Senior College Football Columnist

Top 10: Best shot of winning the Heisman

These days you can't win a Heisman in October, but you can probably lose one. The reality is that the second half of the season is when the stiff-arm trophy is earned. This week's Top 10: ranking the guys with the best shot of winning the Heisman. NOTE: This isn't necessarily how I'd vote if I had to submit a ballot of 10 today, but it factors in their merits at this point in the year and also factoring in potential upside of the second half of the season with marquee games.

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1. Collin Klein, Kansas State, QB: It's his Heisman to lose. If the Wildcats keep winning, for the second time in two years an unlikely Big 12 program is going to produce the Heisman winner. No one questions Klein's toughness. This year, he has also proven to be a much improved passer, ranking No. 2 in the nation in passing efficiency. Even if K-State loses a game or two, Klein can still win it.

2. A.J. McCarron, Alabama, QB: As his flawless TD-INT ratio of 16-0 shows, McCarron has been razor sharp for the nation's top team. Sure, some will make the claim that he's not even the best player on his team, but you can't knock his efficiency or the fact that he was the guy who lit up the vaunted LSU defense in the BCS title game. The emergence of young Amari Cooper also helps his cause. If he can lead Bama through a stretch in which the Tide has a bunch of games against ranked opponents, his stock will only increase. Another key factor: In these significant Alabama match-ups, will McCarron, not T.J. Yeldon or Eddie Lacy, be the Tide player whom people come away talking about?

3. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, LB: Obviously, it's a long shot for a defensive player to even get invited to New York. But playing for Notre Dame helps a lot, as would a watered down Heisman field. The notion that Notre Dame could be in the BCS title picture inspite of its quarterback play will only boost Te'o's cause in many voters' eyes. It has been a long, long time since the Irish have had a defense this good or a team in the BCS title picture. Te'o is the unquestioned leader of the nation's No. 2 D (scoring defense). He's 23rd in tackles at 9.9 per game. It doesn't hurt his cause that voters know his name and his backstory. (He has already been on the cover of Sports illustrated.) If Notre Dame can be undefeated and face a one-loss USC on Thanksgiving weekend, don't count Te'o out.

4. Kenjon Barner, Oregon, RB: As explosive as the Ducks' offense is, it's pretty balanced. If anything,De'Anthony Thomas was seen as Oregon's biggest Heisman hopeful coming into the season. But after the past three weeks, Barner has emerged as more of a real contender, rushing for 460 yards while averaging more than 8.2 yards per carry with seven TDs overall. And Barner's stats would be even heftier if the Ducks hadn't blown folks out by halftime. Barner is 10th in the nation this season in rushing at 124 yards per game and 6.6 yards per carry. If he lights up USC and the nation's No. 17 run defense in an Oregon win, he's a good bet to get invited to New York. If he also shines against No. 17 Stanford and No. 7 Oregon State, he could become the first Duck to win the thing.

5. Geno Smith, WVU, QB: Despite the Mountaineers' abysmal efforts the past two weeks where they got outscored 104-28, Smith, as my colleague Chris Huston detailed, still has a shot to win the Heisman. Wets Virginia has this week to try to get things sorted out before a November in which Smith has the chance to put up big numbers. His best hope is if WVU routs an Oklahoma team on Nov. 17 in Morgantown a few weeks after the Sooners knock Notre Dame from the unbeaten ranks.

"He definitely has a better chance than [Ohio State's] Braxton Miller," Huston says. "It's my belief that Smith has a better chance of putting together a big statistical season and, obviously, it's a big 'if' whether WVU can finish 9-3. But if they do and he finishes with 45 TD passes and Klein stumbles, Smith still has a possibility to win it. Right now, those two losses are fresh in our mind, but people thought [after Baylor struggled] that [Robert] Griffin was out of it at one point last year and he won it."

6. Matt Barkley, USC, QB: Despite a career-best 164.1 efficiency rating with a 22-6 TD-INT ratio, he hasn't been as sharp as expected, especially given that he throws to the nation's best WR tandem. The Trojans have played only one team with a winning record thus far this season -- Stanford -- and Barkley didn't complete even 50 percent of his passes or throw a TD, while getting picked off twice in a 21-14 loss. Still, he has a couple of marquee games remaining. Most notably, Nov. 3 against Oregon and Nov. 24 when Notre Dame visits -- plus, a potential Pac-12 title game. That gives Barkley a puncher's chance.

7. Braxton Miller, Ohio State, QB: The sophomore is probably a year ahead of schedule, but he has made a nice case. A spectacular runner who has been a great fit for Urban Meyer's system, Miller has sparked the Buckeyes to an unbeaten record while ranking No. 15 in the nation in rushing as he closes in on 1,000 yards. He got knocked out of the Purdue game last weekend, but his back-up, Kenny Guiton, rallied Ohio State. The quality of the rest of the Big Ten hurts his cause, but he still has people's attention if others falter and Ohio State keeps winning.

8. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, QB: He has been a revelation for the Aggies in their first season in the SEC and made them must-see TV every time out. Manziel's putting up staggering numbers and producing jaw-dropping highlights. He put a scare into LSU for a half before turnovers were the Aggies' downfall. Like Miller, Manziel's a future Heisman favorite and probably a year away. But if he can pull off more magic while avoiding mistakes in Tuscaloosa and somehow lead A&M to a shocking upset of the Tide, he's back in the mix.

9. Landry Jones, Oklahoma, QB: Though Jones' profile has dipped from the start of 2011, his numbers aren't bad: 12-3 TD-INT ratio and 63 percent completion rate, and he still has a chance to create some buzz, starting Saturday when No. 5 Notre Dame visits with the Irish's touted defense.

10. Mike Gillislee, Florida, RB: He was good at Tennessee and great against LSU. But he was a nonfactor last weekend in the Gators' romp over South Carolina, gaining just 37 yards on 19 carries. And that was after averaging less than four yards a carry against Vandy. For the season, he doesn't have the kind of numbers a Heisman back needs to get to New York: 38th in rushing in the country at 93 ypg and 4.7 yards per carry, but he can get people excited again if he has a big day against Georgia. He also can build up his stats the next three weeks with home games against Mizzou, UL-Lafayette and Jacksonville State before a big test at Florida State and a potential crack at the SEC West champ.

 
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