Unlike any Heisman Trophy race before it, this one is defined and tangled in a mess of allegations, speculations and uncertainties.
If Cam Newton had never been implicated in a pay-for-play scandal, if his character had never come into question because of past academic improprieties, the only debate would be over who would finish second to the Auburn quarterback in the Heisman voting.
But it's not that simple.
Last week the Watchman stated his case as to why these reports won't impact my voting, but as the storm clouds continue to build over the loveliest village on the plains, the question has to be asked: if Newton doesn't win the Heisman, then who will?
That's where it gets tricky. The most logical choices are Oregon's LaMichael James, the nation's leading rusher and the most dangerous weapon on the nation's most dangerous offense, and Boise State's Kellen Moore, the cool, polished passer who rarely looks like he's breaking a sweat.
Both generate their own debates.
James' numbers -- he's on pace to break the Pac-10 sophomore rushing record -- can't be ignored, and neither can his past. Last March he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment, and if character suddenly becomes a sticking point amid the Newton controversy, will that transgression cost James?
Moore's battling the specter of the past and voters' tendencies. No player from outside the current BCS conferences has won the Heisman since consecutive victories by Houston's Andre Ware in 1989 and BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990. In the 20 years since, only one non-BCS player has finished higher than third in voting (San Diego State's Marshall Faulk in 1992). Therein may lay the biggest test of the Bronco's legitimacy. Earning a lofty ranking among voters whose names are public is one thing, but getting 900-some anonymous voters (outside the living Heisman winner) to get behind him would truly signal a change in the landscape of the game.
If pressed I'd likely pick James. He has more total yards, averages more yards per game and has more TDs than any other RB despite sitting out a game. In two matchups with Top 25 teams he ran for 496 yards and six TDs. In the end, though, either James or Moore would seem a suitable replacement for Newton, but that's the optimum word -- replacement. This season has been defined by Newton -- for better, and potentially for worse -- which is why trying to anoint a potential new Heisman leader simply feels forced.
Before I unveil this week's top 10 contenders,
If the allegations are getting to Newton, you'd never know it by his on-field production -- or his postgame comments, since he wasn't made available to the media. He was brilliant as the Tigers clinched the SEC West, accounting for at least four TDs for the sixth time this year as he became the eighth player in NCAA history and the first in the conference with 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing in a single season.
The Duck had a few less push-ups to do as Cal kept James out of the end zone for the first time since the Rose Bowl and held him to a career-low 3.1 yards per carry. But the most concerning sight was James being helped off the field with an ankle injury. He was on crutches after the game but insisted he's fine. He'll get a week off before facing the Pac-10's top rushing defense.
The nation's most efficient passer flashed his
The breakout star of the season just keeps delivering. For the third straight game Blackmon had over 100 yards receiving in the first half as he's now hauled in a nation's-best 16 receiving TDs. Through 10 games he's averaging 158.8 receiving yards per game, putting him on pace for a higher average than Michael Crabtree in either of his Biletnikoff-winning seasons and the highest in FBS since Nevada's Trevor Insley averaged 187.3 yards per game in 1999.
It wasn't pretty. Arizona State's pass rush was getting to Luck as he committed two turnovers in Sun Devils' territory and for the first time this season he failed to throw a TD pass. But he came through when it mattered, hitting on all four of his pass attempts in leading the Cardinal on a 10-play, 85-yard drive to set up the decisive score and keep Stanford's Rose Bowl hopes alive.
The nation's active leader in career wins pushed his total to 40 in his Amon G. Carter Stadium finale. Dalton overcame a fumble that resulted in an Aztecs touchdown with his second four-touchdown game of the season and the fourth of his career. He now needs 40 yards to pass BYU's Max Hall for the Mountain West career record for total offense of 11,569 and is 61 yards shy of 10,000 passing yards for his career.
Pryor's passing output was his second-lowest of the season, trailing only the 76 he had against Illinois when he suffered a thigh injury. He wasn't asked to throw much as the Buckeyes ran for 314 yards, with his 13 attempts his fewest in 17 games. Still, Pryor moved up to fifth nationally in passing efficiency (166.4) and he ran with more authority than he has in weeks, which could prove crucial against Iowa's fourth-ranked rush defense.
After a two-week absence, Mallett makes his return to the Watch with another record-setting performance. He threw a Razorbacks' best five TDs vs. the Miners and ran for another, equaling the program mark for total touchdowns in a game. He now owns or has tied 37 school or stadium records in his two years at Arkansas. Over the last three games, Mallett is 67 of 100 for 927 yards, nine TDs and one pick.
It's nothing new for Shoelace to leave a game with an injury; for those keeping track, it's happened five times. But for performance? That's a new one. Robinson was pulled for the first time this season after throwing two picks and fumbling three times, though Rich Rodriguez remained adamant after the game that Robinson remains the Wolverines' starter. Despite the bad day he's still second nationally in total offense (340.7 ypg).
Kaepernick became the Wolf Pack's alltime leader with 54 rushing touchdowns against Fresno State, but more milestones await. He stands 54 yards from becoming the first player in NCAA history with 2,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing in three seasons. He also needs 148 yards to become the 9,000-yard/4,000-yard club's first member and he has three regular-season games and a bowl game remaining to reach those marks.