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Week One Heisman Watch: Matt Barkley on top, Denard Robinson drops

By Chris Huston | College Football Writer

You're going to hear a lot of Heisman chatter in the next few days.

There'll be talk about this player or that player deserving to be considered among the contenders for the most prestigious trophy in sports, mostly based on what he did in week one.

But when analyzing the Heisman race, it's important to keep your eye on the big picture. The vote for the award will not take place tomorrow. It will take place in the three weeks prior to Monday, December 3.

So just because your favorite player had an incredible game on Saturday, it does not necessarily mean he is a legitimate Heisman candidate.

When looking at the Heisman race, you have to take the long view.

That means taking into account whether these crazy video-game numbers amassed against weak opponents are going to hold up against tougher competition down the road. You have to consider where these players will stand in relation to the other candidates a couple months from now.

And you have to consider where these players stand with the 10 Heismandments.

So while I am well aware of all of the remarkable first-week numbers put up by so many players out there, only a few are going to be able to break into this week's Heisman Watch. And some of the players who you think might be dropping a bit aren't going to drop much at all.

That's because we take the long view. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

Let's take a look at the players who have the best chance, as the race stands right now, to win the Heisman Trophy.

This is NOT a list of the guys who deserve to win based on the football that has already been played. It is a list of those who, at the moment, are best positioned to win the Heisman at the end of the regular season. This is also not a prediction of the final order of the race. Some players NOT in this group will undoubtedly appear in the top 10 of the Heisman vote when it is all said and done. This ranking is of those players who have the best chance of actually winning the Heisman. On Tuesday I will unveil the latest Heismanpundit/CBSSports.com Heisman Straw Poll and that will give us a snapshot of how the Heisman electorate would vote right now.

As the season goes on, you'll find that taking both into account will give you an overall better understanding of what's actually happening in the Heisman race. Eventually, the two lists will intersect and we'll have our Heisman winner.

Now for this week's Heisman Watch:

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC -- It's hard to get off to a better start to a season than how Barkley did on Saturday. His first pass against Hawaii went for a 75-yard touchdown. Overall, he was 24 of 39 for 377 yards and four touchdowns. He acquitted himself well in his first game as the Heisman front runner and he remains the player with the best chance of winning the trophy. He'll get a chance to connect with New York media next week when the Trojans play Syracuse in East Rutherford.

2. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin -- Ball was lackluster against Northern Iowa, rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries as the Badgers came away with a narrow, 26-21, victory. A few months from now, however, the details of this game will be forgotten as Ball's Heisman hopes will rise or fall based on his overall production against the more high-profile teams on the Wisconsin schedule.

3. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia -- Smith looked very sharp in a 69-34 rout of Marshall. He was 32 of 36 for 323 yards and four touchdowns and he added 65 yards and another score on the ground. He has three more games against soft defenses to pile up the numbers before facing his first test against Texas in early October. I contend that he needs to accumulate around 50 total touchdowns this season in order to have a shot at the Heisman. He's on pace for 60 right now.

4. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia -- Murray was highly efficient in Georgia's 45-23 win over Buffalo, throwing for 258 yards and three touchdowns on 15 of 26 passing. If he continues to produce those kind of numbers against SEC competition, he'll be in the thick of the Heisman hunt. His team should be favored in every game it plays from here on out and as long as the Bulldogs meet expectations, Murray is going to benefit.

5. De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR, Oregon -- Thomas had just eight touches in Oregon's 57-34 win over Arkansas State, but he turned three of those touches into touchdowns. It's pretty clear at this point that he has the talent to make the most of every opportunity and he has now established himself as Matt Barkley's prime Heisman competition out West. The next seven games should allow him to pile up impressive highlights before taking on USC in a massive showdown of national title contenders.

6. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State -- Manuel was an efficient 16 of 22 for 188 yards and a touchdown (with one interception) in a 69-3 romp over Murray State. We won't learn much about Manuel and Florida State until September 22 when the Seminoles host Clemson. In the meantime, he'll need to pick up the pace a bit by producing big numbers against his next two opponents, Savannah State and Wake Forest.

7. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson -- The Tigers quarterback showed some grit in leading his team over Auburn, 26-19. He threw for 208 yards and a touchdown (with an interception) and also rushed for 58 yards. He plays in an explosive offense that will only get better once suspended wide out Sammy Watkins returns on September 15. One week after that return, Boyd will battle FSU's Manuel for ACC Heisman supremacy.

8. Le'Veon Bell , RB, Michigan State -- Bell bulldozed his way to 210 rushing yards and two scores on a remarkable 44 carries in a quality 17-13 win over Boise State. He also caught six passes for 55 yards. I think it's unrealistic to expect 50 touches every week, but I wouldn't be shocked if he averaged 35 the rest of the way. If his body holds up, he's going to have very good numbers which means he has a chance to contend for the Heisman if his team acquits itself well against the likes of Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Michigan.

9. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State -- It is early, but Miller looks scary good in Urban Meyer's offense. He passed for 207 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 164 yards and a score as Ohio State routed Miami (OH), 56-10. He is a high-level talent who is only going to get better. If he can survive a road date with Michigan State on September 29, look out.

10. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska -- It looks like Martinez might be regaining some of that freshman-year magic. He had his best game as a passer in Nebraska's 49-20 win over Southern Mississippi, throwing for 354 yards and five touchdowns on 26 of 34 passing. The schedule sets up nicely for Martinez and if he can maintain this level of production while leading the Huskers to some big wins down the road, he can make a run at the trophy.

On the cusp: Logan Thomas , Marcus Lattimore, Landry Jones, Denard Robinson, Collin Klein, Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray, Knile Davis. These players all have a remote chance of winning the Heisman, but they'll have to play really well from here on out and hope that some of the other players ahead of them fall by the wayside.

On the radar: Marqise Lee, Andre Ellington, Kenny Hilliard, Duke Johnson, Marcus Mariota. They all had huge games this weekend, but let's wait and see if they can maintain these numbers in the weeks to come.

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