lee is averaging over 10 catches and 207.5 receiving yards per game over the last month—numbers that suggest he may be unstoppable regardless of who's under center.

    With 107 receptions, 1,604 yards and 14 TDs, Lee is a legitimate Heisman contender. It goes without saying, however, that this week's matchup is by far the most difficult of any candidate in the running. 

Manti Te'o at USC

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    Manti Te'o's focus this weekend will remain solely on defeating USC and sending the undefeated Irish into the BCS National Championship game. 

    Even so, another standout performance and ND victory will cement the senior's status as a dark-horse Heisman contender. 

    Like we mentioned, the No. 1 team in the country also has the No. 1 defense (allowing 10.1 points per game). They'll be facing a redshirt freshman QB with nine career passes at the collegiate level. 

    Te'o has cooled off some after dominating Oklahoma in October. Nevertheless, the star linebacker remains the heart and soul of the unit he leads, and there's no doubt he'll be in top form against USC. 

    What stands out the most from Te'o's spectacular season thus far is the six interceptions he's hauled in. According to ESPN, he's got 96 tackles and 1.5 sacks as well (numbers are not official). 

    In addition to his production, the leadership the Irish captain provides makes him an intriguing candidate for the Heisman. Still, he would likely have to produce his most memorable performance of the year to become the first defense-only player to win the award. 

Tajh Boyd vs. South Carolina

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    Tajh Boyd doesn't have strength of schedule on his side, but the numbers are undeniable. 

    Clemson's junior QB has 3,367 passing yards, 33 TD, 11 INT and a 172.7 passer rating that ranks second in all of college football. Throw in 466 yards rushing and another eight scores, and you see Boyd's production is very much worthy of Heisman consideration. 

    A big win over South Carolina this weekend would surely demand even more attention. 

    The Tigers host the Gamecocks in Week 13, and unless Florida State loses to Georgia Tech on Dec 1, this will be Boyd's final opportunity to impress voters. South Carolina is only allowing 17.5 PPG in 2012, but it has lost its last two road games. 

    Almost any SEC defense is tough to move the ball against, though. Boyd has five TD passes in three of his last four games and will need another 60 minutes filled with eye-popping numbers for any chance to steal the spotlight from stars like Manziel or Lee. 

    The ACC doesn't provide stiff competition like the SEC, but a win over the Gamecocks would not go unnoticed. 

The Best of the Rest

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    Braxton Miller vs. Michigan

    The Buckeyes' star QB has a chance to finish his 2012 season with a bang in "The Game" against Michigan this weekend. But will it thrust him back into the Heisman talk after a lackluster performance against Wisconsin?

    It'll take one heck of a day against one of the Big Ten's top defenses, but Miller did have 335 total yards and three TDs against the Wolverines a year ago. One could argue even a day like that wouldn't be enough. 

     

    Kenjon Barner at Oregon State

    Barner put himself on the Heisman map with a 321-yard, five-TD rushing day against USC in early November. But he took himself right back off it by totaling just 131 yards and no scores in Oregon's last two games. The Beavers field a defense that is relatively stout against the run as well.

     

    Aaron Murray and Jarvis Jones vs. Georgia Tech

    Georgia has two players putting up numbers on the verge of becoming Heisman-worthy. Murray has 2,987 yards passing, 28 TDs and a date with an awful Yellow Jackets defense in Week 13. The Bulldogs are also a lock for the SEC Championship game, offering another opportunity for Murray to get his name in the race. 

    Jones has been dominant on defense with 63 tackles and, more impressively, 10.5 sacks on the year. The junior linebacker has three games with two or more sacks in 2012 and could easily add another against Georgia Tech. It would take a monumental performance for Jones to be considered, but he's worth a quick mention. 

     

    Geno Smith at Iowa State

    Smith's numbers (3,365 yards, 70.1 completion percentage, 35 touchdowns, five interceptions) are comparable with the best in college football. His 656-yard, eight-TD game against Baylor will deservedly draw some notice. 

    Even so, five straight West Virginia losses have derailed the senior's Heisman chances. With two games left, there's time to get back in it. But Smith must produce consecutive games with stats in the ballpark of 400 yards and four TDs to earn the voters' respect.  

    Visiting Iowa State for a matchup on Friday night is a favorable place to get started.