October 19, 2011

Heisman Watch: Tougher foes needed

San Diego State tailback Marshall Faulk led the nation in rushing in 1992, but he was runner-up for the Heisman.

the awards watch
A weekly look at the top three candidates for some key postseason awards.
Davey O'Brien
(top quarterback)
Doak Walker
(best running back)
Biletnikoff
(most outstanding wide receiver)
Mackey
(top tight end)
Rimington
(most outstanding center)
Outland
(best interior lineman)
Nagurski
(most outstanding defensive player)
Butkus
(most outstanding linebacker)
Thorpe
(most outstanding defensive back)
Lou Groza
(top kicker)
Ray Guy
(top punter)
TCU tailback LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for a national-best 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2000, yet he finished fourth in the Heisman voting.

Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair accumulated almost 6,000 yards in total offense and accounted for 53 scores in 1994, but he finished third in the Heisman voting.

Last season, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore led the nation in passing efficiency while throwing for more than 3,800 yards with 35 touchdowns and six interceptions. He finished fourth.

All had tremendous seasons. None really had a chance at the Heisman because the schedules their teams played were held against them. After all, can college football's highest honor be awarded largely based on an individual's performances against teams such as New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado State and Wyoming?

But if caliber of competition is held against a player such as Moore, then perhaps Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck shouldn't be considered leading candidates this season.

Not yet, anyway.

[Video: Winners, losers of first BCS standings]

Other than a good-but-not-great Nebraska, every team Wilson and Wisconsin has faced thus far is ranked between 75th and 110th in the nation in total defense. Three of Wisconsin's opponents have just one victory.

Stanford's schedule hasn't been much more difficult. The Cardinal have not faced a team with a winning record and five of their six opponents are ranked between 85th and 116th in the nation in total defense. Washington State (61st) statistically is the best defensive team Stanford has faced. Luck does get the benefit of the doubt for having played well against strong teams in the past two seasons.

Both players have opportunities to enhance their Heisman campaigns in the coming weeks. This week, Wilson and Wisconsin face Michigan State, which is ranked second in the nation in total defense and may have ended Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson's Heisman hopes last week. The Badgers also have upcoming games against three opponents ranked among the nation's top 20 in total defense: Penn State (sixth), Illinois (12th) and Ohio State (18th).

Meanwhile, Stanford has upcoming games against Washington, USC and Oregon, which are all 5-1, and Notre Dame, which is 4-2.

Moore, though, doesn't have another opportunity to make a big impression against a powerful defense. TCU is the best opponent remaining on Boise State's schedule, and the Horned Frogs already have allowed 50 points to Baylor and 40 to SMU. The other five opponents left on Boise State's schedule rank between 78th (San Diego State) and 119th (New Mexico) in total defense.

The top five Heisman candidates this week:

1. RB Trent Richardson, Alabama: Every Heisman winner seems to have at least one amazing highlight-reel play. Richardson's ankle-breaking move on a 76-yard touchdown run against Ole Miss certainly qualifies. Richardson's 183-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Rebels marked his sixth consecutive 100-yard game. His 912 rushing yards are the nation's second-highest total.

2. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford: He has thrown multiple touchdown passes in every game and at least three in each of the past three games. Luck is ranked third in the nation in passing efficiency and has passed for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns.

3. QB Robert Griffin, Baylor: Ultimately, Baylor's won-loss record is going to severely damage Griffin's candidacy, but it's not his fault. Griffin is second in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown for 1,950 yards and 22 touchdowns, with just two interceptions. He has passed for five touchdowns in three games and has thrown for more than 300 yards in four games. In his one "subpar" outing, Griffin passed for just 212 yards in a win over Iowa State, but he also rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown.

[Power rankings: Broyles grabs top spot]

4. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Since a rather pedestrian showing against Florida State, Jones has passed for at least 363 yards in four consecutive games. In that span, he also has thrown 14 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. And, of course, he's the quarterback for a strong national championship contender, which never hurts a Heisman campaign.

5. QB Russell Wilson, Wisconsin: Wilson hasn't had a bad game, but he hasn't faced great competition, either. He leads the nation in passing efficiency, has passed for 1,557 yards and 14 touchdowns and has thrown only one interception. He's also rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns. As with Jones, he's leading a team that's a national championship contender.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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