With just two weekends remaining before the big announcement, college football’s most outstanding players have time for one final push to prove they’re worthy of the sport’s top honor.
The home stretch kicks off at noon EST on Friday, when Houston’s Case Keenum plays his final college game at Tulsa. Keenum, a Davey O’Brien Award finalist, is first in total offense, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and touchdown to interception ratio, and second in pass efficiency. He doesn’t have too much more he can do to prove his worth to the Heisman voters: the sixth-year senior has already set five NCAA records this season, for career passing yardage, career touchdown throws, career completions, total yards of offense, and points.
Alabama’s Trent Richardson will take the field in the annual Iron Bowl against Auburn at 3:30 on Saturday. In the big 1 vs. 2 showdown between Alabama and LSU, Richardson was held to just 89 yards. He has 1380 yards and 20 touchdowns on the year and is averaging 5.8 yards per game. A big showing against the Tigers on national television over the holiday weekend would be a much-needed boost to his Heisman campaign.
At the same time, the Oregon Ducks and speedy LaMichael James will face off against in-state rival Oregon State. James trails Richardson with 1285 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the year, but it’s a narrow margin considering James missed two complete games due to injury and was limited in others. Like Richardson, he didn’t shine when the national spotlight was on him, rushing for just 78 yards and one touchdown last weekend against USC, but he’s still one of the nation’s top backs, averaging more than seven yards a carry. His injuries have limited his playing time and hurt his chances at an invite to the Big Apple, but what he’s been able to do in spite of the injuries and missed time make him worthy of consideration.
Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe it’s just ESPN’s Year of the Quarterback, but all the top rushers in the running for the Heisman play at 3:30 on Saturday. While Richardson and James are doing their best to get a big game in front of a big TV audience, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball will also be running, possibly all over the Penn State Nittany Lions. Thanks to Wisconsin’s two losses, Ball isn’t as frequently mentioned as a serious contender, but he’s the nation’s leading rusher with 1,4666 yards and 25 touchdowns. He’s averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has 233 receiving yards on the year. He’ll have an opportunity to contribute even more in the game that will decide the winner of the Big Ten’s new Leaders division.
Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, another O’Brien finalist, already caught the eyes (and votes) of many with his standout performances in front of national television audiences, against TCU opening weekend and Oklahoma last Saturday night. RG3 has already thrown for 3,572 yards, 33 touchdowns and just five interceptions, and he’s completing 72.9% of his passes. He also has 550 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The Bears are 7-3 on the season, which is a good record, but not necessarily to keep a Heisman contender in the forefront of the race. Griffin, though, two more regular season games to play, and two more chances to make his case. The Bears host Texas Tech at 7 p.m. on Saturday before ending the season against a very beatable Texas team at home in Waco on Dec. 3.
The Heisman favorite, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, has been the frontrunner for the award since preseason, and while he’s played at a consistently high level, he hasn’t yet had a signature game. That could change this weekend, when the Cardinal hosts the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in primetime. Stanford’s loss to Oregon a few weeks ago left a chink in the armor and a dent in Luck’s Heisman chances, but a decisive win over the Irish could restore the luster to both. Luck will be the number one draft pick regardless, but he’s played so dependably well all season that he could be hurt by the lack of an “outstanding” stretch of play when it comes to the Heisman.
USC’s Matt Barkley has been overshadowed by Luck all season, but after a standout performance at Oregon, the nation is starting to take notice (as is the USC athletic department, which just this week released a “Barkley for Heisman” highlight video). This isn’t news to USC fans, who watched him set school records for passing yards in a game (468 vs. Arizona on Oct. 1) and passing touchdowns in a single game (6 vs. Colorado on Nov. 4). Luck’s completion percentage is slightly higher (70.3% to 67.6%), but Barkley has thrown two more touchdowns and one less interception than Luck, and he’s shined in big games against Stanford, Notre Dame, and Oregon. Even though he’s beginning to attract some additional notice, it probably won’t be enough to snag the award in 2011. The Trojans play UCLA in their annual rivalry game with huge stakes in the Pac-12 race, but with a 10 p.m. kickoff and without ESPN or CBS coverage, Barkley will again be overshadowed by Luck and his primetime matchup with Notre Dame.
Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden is idle this week. He’s already lost major momentum in the race with the Cowboys’ loss to Iowa State, but he could theoretically regain some ground next weekend in the Bedlam game against the Oklahoma Sooners.