With one week to go, Richardson the player to beat for Heisman
This has become one of the tightest fields in recent memory. You could make the case for more than a half dozen players not just making it to New York, but also winning the Heisman Trophy.
But with one week remaining, who should be in the driver's seat? And what should it be based on? A player's value to their team? Statistics? Preseason hype?
They'll all play a part. But there's another determining factor at play, and it is those three letters that we all seem to loathe: B-C-S.
Whether it's a conscious decision, or simply voters following the teams that are directing the season's storylines, the BCS has become key in not just deciding the winner, but the rest of the voting order as well. In the last 12 years, the Heisman recipient has played in a BCS game 11 times and in that span BCS-bound players have claimed at least two of the top three spots in the final voting a whopping 10 times.
The fact is it took a history-making season and a matchup of title game participants who had no clear contender for Tim Tebow to buck the trend and win in 2007. That's not the case this season.
The Heisman has forever mirrored the landscape of the game and these days the college football universe revolves around the BCS and a player's postseason destination. Is it fair to the likes of Robert Griffin III, who has starred with 8-3 Baylor or Matt Barkley, who by no fault of his own, plays for bowl-banned USC? "Most outstanding" can be defined in many ways, but the BCS has become an undeniable part of that definition.
RG3 remains a viable threat, and Andrew Luck will have his followers; the Stanford QB certainly fits the mold. But it's Alabama running back Trent Richardson that would seem to be the combination of everything a winner has been in this era: he plays one of the most high-profile offensive positions, he's a known commodity after starring behind '09 recipient Mark Ingram -- and he's pushed over the edge by having to run the gauntlet that is the nation's current king of conferences. That's why with one week to play, the Crimson Tide star is your clubhouse leader among the players most likely to win.
Before we unveil this week's rankings, here's a look at
He left voters with a statement game as he vies to become the SEC's third straight winner. The junior ran roughshod on the Crimson Tide's rival, torching Auburn for a career-high 203 yards, which was the most yards by a 'Bama back since Mark Ingram in 2009, and it was also his ninth 100-yard game of the year, which ties Ingram from that year. Richardson doesn't lead the nation in rushing yards or TDs, and his yardage would be the lowest by any Heisman-winning back since Archie Griffin's 1,450 in 1975, but you can argue no one has faced a more daunting schedule. He has seen seven defenses ranked in the top 50 -- Wisconsin's Montee Ball is second on this list with five -- and he's put his team in position to play for the BCS title.
RG3 gets an incomplete after his night was cut short with a concussion. Still, he totaled three TDs, running in his final score shortly after taking a forearm to the head while sliding on a run. Griffin now sits second nationally in total offense (390.0 per) and points responsible for (22.5 ppg) -- though what the Bears did without him, 323 yards and 35 points after he left, certainly would have helped to puff up his resume. He's listed as probable for Baylor's season finale against Texas, and while the Longhorns have taken a step back, it would afford Griffin a chance to leave voters with one last statement as he takes on a defense that leads the Big 12 and ranks ninth nationally.
Again, Luck was great, but he wasn't spectacular. But as high as the bar was set in his return for a final season, were our expectations unreachably high for the future No. 1 pick? While Pac-12 rival Barkley certainly makes a strong case to fill this spot -- as the Watchman's inbox can attest -- it's Luck who remains the league's more viable candidate, and not just for the hype or the fact that he beat Barkley head-to-head. The Cardinal star ends the regular season as the Pac-12's leader in pass efficiency (167.5), directs the nation's best red-zone offense (98 percent) and has put Stanford in line for a second straight trip to a BCS game. He also has a place in Cardinal history as he broke John Elway's career TD pass record.
Maybe it's because he played in the shadow of QB Russell Wilson for part of the season, or that he's truly caught fire after the Badgers were knocked out of the BCS title hunt, but Ball is in the strange position of playing catch-up in this race despite putting together one of the greatest scoring seasons in NCAA history. Only Barry Sanders (39) has had more total touchdowns in a year than Ball's 34, and he already owns the Big Ten rushing TD mark at 29. Ball should have quite the case for an invitation to New York if he can have another big day in the inaugural Big Ten title game against No. 11 Michigan State, which ranks third in total defense and is allowing 101 per game on the ground.
His continued place on this list isn't about career achievements, though let's not forget that Keenum is putting the finishing touches on one of the greatest statistical runs the position has ever seen. He's now leading FBS in total offense (397.4), passing yards per game (393.8), TDs (43) and points responsible for (23.3). The Cougars' level of competition continues to be ammunition for his detractors, but it shouldn't hold Keenum back. While Houston has faced nine defenses that rank 62nd or worse, Hawaii's Colt Brennan faced seven, along with two FCS schools, in finishing third in '07 behind Tim Tebow and Darren McFadden. And just like Brennan when he reached NYC, Keenum has his team in the hunt for its first BCS berth.