|Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor is our Heisman Player of the Week. (US Presswire)|
Some thoughts on the past weekend and what it means for the Heisman race:
1. The fall of the front runners, and the coming campaigns
We are barely past mid-September, and we've already seen the Heisman prospects of Matt Barkley, Montee Ball and Denard Robinson fall by the wayside. These were the three players most familiar to voters entering the season and, hence, the three players who were least in need of an aggressive campaign to make their efforts known to the broader public. We are now left with an assortment of contenders who have a long way to go before they enter the subconscious of the Heisman electorate. But the fall of the front-runners opens a window of opportunity for those candidates. Barkley, Robinson and Ball sucked a lot of air out of the room. But now they are gone, leaving a vacuum. The race is muddled and voters will be looking for clarity. Now is the time for schools to get those Heisman campaigns revving.
2. Geno's turn
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is the new No. 1 in my Heisman Watch, and I expect him also to be the new leader in the Heismanpundit/CBSSports.com Heisman Straw Poll that comes out Tuesday. The pressure of being the Heisman front-runner will now fall upon Smith, who faces his first BCS opponent of the season when Maryland comes to Morgantown on Saturday. Can he handle it? Will the Mountaineers crumble under the glare of the spotlight? Voters will be watching very closely to see if this version of West Virginia under Dana Holgorsen is different from the Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart editions that couldn't handle expectations. Smith will be at the forefront of that focus.
I think he's got a lot going for him in this race. Voters have flirted in the past with Holgorsen-bred quarterbacks like Graham Harrell, Case Keenum and Brandon Weeden. Smith could be perceived as the latest and best of that line. And don't forget that the Mountaineers don't have to go undefeated for Smith to win. All he needs to do is pile up huge numbers and beat Oklahoma and Texas. In case you forgot, that's the same formula that helped Robert Griffin III win the Heisman last season.
3. Ware is Miller?
Can a player from a school on NCAA postseason probation win the Heisman? Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller of Ohio State seems like the best bet to join Andre Ware (1989) as the only player to pull that off. Talking to various Heisman voters, no one seems inclined to punish Miller for the past sins of the program. And not going to a bowl won't hurt since the Heisman is a regular-season award, right?
But Miller can't just have any ol' season and win. He must blow things out of the water just like Ware did. Ware threw for 4,699 yards and 46 touchdowns in 11 games. At the time, those were ridiculous numbers. Furthermore, Ware benefited from a particularly weak Heisman field. The runner-up that year was the pedestrian running back Anthony Thompson of Indiana. Major Harris of West Virginia was third, but he had a better season in 1988. Tony Rice of Notre Dame was fourth. But any chance he had of winning the Heisman went bye-bye when Miami knocked off the No. 1 Irish late in the year.
Miller is off to a great start and is on pace for 2,400 passing yards, 1,500 rushing yards and 48 total touchdowns in 12 games. Those numbers would pass the smell test for Heisman voters, even if he doesn't get to play in the Big Ten title game. Next challenge for Miller comes at Michigan State on Sept. 29. If he plays well in a win against the Spartans, look out.
4. An early 2013 list
There are lots of exciting young players out there. Always with an eye to the future, here's an early list of the top contenders for the 2013 Heisman (* - possible NFL draft early entry):
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
4. David Ash, Texas
8. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
HEISMAN PLAYER OF THE WEEK -- Stepfan Taylor of Stanford
Taylor seemed to play beyond himself in Stanford's 21-14 upset of USC on Saturday.
The book on Taylor is that while he is a hard-nosed, low-to-the-ground runner with good vision and excellent balance, he's not really a threat to run by too many defenses. Yet there he was ripping off a 59-yard, first-quarter touchdown run against the Trojans thanks to a nifty series of moves followed by some surprising speed to get to the end zone. It was probably the best run of Taylor's career and a harbinger of the game that he and the Cardinal were about to have.
The senior from Mansfield, Texas, rushed for 153 yards on 27 carries and caught five passes for 60 yards (including a 23-yard, third-quarter catch to tie the game) as Stanford beat USC for the fourth straight time.
For his efforts, Taylor is our Heisman Player of the Week for Week 3.
If Taylor can build upon this performance in the games ahead and help keep Stanford in the mix for the Pac-12 title, he'll be sure to move up in the Heisman race. Remember: A Stanford player has made it to New York as a Heisman finalist each of the past three seasons. Taylor has a chance to make it four in a row, which is something no school has done since the Heisman Trust began inviting finalists to the ceremony in 1981.
Past Heisman Players of the Week for 2012