It’s about halfway through the college football season, and there are still plenty of games and intriguing storylines left to be played out.
As the season progresses, a handful of players are already emerging as serious Heisman Trophy candidates.
But, of these 10 emerging candidates, just how many of them are really contenders?
Let’s take a look.
Andrew Luck orchestrated one of the best performances in a career already loaded with many, in Stanford’s 48-7 shellacking of new conference foe Colorado this past Saturday night. Just another day at the office for the man who, in my opinion, is the current favorite to take home the Heisman.
In only three-plus quarters of action, Luck went 26-of-33 for a season-high 370 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception.
The formula is pretty obvious for the Cardinal in 2011; they will go as far as Luck will take them.
Stanford’s skill-position players aren’t elite by any means (although Chris Owusu is pretty reliable). But, like all the great quarterbacks, Luck elevates the play of those around him.
As long as Stanford’s offensive line can keep giving Luck quality protection, he will continue to carve any defense up.
Perhaps the only team standing in Stanford’s way of a perfect regular season is the Oregon Ducks. The two teams meet on November 12th in Palo Alto, and if Luck can emerge from there victorious, he will still be the Heisman favorite.
Not to be outdone, Jones was pretty impressive himself in Oklahoma’s 55-17 dismantling of rival Texas last Saturday afternoon. Jones had a 31-of-50 day for 367 yards and three touchdowns at the Cotton Bowl.
Jones hasn’t missed a beat this season in leading what’s arguably the most prolific offense in the game. Of course, it doesn’t hurt Jones’s Heisman chances knowing he has arguably the best starting-receiver duo in America in Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills.
While Jones’s Heisman chances are as healthy as ever, that forecast may change as Oklahoma’s competition gets tougher. Down the stretch, the Sooners will face surprising Kansas State, as well as Texas A&M, Baylor and in-state rival Oklahoma State—three teams who are better than Texas.
If Jones can lead his team through that gauntlet unscathed, then his Heisman hopes will be stronger than ever.
But, that’s going to be a tall task—perhaps too tall for him to overcome.
LaMichael James’s Heisman hopes, as well as the Ducks’ BCS dreams, took a hit last week when James went down with a dislocated elbow in Oregon’s easy victory over Cal.
Before suffering the gruesome injury, though, James had another big day on the ground, racking up 239 yards on 30 carries for the Quack Attack.
James’s chances of taking home the Heisman will be determined by just how long the injury will keep him sidelined. If he’s not out long, then James’s hopes won’t take much of a hit. However, if the elbow becomes a significant problem, then James can kiss the Heisman goodbye.
You don’t need a Heisman voter to tell you that you have to be on the field to have a shot at winning the award. If James misses significant time, then he simply won’t be invited to New York at season’s end.
Sure, college football fans can debate whether or not Boise State deserves to be in the national title conversation. But, when it comes to Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore’s Heisman hype, there’s no debate that it’s justified.
Moore continues to put up quality offensive numbers weekly, and last Friday was no different, as he completed 23 of 31 passes for 254 yards and three scores in Boise State’s 57-7 win over Fresno State.
Unfortunately for Moore, his statistics—as impressive as they will be—are going to be considered inflated by some Heisman voters, given how Moore and the Broncos will continue to feast on a weak Mountain West Conference.
There is perhaps one team who will determine Moore’s Heisman fate: Georgia. If Moore’s fans want to see him take home the Heisman, they will need to root for the Bulldogs down the stretch.
Moore dismantled Georgia in the opening week, and if Georgia keeps winning, then it will further validate his ability to shine against an elite opponent.
But, if Georgia falters down the stretch, then Moore’s candidacy won’t have much credibility behind it.
Wisconsin was off this past week, but the down time will do little to slow the growing legend of grad student Russell Wilson. Coming over from NC State, Wilson has been as good as advertised, leading the Badgers to a Top-Five AP ranking.
As long as Wisconsin keeps winning, which they probably will, then Wilson will remain in the Heisman conversation. But, Wilson’s downfall may be the fact that he’s playing in a run-first offense.
Wilson’s arm can still win games for the Badgers, but he may not be given the opportunity to put up the gaudy passing numbers needed to keep up in the Heisman race.
As Wilson’s stock continues to rise in Madison, Griffin’s is ascending at an equally rapid rate in Waco. Griffin had another nearly flawless performance this past weekend against Iowa State.
While he went 22-of-30 for a season-low 212 yards passing, RGIII made up for it with his legs, rushing for a season-high 107 yards in Baylor’s 49-26 win.
As long as the Bears keep winning and Griffin keeps dazzling the opposition, there’s no reason why he doesn’t deserve to be a serious Heisman candidate.
Simply put, RGIII is the most valuable player to his team’s success in the entire country. There’s no way Baylor is relevant in college football without Griffin on the field.
For that feat alone, he deserves a few first-place votes.
More often than not, the best offensive player on the best regular-season team in the country ends up with the Heisman. Right now, Alabama is one of the best teams out there, and its best offensive player is undoubtedly Trent Richardson.
The Crimson Tide running back had his fifth straight 100-yard performance on the ground in Alabama’s 34-0 win over Vandy.
Yes, ‘Bama quarterback AJ McCarron continues to settle in under center, but make no mistake: When you think of Alabama’s offense, the first name coming to mind is Richardson’s.
If Alabama is able to run the table in the SEC and Richardson continues to play at a relatively high level, there’s no reason why he won’t end up in New York as a Heisman finalist.
Of course, Alabama’s offense has to continue to run (no pun intended) through Richardson, and it will, as coach Nick Saban probably will be reluctant to take the training wheels off McCarron as the SEC competition amps up in November.
Michigan continues its hot start, and there’s no surprise that Robinson is the man mostly responsible for it. Outside of Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Stanford's Andrew Luck, Robinson is arguably the most important player to his team’s success.
Once again, “Shoelaces” had another big game this past weekend, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more in the Wolverines’ double-digit win at Northwestern. Robinson has always been a dynamic quarterback throughout his Michigan career.
Now, he finally has an improved defense backing him up. That combination, along with disappointing competition from much of the Big Ten, opens the door for a potentially undefeated regular season.
And if that happens, Robinson may be the surprise pick to become Michigan’s first Heisman winner since Charles Woodson.
Speaking of Woodson, 1997 was the last time a defensive player took home college football’s most coveted individual prize. And, if a defensive player is going to claim the Heisman in 2011, it’s going to be LSU’s newest defensive stud, sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
He had another strong outing this past weekend, picking off a pass in the victory over Florida.
But, if Mathieu is going to be seriously considered for the Heisman, he’s going have to make big plays on a weekly basis.
Whether it’s hauling in interceptions or finding paydirt in the return game—the formula Woodson rode to his Heisman—Mathieu must find ways to keep wowing the Heisman judges to even be remotely considered.
Given how college football is a largely offensive-driven sport, Mathieu is facing some long odds here.
Houston already has one Heisman-winning quarterback in Andre Ware (1989) and could have another in Case Keenum.
He’s showing no letdown from last season’s debilitating injury, as Keenum went 30-of-37 for 304 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s easy win over East Carolina.
Currently, Houston is undefeated and poised to run the table in Conference USA. And, if Keenum continues to build on his silly numbers (2,309 yards, 17 TDs, 2 INTs), then maybe—just maybe—Keenum has a shot at stealing the Heisman.
However, there may just be too much competition from the BCS-conference candidates for Keenum to leapfrog.