1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia – What more can be said about Smith’s amazing eight-touchdown performance against Baylor? He essentially crammed two games worth of stats into one, giving him plenty of wiggle room for later in the season should he have a subpar outing. He’s on pace to throw for an eye-popping 5,184 yards and 60 touchdowns by the time Heisman votes are due. The rest of the schedule is going to be a challenge, with games against Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma serving as potential pitfalls (or bonanzas), but as long as his production remains clearly ahead of his competition, he’s the strong favorite to take home the trophy.
2. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State – Manuel was his usual efficient self against South Florida, throwing for 242 yards and a touchdown on 19-of-26 passing. He appears to be settling in to become Smith’s strongest challenger as the season wears on. If FSU stays undefeated and he continues to be seen as the catalyst for the program’s revival, he’ll remain in contention. However, he’s on pace to throw for only 2,990 yards and 23 touchdowns, so he’ll need to increase his production to really have a shot at dislodging Smith.
3. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia – I’m so impressed with Georgia’s offense right now that I was tempted to put Murray in the second spot ahead of Manuel. Simply put, Murray is on his way to a fantastic season. He’s currently third nationally in passing efficiency with a stellar 183.5 rating and, if the Bulldogs win out and make it to the SEC title game, he’ll probably have upwards of 3,500 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes, which should eclipse what Manuel is able to do in the FSU offense. However, I’m less convinced that Georgia, rather than FSU, can make it through the season unscathed. Next week’s game against South Carolina will tell us a lot about Murray’s Heisman future.
4. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State – There is a lot of potential stirring within Klein’s candidacy. The most obvious factor in his favor is that Heisman voters will get to see him go toe-to-toe with Smith and West Virginia on October 20. What better way is there to show he is more worthy of the Heisman than Smith than to let voters compare and contrast between the two in the same game? It doesn’t seem likely that Klein’s numbers will be all that impressive, so if he’s going to win the Heisman, it’ll have to be as the MVP-type candidate who leads his team to a cinderella season. If anyone can do it, he can.
5. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon – If Thomas has any more games like he had the past two weeks, he’s going to drop off this list. After starting the season with seven touchdowns in 31 touches, he has had just one touchdown in his last 33 touches. It’s highly unlikely that he’s going to have the kind of production that, by itself, will justify Heisman consideration. However, as I’ve mentioned before, he’s a different type of candidate and can’t be eliminated just yet. He is one or two exhilarating punt or kick returns away from jumping back into serious contention. This is the upside to being a player who trades on excitement and highlight reel prowess rather than overall production.
6. David Ash, QB, Texas – Some people were incredulous over my decision to include Ash on my last two Heisman Watches. But his performance against Oklahoma State and his overall season to date seems to validate that inclusion for the time being. He’s currently second nationally to Smith in passing efficiency with a rating of 184 and he’s on pace to finish with 3,024 yards, 30 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. Like Klein, he also gets to take on Smith in a head-to-head battle. If the Longhorns come out on top against the Mountaineers next Saturday and Ash has a big game, he might emerge as Smith’s prime challenger.
Others to watch: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State