2013 Preseason Heisman Watch: Johnny Football Has Plenty of Competition

heismanPRESEASON

Johnny Manziel

A wilder offseason could not have been imaginable for Johnny Manziel, the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy and now the de facto favorite for the trophy headed into 2013. But has the off-field persona detracted from the monster that made SEC defenses tremble throughout 2012?

We can only wait until kickoff to find out whether Manziel can replicate 3,706 yards passing, 1,410 yards rushing and 47 combined touchdowns of 2012 while leading the preseason top-five Aggies.

Braxton Miller

Somehow, leading a 12-0 Ohio State team wasn’t nearly enough to get Braxton Miller a Heisman Trophy invite last season. In years past, such an accomplishment would have netted any Buckeye at least an invite, and a likely trip to the BCS title game, but on a schedule widely viewed as soft and ineligibility for the postseason, Miller was passed over.

Collecting 2,039 yards passing, 1,271 yards rushing, 28 total touchdowns again this season, when the Buckeyes are among the national title favorites, would likely put Miller’s name at the top of the heap. Let’s see if he can do it again.

AJ McCarron

AJ McCarron has the chance in 2013 to capture another national title. The man’s already been affiliated with three title winners at Alabama, after redshirting during the first of the three titles under Nick Saban in 2009. Yet, the quarterback on the best team in the nation, a position that usually nets some Heisman hype.

But despite nearly 3,000 yards passing and 30 touchdown tosses against just three interceptions, McCarron didn’t even register in the top 10 in 2012. Why can he do for an encore in 2013?

Jadeveon Clowney

Jadeveon Clowney, a defensive end with primetime Heisman potential for 2013, has been giving SEC offenses fits for two seasons. Now, after setting South Carolina records for sacks (12) and tackles for loss in 2012, the All-American has a legit shot at grabbing the Heisman trophy as a defensive player.

That would be the first time in more than 15 years that a defensive-listed player claimed the trophy, and even then Charles Woodson’s win was predicated at least partly on his ability as a return man. Could Clowney break the streak?

De’Anthony Thomas 

Cut in the Chip Kelly mold of a Oregon Duck, how will De’Anthony Thomas follow a productive 2012 season without Kelly at the helm? It’s going to be an interesting year in Eugene, but mostly because Thomas and quarterback Marcus Mariota are legitimate contenders for the Heisman Trophy.

Thomas, an all-around threat, rushed for 701 yards, had 445 yards receiving, and had 611 yards in returns. Add 18 total touchdowns and Thomas can produce all over the field. Can he produce in the Heisman race?

Others To Watch

Teddy Bridgewater

Louisville’s quarterback might have the best shot in the country of running an undefeated record, but will the lack of recognized competition on Bridgewater and the Cardinals’ schedule hurt his chances?

Aaron Murray

Just a play or two away from leading the Bulldogs to a national title game berth last season, Aaron Murray returns with the chance to break through the Alabama-LSU wall that has gone up in the SEC. Setting records at Georgia for passing yards and touchdowns was not enough last year, perhaps it will be this year.

Marqise Lee

Among the nation’s best at the wide receiver position last season, Lee enters the year as a preseason favorite for many of the receiving awards, but can he push beyond the positional trophies and make his way into the Heisman conversation?

2013 BCS AQ Conference Profiles: Pac-12


BCS Know How is taking you through the six automatic-qualifying BCS conferences in preparation for the 2013 season. Our easy-to-digest previews continue with the Pac-12, a conference experiencing a true renaissance. Scroll down to see our profiles of the other conferences.

Conference: Pacific 12 Conference (Pac-12)

Active Since: 1915

Current Member Schools:

North Division: California Golden Bears, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Stanford Cardinal, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars
South Division: Arizona Wildcats, Arizona State Sun Devils, UCLA Bruins, Southern California (USC) Trojans, Colorado Buffaloes, Utah Utes  (12)

2013 Bowl Affiliations and Tie-Ins: Rose Bowl (BCS), New Mexico Bowl, MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Fight Hunger Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Sun Bowl (7)

2012 Results:
Conference Champion — Stanford Cardinal
Conference Runner-up — UCLA Bruins
BCS Bowl Results: Rose Bowl — Stanford 20 vs. Wisconsin 14; Fiesta Bowl — Oregon 35 vs. Kansas State 17
Overall Bowl Record: 4-4

2013 Heisman Hopefuls: USC WR Marqise Lee, Oregon RB De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, Arizona RB Ka’Deem Carey

BCS Know How’s 2013 Predictions:
Conference Champion — Oregon Ducks
Conference Runner-up — Stanford Cardinal
BCS bids: Stanford Cardinal — BCS National Title Game; Oregon Ducks — Rose Bowl
Heisman Finalists — USC WR Marqise Lee, Oregon RB De’Anthony Thomas

Watching the Heisman Watchmen Week Seven: Geno Smith retains support despite first loss

Could it be that Geno Smith’s hold on the Heisman race slipped when he and West Virginia were unable to even really hang with Texas Tech last weekend?

By all accounts, no, Smith is still the prohibitive favorite among national Heisman pundits, no questions asked. Sure, his stock may have fallen, but really, there isn’t anyone to replace Smith at this juncture in the season.

How can we say this? Well, for the third straight year, we’ll be tracking the Heisman race around the internet. We’ll take five different Heisman watches from around the country and compile them here for easy consumption. Stay tuned throughout the rest of the season to see how the race shapes out.

Off to the races!

ESPN Experts Poll

1. Geno Smith
2. Braxton Miller
3. Collin Klein
4. Manti Te’o
5. De’Anthony Thomas

CBS Sports/Heisman Pundit Heisman Watch

1. Geno Smith
2. Collin Klein
3. Braxton Miller
4. Johnny Manziel
5t. Marqise Lee
5t. Manti Te’o

Sports Illustrated Heisman Watch

1. Geno Smith
2. Braxton Miller
3. Collin Klein
4. Manti Te’o
5. AJ McCarron

Sporting News Heisman Watch

1. Geno Smith
2. Braxton Miller
3. Collin Klein
4. Manti Te’o
5. Johnny Manziel

BCS Know How Heisman Watch

1. Geno Smith
2. Braxton Miller
3. Collin Klein
4. De’Anthony Thomas
5. Montee Ball

Consensus

1. West Virginia QB Geno Smith (25)
2. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller (19)
3. Kansas State QB Collin Klein (16)
4. Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o (7)
5t. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel (3)
5t. Oregon RB De’Anthony Thomas (3)

Others Receiving Votes: Wisconsin RB Montee Ball (1); Alabama QB AJ McCarron (1); USC WR Marqise Lee (1)

Again a first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place four, and so on until a fifth place vote is worth one point.

Any other suggestions of Heisman Watches to add? Let me know!

Heisman Watch Week Seven: Ball, Klein and Miller excel while Smith underperforms in a loss

Geno Smith

Shocking as it was, Geno Smith’s one-touchdown performance in West Virginia’s loss to Texas Tech could have been much worse for the quarterback’s Heisman hopes. Sure, the senior wasn’t nearly the picture of efficiency that he had been in weeks past, but his 29 completions in 55 attempts netted him 275 yards and a score, good statistics on a bad day overall for West Virginia.

Smith’s stock is hit, but not all that hard. Win out with the kind of performances we’ve come to expect and he’ll remain atop this chase.

Montee Ball

After dissapearing from this year’s Heisman race, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball made a sizable statement against Purdue on Saturday, and proved voters shouldn’t give up on his Heisman possibilities just yet. The senior running back rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns in the Badgers’ 38-14 victory over Purdue.

During his performance, Ball set the Big Ten conference record for rushing touchdowns, and is back in this thing in full force. With a stringent Big Ten schedule ahead, more performances like this could spell a repeat trip to the Heisman ceremony.

De’Anthony Thomas

A bye week for Thomas and the Ducks spelt a week to rest and recover before the stretch run of the BCS and Pac-12 schedule heads Oregon’s way. For the season, Thomas has compiled 377 yards rushing, 205 yards receiving, nine total touchdowns and 233 yards combined on kick and punt returns.

Nothing gaudy, but the numbers combined give Thomas 815 yards combined total offense on just 77 touches, more than 10 yards of offense per touch.

Braxton Miller

In easily handling Indiana, Braxton Miller was ever the performer he’s been all season, throwing for 211 yards and two touchdowns to go with another big day on the ground — 149 yards and another score. Miller, too, led the Buckeyes to another victory, to run their undefeated start to the 2012 season to seven straight games and three straight in the Big Ten.

Leading a team that is ineligible for both postseason play and BCS consideration, the performance Miller has put up to this point in the season is something that can’t be ignored, and will receive plenty of Heisman watch moving forward.

Collin Klein

When his team needed it most Saturday, Kansas State quarterback Colin Klein delivered again and again, rushing for three touchdowns and 105 yards to help the Wildcats avoid a shocking upset to Iowa State. Though he did not throw for any passing touchdowns, Klein’s performance in clutch situations provided Kansas State with exactly what it needed to keep the Cyclones from pulling the upset of the weekend.

Keeping his passing numbers efficient and mistake-free to go with dominant ground performances like this could be the recipe for success for Klein moving forward.

On The Radar:

Denard Robinson

Don’t look now, but Denard Robinson is producing at a high level again. Could the constant September Heisman winner make some noise in the later months in 2012?

EJ Manuel

Manuel had a nice bounce-back performance Saturday against Boston College. But with successes from Montee Ball and Colin Klein ahead of him, Manuel falls out of the top five. He’s nowhere close to out of this thing, though.

Heisman Watch Week Six: Klein, Smith shine against Big 12 foes

De’Anthony Thomas

De’Anthony Thomas continues to collect yards in bunches, pushing Washington’s defense to the limit in his reduced work load against the Huskies, and staying in the middle of the Heisman race. On just 10 carries, Thomas racked up 75 yards and a touchdown to go with a 12-yard reception. Thomas also provided 35 yards of field positioning offense from two kick returns in the early part of the game.

Geno Smith

In the biggest of spots, against a rising Texas team, Geno Smith was skillful yet again on Saturday, throwing for four more touchdowns and 268 yards to help lead West Virginia past the Longhorns. Sure, Smith’s 10 incompletions were his second highest on the year, but Smith was his usual efficient self, providing the offense the Mountaineers needed to win in their first trip to Austin as a member of the Big 12.

With more Big 12 action in store, all of which promises more of the offensive fireworks we’ve seen already, Smith is likely to continue to collect the same impressive numbers he’s been grabbing all season. Smith

EJ Manuel

Just a week after shining against South Florida, EJ Manuel and Florida State came back to earth in a shocking loss to North Carolina State, a game which saw Manuel and the Seminoles come out strong, but falter toward the end to bring Manuel back to the Heisman pack. Passing for 218 yards and a touchdown against a game Wolfpack defensive attack, Manuel was unable to lead the Seminoles to a second-half scoring drive.

With plenty of season remaining, Manuel has all the time he needs to rebound from the loss, but he will need to lead the Seminoles to victories in the coming weeks if he hopes to stay in the conversation.

Braxton Miller

In an all-out rout of presumed Big Ten favorites through the season’s first month, Braxton Miller had a coming out party on the ground, leading Ohio State past Nebraska and showing the country just what kind of damage he can do. Breaking a Ohio State record, Miller broke off a 72-yard touchdown run that helped the Buckeyes top the Cornhuskers, 63-38. In all, Miller rushed for 186 yards and a score on a day where his arm was not needed nearly as much — as Miller only completed seven of 14 attempts for 127 yards and a touchdown.

Collin Klein

Not needing to give everything he had against Kansas, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein still racked up strong stats against the Jayhawk defense, continuing a strong start to the Wildcats’ season. Klein scored twice through the air and twice on the ground to lead the Wildcats to a convincing 56-16 victory in a game that had all the makings of a stat sheet filler for Klein coming into the contest — a promise Klein kept.

Looking every bit the runner and the passer performances like the one Klein gave against Kansas on Saturday would be sure to keep him among the most important names in college football for weeks to come.

On The Radar:

Matt Barkley

More of what you might expect from Barkley against Utah, as the senior passed for three touchdowns and 303 yards against the Utes defense.

Aaron Murray

Murray chose a bad time to have his worst performance of the season, against South Carolina, unable to help the Bulldogs muster much offense and completing just over a third of his passes.

Heisman Watch Week Five: Geno Smith’s brilliant day rules weekend storylines

De’Anthony Thomas

De’Anthony Thomas found yards where he could against Washington State — that being all over the field. Receiving (26 yards), rushing (28), kick returning (53) and punt returning (19) gave the sophomore a chance to shine across the board. The sophomore can seemingly contribute everywhere. While scoring just six of Oregon’s 51 points, Thomas made his presence known.

And yet, the problem moving forward could be a lack of consistent shining production like the game some other players produced this weekend. If Thomas doesn’t rack up 100-yards or more in one of these categories, is he doing himself a disservice in the Heisman race? Though it might seem counterintuitive — lots of offense is good anyway you can get it — Thomas might need to produce in more traditional and consistent ways to stay in the Heisman race.

Geno Smith

Likely lost in the gaudy numbers Geno Smith posted Saturday was how his arm and athleticism took over early and simply did not let up. Sure, his 656 yards passing, eight touchdown passes and 31 yards rushing will get Heisman voters’ attention when voting comes around, but Smith showed just how talented he was beyond the box score against Baylor.

Certainly the frontrunner for the trophy at this point, Smith gets the best of the Big 12 in the coming weeks, but as we’ve seen in recent years, even the Big 12’s best lacks in the defensive department. We’re probably not done with the gaudy stat lines from Smith.

EJ Manuel

Facing their first road test of their season, the Seminoles relied heavily on the arm of EJ Manuel, who continues to enjoy a strong start to his senior season at Florida State. Keeping his mistakes to a minimum, Manuel was able to out-shine fellow star quarterback, South Florida’s B.J. Daniels, and kept the Seminoles undefeated.

Ranked fourth in the nation, expectations are mounting for Florida State, but on Saturday, Manuel handled it just fine. Finishing with 242 yards and a touchdown toss, Manuel is squarely in the Heisman conversation.

Braxton Miller

Efficient where needed and the leader Ohio State required down the stretch, Braxton Miller continues to impress despite Ohio State’s ineligibility to win the Big Ten or make a bowl game. Miller passed for 179 yards and rushed for 136 more, leading the Buckeyes past Michigan State on Saturday, and keeping his Heisman hopes strong.

A key pick and a fumble in Michigan State territory could have undone the sophomore, but he held strong, and led his team to a key early season victory.

Aaron Muray

In what turned into a barn-burning slugfest between SEC foes, it was Aaron Murray’s arm that helped Georgia get by Tennessee, 51-44, as the junior gunslinger vaults his way into the Heisman conversation. Having already passed for 1,092 yards coming into the meeting with the Volunteers, it was more of the same for Murray, who saw his running game give the kind of support quarterbacks can only hope for.

With 12 touchdowns against just two interceptions on the year after Saturday’s key victory, Murray also boasts the skills and stats to stay in this race for the long-term. But the Bulldogs will have to keep winning for it to matter.

On The Radar:

Matt Barkley

A bye week is certainly never kind to any Heisman hopeful, especially one with a falling stock like Barkley’s. But with the Pac-12 schedule hitting high gear — and a Thursday night game on tap against Washington — Barkley has a shot to re-enter the race.

Colin Klein

Klein, too, was on a bye this week, but with his stock soaring after leading Kansas State past Oklahoma last weekend and vaulting the Wildcats into the top 10, Klein has a shot to make some real noise in the coming weeks.

Heisman Watch Week Four: Bell, Smith continue to dominate

De’Anthony Thomas

De’Anthony Thomas might be the best indicator that Oregon has a seemingly unlimited amount offensive weapons, which the Ducks mix and match to the feel of each game. Even without Thomas, perhaps one of the best athletes in the nation, touching the ball more than 15 times, the Ducks put up nearly 500 yards in offense. Thomas, for his part, played sparingly, but electrified when he touched the ball, as has been the case all season.

His 47 yards rushing, 11 yards receiving and 38 yards on punt returns is nothing to write home about, sure. But he’ll stay in this race as long as he can convince audiences to stay up late just to watch him perform.

Geno Smith

West Virginia had much more trouble handling Maryland on Saturday than many might have expected, but for Geno Smith the win and the performance can speak for themselves. The Mountaineer quarterback led West Virginia with 338 yards passing and three touchdowns to help best a surprisingly game Terrapins squad, 31-21.

Smith was not the same incredibly efficient quarterback he had been in the previous two weeks — which had garnered comparisons to last year’s Heisman recipient, Robert Griffin III. But despite his 13 incompletions, he did not throw an interception. Smith and the Mountaineers get their Big 12 schedule going next weekend against Baylor.

Le’Veon Bell

Just one week after being held nearly silent against Notre Dame, Le’Veon Bell exploded back on the Heisman scene with a massive performance against Eastern Michigan. Helping Michigan State bounce back from a disappointing loss to the Fighting Irish, Bell rushed for 253 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries.

Sure, you might not expect a need for Bell to shoulder that kind of load against a lesser opponent like Eastern Michigan, but his performance certainly does help bolster a Heisman candidacy that saw a bit of a dive after last week. Bell and the Spartans start their Big Ten schedule against Ohio State next weekend.

Braxton Miller

Somewhat quiet through the air, Braxton Miller made up for it on the ground, rushing for two touchdowns and 64 yards against UAB to help Ohio State overcome a slow start to beat the Blazers. It was Miller’s 1-yard rush in the fourth quarter that ended up clinching the victory for the Buckeyes after mistakes helped UAB build an early lead on the Buckeyes.

Despite it’s ineligibility for the postseason, the Buckeyes are one of just three undefeated teams remaining in the Big Ten as it heads toward conference play. The Buckeyes open with Michigan State.

Matt Barkley

Another sub-standard performance out of Matt Barkley, after the senior passes for two touchdowns, but also two interceptions, in the Trojans’ bounce back victory over California. Despite the pedestrian numbers, the performance actually proves a bounce back for Barkley as well, after he struggled mightily against Stanford. Barkley was able to lead the Trojans to scores when they needed it most, including his two scoring strikes to Marqise Lee.

Barkley and the Trojans now get a week off before the meat of the Pac-12 schedule kicks in, and Barkley will have a shot to post some big numbers against the likes of Washington and Utah in the next few weeks.

On The Radar:

Marcus Lattimore

Lattimore rushed for 85 yards for a second straight week, although his two scores do keep him in the conversation moving forward. His performances will have to improve to meet the preseason Heisman hype.

Colin Klein

Though his performance against Oklahoma wasn’t earth-shattering or gaudy, the senior quarterback’s level-headed play helped Kansas State upset Oklahoma in Norman. That kind of national exposure and performance will certainly get people talking about Klein.

Heisman Watch Week Three: Geno Smith, Denard Robinson dominate lesser competition

De’Anthony Thomas

It’s no small accomplishment that De’Anthony Thomas’s name is among Oregon’s leaders in both rushing and receiving week in and week out. But the regularity with which it occurs sometimes detracts from the sophomore’s shocking skill and ability.

The speedster did it again this weekend against Tennessee Tech, helping the Ducks coast to a 63-14 victory over the Golden Eagles. Thomas posted 62 yards rushing and 73 yards receiving on just six offensive touches. Who knows what kind of numbers Thomas could have posted with a few more touches. He’s certain to see more in the coming weeks, which could produce some thrilling highlights and statistics.

Denard Robinson

Denard Robinson has reemerged in a big way in the Heisman race, putting up two big games after a tough start to his 2012 campaign against Alabama. The seemingly perennial “September Heisman” has put his name in the mix once again after posting 291 yards and three touchdowns against UMass on Saturday to go with his 106 yards and one score on the ground against the Minutemen.

In a stumbling Big Ten conference, Denard Robinson might be provided with a chance to lead the Wolverines to a conference championship, which would certainly bolster any Heisman hope for the versatile quarterback. A nationally televised game against seemingly reinvigorated Notre Dame next weekend could do plenty, as well.

Matt Barkley

Stanford has never been kind to Matt Barkley, and it was especially crushing on Saturday. Barkley threw two picks and completed less than half of his passes against the Cardinal, bringing his Heisman candidacy down at least a few notches and severely threatening the Trojans hopes at a national title shot. Barkley’s 253 passing yards were fine, but unable to pocket that “Heisman moment” when given the chance late in the fourth quarter, Barkley is certain to lose plenty of support in this race.

Barkley is certainly not out of this race, as no real frontrunner other than the USC quarterback has emerged as of yet, but he will certainly have work to do.

Geno Smith

Geno Smith did every thing you might expect the West Virginia senior to do against a foe like FCS James Madison. He threw, he ran, and he helped the Mountaineers dismantle the Dukes, 42-12. Smith’s 411 yards through the air with five touchdowns was more than enough against James Madison, and again proves just what an offensive force the quarterback can be.

Of course, this was not the type of test that will truly find Smith’s viability as a Heisman candidate. Those matchups are to come, including a non-conference showdown with Maryland next week before West Virginia starts its inaugural Big 12 schedule against Baylor.

Montee Ball

Against a very game Utah State team, it was Montee Ball’s 39 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown that helped the Badgers survive another upset bid, and this one at home in Camp Randall Stadium. After a really rough outing against Oregon State, where he was held to 61 yards on the ground and without a touchdown, Ball is back in the Heisman conversation.

With the Big Ten schedule about to begin for the Badgers, Ball has a solid chance to return to the conversation and the national consciousness if he can string a few strong performances together in the coming weeks.

Braxton Miller

Seemingly flying under the radar as the quarterback of bowl-ineligible Ohio State, Braxton Miller has certainly made a forcible impact during his first three games of 2012. Against California in an intriguing non-conference game, Miller certainly put his name on plenty of radars, passing for 249 yards and four touchdowns against the Golden Bear defense.

Miller is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten, and despite the Buckeyes’ inability to contend for a national title, they could prove a huge thorn in other teams’ sides with Miller at the helm.

On The Radar:

Le’Veon Bell

A star of the first two weeks, both because of Michigan State’s return to the national conversation and strong performances, Bell was held in check against Notre Dame in the Spartan’s tough loss. Just 77 yards and no scores for the junior, but he’s not out of this yet.

Marcus Lattimore

Eighty-five yards and a score against UAB was strong for the junior Gamecocks tailback. Given the performances that were either sub par or against weaker competition on the national scale, anything can happen for Lattimore in the weeks to come.

Heisman Watch Week Two: Thomas, Barkley Strong Again As Others Falter

De’Anthony Thomas

If you want any indication of the impact De’Anthony Thomas can have on any one game, just take a look at the sophomore’s stat line from Oregon’s victory over Fresno State on Saturday. Thomas touched the ball all of 11 times, but accounted for two touchdowns and 128 yards, simply outflanking the Bulldog defense at every turn.

After three touchdowns against Arkansas State in week one, Thomas is already compiling the type of stat lines that make Heisman candidates, especially from the Pac-12. Of course, he’s not yet tested against Pac-12 defenses this season, but if 2011 is any indiction, Thomas will have no trouble turning it up a notch, a scary thought for the rest of the conference.

Montee Ball

Wisconsin and Montee Ball had a weekend to forget against Oregon State, as the Badgers fell hard, 10-7, and Ball was held out of the end zone. Among preseason favorites in the Big Ten and Heisman races respectively, things have started rather slowly for Wisconsin, which had trouble warming up against Northern Iowa before topping the Panthers in the first week.

Ball ended up with 61 yards rushing and 18 yards receiving on Saturday, not the type of numbers that keeps running backs in a Heisman race. He’s not anywhere close to out of it yet, but things will have to improve against the much tougher schedule staring Wisconsin down as the season progresses.

Matt Barkley

Things were relatively simple for Matt Barkley and USC against Syracuse, as the Trojans topped the Orange 42-29 behind Barkley’s six passing touchdowns. And again, Barkley was efficient in spreading the ball around to his dangerous wide receiving corp, hitting Robert Woods (two), Marqise Lee (three) and Xavier Grimble (one) for scores.

His career-high in passing touchdowns on the day was almost overshadowed by the strong performances put on by his wide receivers against the deficient Orange secondary, and Woods and Lee will continue to hang around the Heisman race as long as Barkley does.

Geno Smith

Geno Smith and the Mountaineers had the weekend off, but with few stellar performances, Smith is in no immediate danger of dropping off of the Heisman radar. Smith will get a chance to fill up the scoreboard and stat sheet against FCS James Madison next weekend in the Mountaineers’ second game of the season.

If Smith can put up the type of numbers against a lesser opponent in the Dukes that he did against always dangerous Marshall, he may well be on his way to a stunning statistical season in the already stacked Big 12.

Le’Veon Bell

It wasn’t the game-changing performance that he had against Boise State in the season’s opening week, but it sure was effective, as Le’Veon Bell ran for two touchdowns and 70 yards in Michigan State’s convincing victory over Central Michigan. Bell rushed for 210 against Boise State last week, and this was certainly not that, but it was exactly what the Spartans needed.

Bell scored the game’s first two touchdowns, which proved all the Spartans would need on the day as Michigan State prevailed 41-7. Bell’s performance in the early going, before seeing a lighter load than he did against Boise state, is a sign that he’s in this race for the long haul.

On The Radar:

Marcus Lattimore

Only 40 yards against East Carolina’s just not going to do it in the Heisman race. The passing game was key for the Gamecocks on Saturday. Can Lattimore put up bigger numbers on moving forward?

Denard Robinson

Much better for the Michigan quarterback through the air against Air Force, but still not his best. It was his ground work — 218 yards and two touchdowns — that shone through. He’ll have to balance that out if he wants a shot at the trophy.

2012 Preseason Heisman Watch: Robinson, Barkley, Lattimore Lead Loaded Class

Denard Robinson

Dual threat if there ever was one, Denard Robinson spent the better part of the last three seasons electrifying Wolverine fans up and down the field and around the country. Last season saw the junior rush for more than 1,000 yards while passing for more than 2,000 for the second straight season, the only player in NCAA history to reach those levels in two consecutive years. Those things alone place Robinson squarely in the Heisman conversation coming into the 2012 season.

Clearly, the stats are there to support a Heisman campaign, however, as has been the case in the past, concerns linger about Robinson’s ability as a complete passer. If he aspires to a Tim Tebow-like season (and the Heisman that could come with it), he must bring his production as a passer to a level that is commensurate with the best quarterbacks in the country. Robinson’s career 4:3 touchdown to interception ratio will simply not cut it if Robinson hopes to contend for the trophy this season.

Matt Barkley

Matt Barkley has been through a lot as USC’s quarterback. In 2011, the bowl-ineligible Trojans prospered from Barkley’s experience, finishing 10-2 as Barkley broke the Pac-12’s single-season passing touchdowns record and all the other things seemed to melt away. Faced now instead with hype and expectation similar to that of the USC-dominated mid-2000s, Barkley is the media’s preseason favorite for the award.

A junior season of 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns will do that for any quarterback, let alone one also expected to lead a national title contending team of Trojans. Difficult games await USC in the deepening Pac-12, but if USC can stay in the national title race all season, Barkley is likely — at the very least — to stay in the Heisman conversation all year.

Marcus Lattimore

Few running backs enter their sophomore season with as much hype as Marcus Lattimore did in 2011. Coming off a 1,000-yard freshman rushing season against SEC defenses, Lattimore readied to contend for a Heisman trophy as a sophomore at South Carolina. It all seemed in place until the South Carolina running back tore his ACL against Mississippi State midway through his season.

Suddenly, Lattimore was out of the conversation and out of the national consciousness, but 2012 is a new year, and the back who electrified the SEC as an 18- and 19-year-old for 1,197 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns is back again to light Gamecocks opponents up. His 818 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games in 2011 isn’t exactly Heisman-winning pace, but playing under the bright lights of SEC football, Lattimore’s production is sure to put him in the conversation all season.

Montee Ball

In a conference prideful of the way its defenses make teams fight for every yard, Montee Ball certainly was worth his weight on the gridiron in 2011. Wisconsin’s star running back torched defenses for nearly 2,000 yards rushing and 39 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns — tying the all-time FBS record.

Though it will be difficult to match his record-breaking junior season, anything that approaches his 2011 output against an even stouter Big Ten crop of defenders will easily position Ball for a second selection as a Heisman finalist. Finishing fourth in last year’s Heisman balloting and then dropping the Rose Bowl to Oregon was probably not the finish Ball envisioned, but if the Badgers can continue an unprecedented run of success in 2012, expect Ball to stay on the national consciousness all season.

Geno Smith

Sure, 4,300 yards and 31 touchdowns in any FBS conference is impressive, but in Geno Smith’s case, those impressive numbers came against a Big East conference who’s national profile hasn’t often warranted its stars being recognized on a national and Heisman level in the last decade. Smith will play his last season with West Virginia in a new conference and get the chance to prove his worth all over again.

West Virginia moves to the Big 12 this year, and although not necessarily known for its defense (Cowboys, Wildcats, Sooners and Bears seem more of the offensive mind these days), the conference is certainly visible in a way the Big East often is not. With a stat line like the one he put up in 2011, the senior quarterback might just be able to give the Mountaineers not only with a chance for a return trip to the BCS, but also a shot at personal achievement — in this case, well-deserved consideration for the Heisman trophy.

Others to Watch

Landry Jones

Helmer of by no means bad, but underwhelming, Oklahoma teams in back-to-back years, senior quarterback Landry Jones has seen his preseason Heisman hype dissipate the last two years. Both years saw 4,400 or more passing yards, but no invite to NYC. Could more of the same in 2012 change that?

Tyler Wilson

If it’s possible, Tyler Wilson’s junior season as Arkansas’s quarterback — all 3,600 yards, 24 touchdowns and 11 wins — was largely forgotten in the all-SEC title game bonanza. Though Arkansas again enters the season outside of the seemingly BCS-ensued preseason SEC top-two, Wilson certainly has a shot at some Heisman attention his senior season.

De’Anthony Thomas

From the moment De’Anthony Thomas hit the field during his first game as a Duck, it was clear he was a spark plug in the Duck mold — fast, efficient and great to watch. Racking up an even 1,200 yards of combined rushing and receiving in 2011, the freshman was a factor all over the field. Could he be even more in 2012?

AJ McCarron

A national champion quarterback has rarely been as unheralded as A.J. McCarron. Perhaps the perception belied the fact that Crimson Tide faithful widely lauded McCarron for his work in the title game despite the lack of eye-catching statistics. The junior’s 2012 season might have a little more attention turned its way.

Jadeveon Clowney

The honor of SEC Freshman of the Year hasn’t exactly turned into Heisman glory down the road for recent recipients, but that a defensive lineman received the honor is stark enough of a fact that Clowney should register on Heisman pundits radars all season. Many expect big things of the South Carolina sophomore, and delivering on them could spell some national attention.