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Heisman Preview: What to look for in Week 9

By Chris Huston | College Football Writer
Can Seth Doege and Texas Tech upend Kansas State on Saturday? (US Presswire)

We head into the ninth Saturday of college football with a new leader in the Heisman race: Collin Klein of Kansas State.

While Klein is the strong favorite right now, you never know what can happen, and there is still a lot of football to be played. And even if Klein cruises to the Heisman, we still need to find out who else will go with him to New York and who will fill out the rest of the top 10. The race is that wide open down the ballot, so any number of players could fit the bill.

Here's a look at the games from Week 9 that should have the most impact on the Heisman race:

Colorado at No. 4 Oregon -- This game should be a bloodbath, and it's likely that Oregon coach Chip Kelly will call off the dogs as early as the second quarter. However, Ducks running back Kenjon Barner has been pinging on the outer reaches of the Heisman radar of late, and this game could be a way for him to pad his numbers heading into Oregon's huge showdown with USC next week. If Barner doesn't get over 200 yards in this one, he'll need an even bigger game against the Trojans.

No. 9 USC at Arizona -- While I don't think Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley can win the Heisman, he still has a chance to finish strong and get to New York. He piled up six touchdowns last week against hapless Colorado, so he's got good momentum heading into Tucson. Barkley's candidacy needs a spark, and he can get it here one week ahead of the Oregon game, but he has to look more like the Barkley of late 2011 and less the one we've seen so far in 2012.

Michigan State at No. 25 Wisconsin -- Badgers running back Montee Ball is in the same boat as Barkley. He's a former front-runner who fell off early, and he now has a chance to crawl back into the Heisman conversation if he stays on his current roll. Ten touchdowns in the last four weeks means he suddenly has 13 touchdowns on the season, and he's averaging 176 rushing yards per game the last three weeks. Another outing along recent lines and he could start to gather some steam in this race, but he's got a long way to go to get back his preseason mojo.

No. 11 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama -- I wanted to talk to AJ McCarron this week to get his thoughts on the Heisman and maybe shed some light on what it's like to play quarterback for Alabama, but I was told by Bama media relations folk that it wasn't a good week for him. I guess the Tide must be really focused on this one, which could bode well for McCarron's production against the Bulldogs. It seems like eons since he last threw an interception, and getting out of this game without a pick and with a few touchdown passes under his belt could put him on a glide path to New York.

No. 20 Texas A&M at Auburn -- Johnny Football hit a wall last week against LSU, throwing three interceptions while totaling "only" 303 yards of total offense. He should have no trouble getting back on track against Auburn, and I expect another massive outing along the lines of what he did against Arkansas. That means he should head to Mississippi State the following week with a bit of buzz. A week later, he'll take on Alabama, and that will decide whether he shows up on many Heisman ballots this season.

No. 5 Notre Dame at Oklahoma -- Stopping the Sooners looks like a tall task for Manti Te'o and the Irish defense. Oklahoma has been firing on all cylinders of late, and it will take a Herculean effort -- and some luck -- for Notre Dame to pull off the upset. We've seen the luck of the Irish before, though, and if Te'o is destined to make a contrarian run at the Heisman, this will be his seminal game to show he is worthy of the rather considerable hype that has been thrown his way. If he comes up big, he could make it to New York. If he and his defensive cohorts get steamrolled, he'll probably have to settle for just the Butkus Award.

Ohio State at Penn State -- Braxton Miller was not playing well last week against Purdue before leaving the game after getting body slammed. He is reportedly okay and cleared to play against the Nittany Lions, but I question whether he'll be 100 percent. Whatever the case, he needs to play a brilliant game in a hostile environment to bounce back into Heisman consideration. At this rate, he'll lose much of the Midwest region vote to Te'o, unless he can rebound by leading the Buckeyes to an impressive win.

HEISMAN GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 14 Texas Tech at No. 3 Kansas State -- What better way to start off your first game as Heisman front-runner than to go up against the team that played a part in knocking off the last front-runner just a couple weeks ago? Collin Klein has a chance to show Geno Smith how to beat Texas Tech, thank you very much. Another masterful performance by the senior against a ranked foe will confirm to Heisman voters that he is not a flash in the pan in this race. K-State reiterated that point this week by sending out a pamphlet in support of his candidacy. A strong outing against Tech will also make the calculus of the race a bit more simple for Klein, as this is conceivably K-State's toughest opponent from here on out. Every week the Wildcats stay undefeated puts them another week closer to a couple really big prizes. But if Tech can pull off the upset, we'll have to start talking about Seth Doege as a potential late-breaking dark horse. His 28 touchdown passes lead the nation. With a win, he'll have beaten both Smith and Klein at their own game. This compelling matchup is our Heisman game of the week.

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