Justin K. Aller
It's finally happened. Kansas State's quarterback is the virtually unquestioned leader in this week's Heisman race.
If anyone had asked West Virginia's players and coaches Saturday night about Collin Klein's weaknesses, I think the only thing that reporter would have gotten was a blank stare. The former three-star recruit from Loveland, Colo. who was rated 7th in the state and didn't receive a scholarship from Colorado State or so much as a letter from Colorado and Dan Hawkins moved solidly to the top of most Heisman ballots after a nearly flawless game on a day when other stars faltered.
I don't have a perfect memory of the 1998 season, since I was only in sixth grade, but I'm pretty sure no Wildcat has ever found himself in this position before. Luckily, no one is better equipped to handle the pressure and scrutiny that come with it than our fearless leader, Optimus Klein.
After Klein's continued passing on the drive that made it 52-7 late in the third quarter Saturday night, not to mention his appearance in the fourth quarter, I am now slightly more inclined to believe Snyder was indeed thinking of Klein's Heisman stats two weeks ago in
Lawrence against Kansas (my apologies, Mr. Morse). Certainly, there's no other explanation for such an un-Snyderlike move, and I'll admit I was cringing in my seat alongside other K-State fans as it happened, especially when Klein got sacked and I later learned his throwing hand was hurt enough he couldn't shake David Ubben's hand after the game.
It was a rather special night for Optimus Saturday, as he blew away my expectations from last week and (I would assume) everyone else's as well. I'm not sure if this was confirmed, but Chris Harper said it was the first time in Klein's career he had thrown for 300 yards. Not his college career. His entire football career.
Just to review, Klein completed 19 of 21 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns, then also rushed 12 times for 41 yards and another 4 touchdowns, with three of those coming on QB sneaks from a yard out, if I recall correctly. All of that against an notoriously terrible defense, yes, but also the 13th ranked (and most overrated?) team in the country. I believe that's the definition of a statement game.
There was simply no way John Hubert, Angelo Pease, or anyone else was going to get a carry inside the 5 yard line, and I'm pretty sure they didn't have a problem with that. By all accounts, Klein is the type of player everyone in purple wants to see score, and I would bet my life savings that any acceptance speech in New York City would prominently feature high praise of teammates and coaches.
We have to really nitpick to find any flaws in Klein's game, but he did have a few passes that were a little late or underthrown. Often, the West Virginia coverage was so bad it didn't matter, but it really is too bad Klein missed a 63-yard touchdown pass when he overthrew Tyler Lockett in the second half.
Then again, Klein also had some spectacular passes, most notably the perfectly lofted ball to Lockett in the corner of the endzone. But my personal favorite came on a pass to the sideline for 35 yards in the first quarter where (and I'm not sure if this was shown from a good angle on TV) Klein threw the ball to exactly the right spot before Lockett even started his break to the outside.
It was a beautiful thing to watch and the best example I've seen all year of Klein's improving chemistry with his receivers. It seems to be at its best with Lockett, who is on the verge of debunking my claim that K-State has no great wide receivers this season.
West Virginia's defense was geared up to take away the run and did a decent job, especially before they got tired from being on the field for so long and losing by so much. As a result, it wasn't the most efficient day for Klein on the ground, but then again, few things hurt a yards per carry average more unfairly than 1-yard touchdown runs.
What he needs this week
Essentially, he just needs to stay the course and avoid disaster. From here on out, barring something miraculous from other players, winning is most important, closely followed by avoiding turnovers.
Klein now has the same amount of interceptions as Geno Smith, and he is the only Big 12 QB who hasn't thrown a pick in league play. However, Texas Tech possesses the third-best pass defense in the league behind OU and K-State, and the Red Raiders have picked off 5 passes in Big 12 play, so Klein will have to be a little careful.
Quite honestly, I'd like to see TTU concentrate too much on the pass this week so Klein can just run for 100 yards again with two or three touchdowns. Throw in 100-150 yards passing with a touchdown for his 15th game with a passing and rushing touchdown (tops among all FBS QBs) and he should be good to go.
Klein is now at 24 total touchdowns compared to 22 at this point last year, but more importantly, he's only about 500 passing yards away from surpassing his total from last season. Not only that, but his passer rating is 50 points higher than how he finished last season (175.8) and ranks second in the country to Alabama's A.J. McCarron, who is basically playing a simple game of pitch and catch each week while other teams cower in terror or try way too hard to stop the Crimson Tide rushing attack.
Clearly, we're going to have to be a little more liberal with our definition of 'contender' this week. In reality, no one is on Klein's level at the moment.
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: 98-139 (70.5%), 1,397 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT, 110 rush, 551 yards, 14 TD
A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama: 106-154 (68.8%), 1,476 yards, 16 TD, 0 INT, 26 rush, -45 yards, 0 TD
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: 130-199 (65.3%), 1,914 yards, 16 TD, 4 INT, 31 rush, -30 yards, 3 TD
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: 216-291 (74.2%), 2,414 yards, 26 TD, 2 INT, 35 rush, 56 yards, 1 TD
First off, I'd like to point out that thanks to a spectacular performance from the K-State defensive line, Geno's rushing yardage is 15 yards lower than it was last week. I'm pretty sure Meshak Williams is going to be haunting his nightmares for at least the entire bye week as he tries to figure out why his passing abilities disappeared like Kevin Durant's game in Thunderstruck.
Baylor's Terrence Williams dropped off the list not because he had a bad game (in fact, he was spectacular), but because after yet another loss for the Bears he simply has no chance to win. I almost said the same for Murray, but if Georgia can beat Florida this Saturday (not likely) and get into the SEC championship game, he could easily become Klein's top competition.
What others are saying
Pay attention, readers, because this is going to be the best part of this post. You may have noticed over the weekend that everyone in the media now has a full hard-on for Klein, who will continue spurning all of them for his lovely wife who, it's important to remember, is the daughter of former Wildcat great Gary Spani. Optimus is pure K-State, through and through.
Chris Huston of Heisman Pundit declared the trophy is Klein's to lose and well, it's hard to argue with him. Geno Smith sits in second, and quite frankly, it's really hard to imagine the WVU QB surpassing Klein in any way, shape, or form at this point. McCarron moved to third, and I would really like to see him throw an interception soon. Just one.
Zac Ellis of SI may have been high on Golden Domer fumes as he ranked Notre Dame's Manti Te'o second this week. He was a lot harsher on Smith, dropping him all the way to fifth.
The Sporting News ranked Klein first (duh) took Smith completely off its list, but the most interesting thing here is Steve Greenberg ranked Texas Tech QB Seth Doege fifth. He does actually have some decent numbers, so hopefully this will motivate the KSU defense, and they'll respond accordingly.
Klein got ALL 15 first place votes in this week's poll, which of course includes friend of BOTC David Ubben (who, by the way, put together the most impressive/elaborate wedding proposal I have ever heard of. Congrats to him and his fiance, and sorry, ladies). ESPN also put Te'O second, which
Furnace conspiracy theorists might say is because that's where GameDay will be this Saturday.
The only reasonable poll I could find that doesn't have Klein ranked first is, of course, the ESPN Fan Poll, because Americans are really, really stupid. Also, because the voting is cumulative for the season, I suppose, and Klein did move from sixth to third this week. Please go VOTE NOW, and fix this egregious error.
Bleacher Report's Lisa Horne wrote an annoying and stupid article this week about how KSU could go 12-0 but not make the national title (hilarious headline typo included), but she does at least concede Klein is the Heisman leader in this one. I think. It's hard to tell, since the focus is on how Matt Barkley got himself back into the conversation by throwing for 298 yards and six TDs against Colorado, which is probably something a lot of high school quarterbacks could do.