Oregon fans had long viewed the team's Week 10 meeting with USC as a statement game, an ideal stage on which to prove the Ducks' offense warrants the hype.
Kenjon Barner got the memo.
After weeks of lurking just outside the inner-circle of Heisman candidates, Barner burst onto the Watchman's rankings with an offensive performance for the ages against the Trojans. The senior rushed for a school-record 321 yards and was responsible for five of the Ducks' nine touchdowns, while Oregon's 730 yards of offense were the most given up by USC in the program's 124-year history.
Barner has reason to be encouraged by Heisman history. Though quarterbacks have largely dominated the Heisman vote in recent years, winning all but one trophy since 2000, Barner's current season compares favorably to Alabama's Mark Ingram's, the only running back to receive the award during that span (Reggie Bush's 2005 award was vacated). Through nine games Barner's 19 touchdowns and 7.2 yards per carry best Ingram's 2009 marks of 17 and 6.1. Moreover, Barner needs only 364 yards to surpass Ingram's 1,658 total rushing yards.
The catch: Ingram's Crimson Tide finished the 2009 season unbeaten and won the BCS title. But as the motor behind Oregon's seemingly unstoppable offense, Barner may have the Ducks heading down a similar path.
Before moving on to this week's rankings, here's a reminder of how things stacked up last week.
Last week: 16-of-22 passing for 245 yards; 17 rushes for 64 yards and one touchdown in a 44-30 win over Oklahoma State.
Season (nine games): 133-of-187 passing for 1,875 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions; 139 rushes for 698 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: The Cowboys appeared to find the kryptonite to Klein's Superman act in the first half of their loss to the Wildcats. The quarterback didn't reach the end zone until almost nine minutes remained in the third quarter, when he plunged in for his 50th career rushing touchdown. The senior left the game with an undisclosed injury after that series, but he still managed 309 of the Wildcats' 481 yards of offense on the day to help K-State remain unbeaten. Klein is now the nation's top-rated passer (174.4), but a cloud of uncertainty suddenly hovers over his candidacy. If he plays Saturday, he'll face a TCU team that is holding Big 12 opponents to 105.2 rushing yards per game. If he misses the game amid concussion murmurs, he could lose ground.
Next up: Saturday at TCU
Last week: 14-of-27 passing for 165 yards and one touchdown; three rushes for seven yards and one touchdown in a 21-17 win over No. 5 LSU.
Season (nine games): 136-of-204 passing for 1,849 yards, 19 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Watchman's take: As the saying goes, big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and that's exactly what McCarron did against then No. 5 LSU in Death Valley. McCarron's swing pass to T.J. Yeldon for 'Bama's go-ahead score with 51 seconds remaining was the marquee moment of the junior's season. McCarron was having a forgettable second half (1-of-7 passing for zero yards) when he took the ball and engineered the winning 72-yard drive against the Tigers, who boasted the country's No. 2 pass defense. McCarron still hasn't thrown an interception, and only a few days after embracing the title of "game manager," McCarron willed the top-ranked Tide to their biggest win of the season, proving that moniker might not be a bad thing. And that's his best case yet for an invitation to New York.
Next up: Saturday vs. No. 15 Texas A&M
Last week: 38 rushes for 321 yards and five touchdowns in a 62-51 win over No. 18 USC.
Season (nine games): 179 rushes for 1,295 yards and 19 touchdowns; 15 catches for 184 yards and one touchdown.
Watchman's take: It didn't take long for Barner to set a USC opponent's rushing record, which he did by midway through the third quarter. The senior showed what he's capable of when not sidelined in the waning moments of a blowout: USC kept things close late into the game, and Barner carried the ball a season-high 38 times. Barner has now accounted for 42 percent of the Ducks' rushing output this season and 19 of their 29 rushing touchdowns (the next closest Oregon player, De'Anthony Thomas, has seven rushing scores). As ex-Oregon star LaMichael James put it after watching the Ducks from the sideline Saturday: "This is the best offense I've ever seen in my life," and Barner continues to be the biggest reason why.
Next up: Saturday at Cal
Last week: Seven tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass breakup and a ½ sack in a 29-26 triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh.
Season (nine games): 87 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, five interceptions, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
Watchman's take: Te'o should really send Pittsburgh kicker Kevin Harper a gift basket. Harper's potential game-winning 33-yard field goal sailed wide right and allowed No. 4 Notre Dame to hold on for a third overtime and maintain its unbeaten record. Te'o wasn't his usual game-changing self -- he finished third with seven tackles for the Irish -- but the senior did sack Panthers' quarterback Tino Sunseri for an eight-yard loss late in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame avoided a BCS-altering upset that would have soured Te'o's shot at the Heisman; the win keeps the Irish's national title hopes, and Te'o's shot at New York, alive.
Next up: Saturday at Boston College
Last week: 12-of-20 passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns; 18 rushes for 73 yards and one touchdown in a 52-22 win over Illinois.
Season (10 games): 124-of-218 for 1,753 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions; 184 rushes for 1,166 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: Miller continued his dual-threat attack with two passing touchdowns and one rushing score in helping Ohio State reel off 567 yards of offense against Illinois. But as the season approaches its final games, the reality of Ohio State's postseason ban is becoming more and more real, and Miller's true Heisman chances are likewise coming to fruition. As mentioned in this space before, Houston's Andre Ware (1989) is the only player to take home the trophy on a team facing a postseason penalty, and the Buckeyes' inevitably shortened season is the line on Miller's résumé that will be difficult to overcome.
Next up: Nov. 17 at Wisconsin
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater and Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez missed the rankings this week.
For the third straight week, the Heisman continues to be Klein's award to lose ... at least according to SI's ballots. He appeared on eight of nine SI ballots, earning the first-place vote on all of those eight. Te'o maintained his second-place spot, but he's now sharing it with Barner, whose career day lifted him from out of the poll to six votes. The only newcomer this week is USC wideout Marqise Lee, whose big outing against Oregon was overshadowed by Barner's record day.
1. Kansas State QB Collin Klein -- 8 votes (8 first-place votes)T2. Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o -- 6 votesT2. Oregon RB Kenjon Barner -- 6 votesAlabama QB AJ McCarron -- 2 votesOhio State QB Braxton Miller -- 2 votesAlabama G Chance Warmack -- 1 vote (1)USC WR Marqise Lee -- 1 voteGeorgia LB Jarvis Jones -- 1 vote
SI's voters: Senior writers Thayer Evans; Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples, Phil Taylor; senior editors Jim Gorant, Mallory Rubin, B.J. Schecter; associate producers Zac Ellis and Ben Glicksman.
USC couldn't stop Barner, who rushed for five touchdowns in the Ducks' record-setting win. (Landov)
Alabama's McCarron finds Yeldon for the game-winning touchdown against LSU to deflate the rowdy crowd at Death Valley:
It looks like Barner has earned his former teammate's vote: