Collin Klein Heisman Watch (Week 5)

Brett Deering - Getty Images

The Heisman Race has suddenly become the race to catch red-hot Geno Smith as we enter the middle third of the season.

Remember all the talk in this feature and elsewhere about how the chances of a (former) dark horse like Collin Klein were better because this year's crop of Heisman candidates was relatively weak and lacking a true frontrunner? Well, I have some bad news. Don't worry, Jon, I'm not handing anyone the trophy in September early October, but it's pretty obvious to everyone that guy in West Virginia has made it his to lose for now.

That being said, it's strange no one is mentioning how Collin Klein threw six fewer incompletions last Saturday than Geno Smith did. Six! On a serious note, the upcoming weekend presents our hero with one of the best chances he'll get to gain some ground on his top rival just two weeks ahead of their potentially epic showdown Oct. 20 in Morgantown.

We pretty much knew all along that K-State was probably going to have to win the Big 12 title and certainly couldn't lose more than two games if Klein were going to have any shot at all of being declared the best player in college football. With the continued rise of Smith - and in case you missed it, he looked really, really good - the margin for error for Klein or any other contender has gotten considerably smaller.

Last week

Klein took some time to heal and presumably got some well-deserved alone time with his wife, though now that he's been basically anointed as a younger version of Bill Snyder* it's safe to assume he spent plenty of time on the football field and in the film room. He also talked and sang to Dan Patrick (podcast here, article here).

*Not to be confused with the actual college-aged version of Bill Snyder, who was the freshman team's 10th string QB and flunked out of Mizzou after a semester. To his credit, he did later go to William Jewell and play defensive back while earning degrees in P.E. and Spanish.

What he needs this week

It would be easy to think Klein will have a huge day against a Kansas defense that has given up averages of 185 yards rushing and 250 yards passing per game to powerhouses such as Rice, Northern Illinois, and a TCU offense determined to give KU false hope with as many red zone turnovers as possible. But let's not forget that 36 of the 92 points scored against the Jayhawks this season have come in the fourth quarter. That's Daniel Sams time.

A year ago Klein posted four rushing touchdowns and another one through the air while playing only three quarters in a dominating win at Bill Snyder Stadium East. Really, his biggest problem early was that the KU offense didn't move the ball enough to give him the amount of field he needed to really produce massive yardage numbers.

That could be an issue again this weekend, as I suspect Dayne Crist will not suddenly become Nick Florence and K-State's secondary will not become 11 guys in navy and blue on the field mostly for decoration. Combine those facts with the drastically different paces of the KSU and WVU offenses, and you have a lot of your reasons why Klein matching Smith's numbers in any way (even if you try to factor in the running advantage or whatever) is simply impossible, but I'm not confident the Heisman voters will understand those nuances.

As a result, we're left with no choice but to ask John Hubert to take one for the trophy here, and avoid the endzone at all costs. He can still get his 100 yards and If he's catching a pass out of the backfield would be the obvious exception, otherwise it's imperative that Klein maximize his touchdown total to keep his numbers somewhat within the Heisman stratosphere.

Optimus needs only two touchdowns to match his total through 5 games last year, so this would be a great time to bank 3 or 4 to make sure he can keep up with the pace that saw him get 9 combined touchdowns in games 6 and 7 a year ago. I'd feel a lot better if he can stay well ahead of that pace, especially since his running numbers are way down.

Of course, he's done just about enough in the passing game so far to offset that, and his first 250-yard passing game of the season would do wonders for the (accurate) perception that his throwing abilities have greatly improved. I'm not asking for any spectacular throws since this game won't really be seen by a national audience anyway.

Only gaudy statistics are needed. In fact, this would be a wonderful time for the first 3 passing touchdown game of Klein's career. If he could find a wide variety of receivers (KEEP USING THE TIGHT END) it would be even better.

Other contenders

Can someone please explain to me the appeal of D'Anthony Thomas? I get that his numbers were ridiculous against terrible competition, and yes, that's impressive. He's done some good work in the return game as well, despite not scoring a touchdown yet.

However, he's fourth on his own team in terms of carries and has looked pedestrian, at best, in two Pac-10 games. Not only is he averaging a mediocre 4.3 yards per touch out of the backfield....he has just ONE touchdown in those two games. What the hell am I missing?

Collin Klein, QB, KSU: 56-80 (70%), 758 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT, 24 rush, 312 yards, 5 TD

E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State: 88-120 (73%), 1,147 yards, 9 TD, 1 INT, 34 rush, 197 yards, 1 TD

A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama: 73-111 (65.8%), 999 yards, 12 TD, 0 INT

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: 88-129 (68.2%), 1,3790, 12 TD, 3 INT, 21 rush, -8 yards, 3 TD

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: 141-169 (83.4%), 1,768 yards, 20 TD, 0 INT, 20 rush, 99 yards, 1 TD

Terrence Williams, WR, Baylor: 34 rec, 667 yards, 6 TDs, 1 rush, 8 yards

Same candidates as last week with the exception of the novelty candidate, which comes from one-loss Baylor now that we're into October. Also, it's tough to penalize an offensive player for a loss when his team scores 63 points.

You may notice how Smith's numbers are way better than everyone else's. Now consider he has played one fewer game (or 20% less) than every other quarterback on the list except Klein, and you see just how absurdly far ahead Geno is statistically right now. The incompletion rate and 0 interceptions are especially incredible.

By the way, here are his stats vs. Baylor in a regulation football game one more time: 45-51 (88%), 656 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INTs. EA Sports should hold a competition and give a big prize to the first person to replicate those numbers exactly. I think it would take a while.

Interesting note: Currently only 5 quarterbacks in all of FBS have 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns, and no more than one interception. The first two are Smith and Louisiana Tech System Quarterback Colby Cameron, who hasn't played a defense tougher than Illinois or Virginia.

The other three? Texas' David Ash, Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel, and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. Yeah, I was surprised, too. Of course, they're all longer than long Heisman shots at this point.

If I had to pick one, I'd say Ash has the best shot at the moment, mostly because his team is still undefeated. Texas fans, you have my word that if UT wins this Saturday and Ash outduels Smith (differences in defensive quality notwithstanding), Ash will be on my list next week.

What others are saying

Klein jumped De'Anthony Thomas to move into fourth on the CBSSports.com/Heisman Pundit list of Chris Huston, who has Ash on his list for the third straight week. The HP straw poll of media members that had Klein second a week ago.....

Cory McCartney for SI's Heisman Watch kept Klein at third behind Smith and Manuel, as did ESPN. Friend of BOTC and Big 12 blogger David Ubben agreed and draws some ire from me this week by following ESPN at-large and keeping Thomas in fourth, for whatever reason

Over at The Sporting News, Steve Greenberg appears to be desperate for attention with his top five, which features Smith at the top and then four other guys you pretty much won't find anywhere else, though Williams is No. 5. The weirdest part is his top 5 was a top 8 last week and actually looked sane, except for the part where he put Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota fifth (Klein was third).

ESPN's fan voting leaderboard can't be taken too seriously because a lot of it is just about promotion or how many hardcore fans each school has, but it's interesting to look at, and more importantly, it counts as Nissan's official vote. I don't get it, either. Nonetheless, go vote once a day for Klein, who is currently sitting in 6th behind among others Matt Barkley from USC and Marcus Lattimore from the other USC. WUT?

I mention Bleacher Report last for a reason and hesitated to even put them here for the first time, but my decision was swayed when I read Lisa Horne had put Klein second behind Smith.

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