I must say, that’s the coolest nickname I’ve heard this season for a Heisman candidate. More like the prestigious award’s front-runner.
At this point of the season with Collin Klein’s Kansas State Wildcats undefeated and ranked third in the BCS, it’s Klein’s Heisman to lose. Kansas State has beaten a pair of ranked teams, both roads wins at Oklahoma and West Virginia. Klein’s head-to-head drubbing of Geno Smith over the weekend gives him a sizable lead in my opinion. Here’s a look at some of the other players that will challenge the leader of the Autobots, err college football, down the stretch.
Best player you’ve never heard of: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville, QB: — The one wild-card pick of the group, if Louisville finishes unbeaten with a shot at a BCS victory in the Big East’s Orange Bowl, shouldn’t the Cardinal’s quarterback get some postseason attention? You won’t see this player’s name on many Heisman predictors, but he deserves recognition as a sophomore. Bridgewater’s thrown 11 touchdown passes and is leaned on to pick up third down with his legs. If not for Louisville’s less-than-stellar offensive line, Bridgewater would fit into the Jeff Driskel-Connor Shaw-Johnny Manziel mold of dual-threat, efficient quarterbacks. Strength of schedule in a top-heavy Big East is what separates Bridgewater from being a true contender.
Oregon’s kick-starter: Kenjon Barner, Oregon, RB — Overshadowed most of the time by teammate De’Anthony Thomas, Barner’s the key cog in Oregon’s offense. He’s rushed for 870 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and has went over 100 in three straight games. Currently on a crash course to face Alabama should the Ducks win out, Barner will get a handful of chances to showcase his talents this next month in the PAC 12. A 200-yard, three-touchdown effort against Southern Cal or Oregon State — maybe both — would vault Barner into the front-runner conversation. Thomas poses more of the one-touch scoring threat with his world-class speed, but he’s non-existent in some games even when Oregon scores a lot of points. Barner’s the true star in Chip Kelly’s offense.
Urban Meyer’s not-so-secret weapon: Braxton Miller, Ohio State, QB — How can the quarterback of a team not even eligible to win a conference championship or play in a bowl game be so high in Heisman talks? The numbers speak for themselves and he’s perfectly executed a former SEC heavyweight’s option offense. Miller’s down most of his damage on the ground, showcasing above average speed for signal callers with 959 yards rushing and 10 scores. Just a sophomore, Miller is 25 yards away from Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell as the conference’s leading rusher and has eight carries of at least 35 yards. Miller left Saturday’s overtime win over Purdue in the third quarter with concussion-like symptoms, but didn’t play extremely well during the time he was in (113 yards passing, 1 INT; 47 yards rushing, 1 TD).
Steady No. 2: A.J. McCarron, Alabama, QB — The Heisman is a quarterback-dominated award and this selection is no different. McCarron may not be the Crimson Tide’s best player with several future first-rounders on defense and Eddie Lacy in the backfield, but he’s the key to a second straight BCS title. Nick Saban can’t complain with what his junior leader has given him this season — 1,476 yards, 16 TDs and 0 INTs. McCarron played beautifully at Tennessee over the weekend with the first 300-yard, four-touchdown game of his career. Mr. Reliable in the Alabama backfield, McCarron should lock up a Heisman invite should the Crimson Tide win an SEC Championship.
No. 1 Contender: Geno Smith, West Virginia, QB — If only the Mountaineers had a defense. Smith’s numbers have been gaudy this season, perhaps the best in the country — 2,414 yards, 26 TDs, 2 INTs. No one is denying the senior’s leadership abilities in Dana Holgorsen’s attacking spread offense. But where is that signature win that all Heismans have? Smith hasn’t got it yet. A 48-45 win at Texas looked good at the time, but the Longhorns haven’t proved much at all this season. They’ve lost to the two ranked teams they’ve played and given up an average of 35 points per game, 105th worst in the country. The BIG XII’s lack of defense could also be damaging to opinions on Klein as well.
Just missed the cut: Mantei Te’o, Notre Dame, LB; Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, QB; EJ Manuel, Florida State, QB.