A freshman is on the rise in Texas and Collin Klein threw his first interception since mid-September, but Optimus showed he's perfectly healthy and moved to just two games away from becoming Kansas State's first Heisman Trophy winner and clinching the school's first national championship bid. It's all so beautiful, and so close we can taste it, but CK would be the first to tell you he's just got to keep sawing wood.
This is still college football, and we know all too well that the fatal mistake can happen just about any time, no matter how bright things look. But there's something about this team and its approach that makes you feel a little more comfortable as long as Klein stays healthy (knock on wood) and guys around him quit going down. Seriously, this week's injury report is not cool.
On the other hand, that's probably what Alabama fans were saying before last weekend, or definitely before LSU came around and showed everyone the Crimson Tide were human. Now it's K-State with the huge bullseye on its back, and even Bill Snyder can't completely stop his players, Klein included, from getting some of the swagger that comes with being ranked #1 in the BCS. They just have to make sure they use it for good.
Most importantly, Klein got on the field and looked like his usual self, quickly quieting any of that injury talk. The bad news is TCU's defense is really good (and really young, meaning this team is going to be scary in Manhattan next year) so the numbers weren't all that great.
Nonetheless, he still had the beautiful deep throw to Chris Harper (as a TCU rusher lit him up) and quite possibly his most impressive run of the season on the 34-yard touchdown where he went halfway across the field and narrowly beat a defender into the corner of the endzone. I wouldn't have minded seeing Klein pulled in favor of some Sams' draws in the final four minutes or so, but maybe the backup's hamstring is really bothering him and Klein probably did deserve to finish this one out, especially the kneeling part.
TCU's defense knows how to stop the run, and outside the two touchdown runs, Klein had only 26 yards on 13 carries. Of course, that counts the two sacks by the Horned Frogs, which cost Klein 20 yards.
The two touchdowns put him just one away from 20 and 10 again, with 25 and 15 well within reach for the season. He also moved into a tie with Kenjon Barner and Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson for second in the nation, five behind Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon, who ran for 111 yards when his team scored 57 points against the team that took down Alabama.
Passing-wise, let's take a moment and marvel at the fact that 12-21 (57%) now seems like an off-night for a guy who looked like he would never be more than a mediocre passer the first time he took snaps under center two seasons ago. In fact, his percentage from a year ago was almost right at that number, but this season he could still finish with a completion percentage above 70 if things go well against Baylor and Texas.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Klein soared right past 2,000 passing yards in a season for the first time in Fort Worth, making 2,500 very likely and keeping 2,700 as a possibility if he can average 260 yards over the final three games. The last Bill Snyder quarterback to reach that mark for the season? Michael Bishop in 1998, when he finished as Heisman runner-up behind a remarkable running back named Ricky Williams.
Eerily enough, Klein has exactly the same amount of rushing yards (748) as Bishop had that entire season, and CK has done it on 23 fewer carries. While Optimus won't touch Bishop's then-school record of 23 passing touchdowns, Klein would need just three touchdowns per game to surpass Bishop's total for the year.
What he needs this week
I'd love to see Klein return to the top of the passer rating list, where both our hero and Alabama's QB took rather precipitous drops while Oregon's Marcus Mariota took over the top spot. There are few things better for a passer rating than the chance to take on the Baylor secondary, so Klein may be in luck.
Then again, he might not throw too much against a rush defense that has allowed more than 250 yards in three of its last four games, with the only exception being an inept Iowa State offense that has clearly taken it upon itself to make that KSU win in Ames look as bad as possible. Even if John Hubert has a big day and Klein doesn't get a lot of carries, a comfortable win in Waco should be just fine for his candidacy as long as it doesn't come with any huge mistakes.
But what I kind of expect to happen is we see some success from Baylor's passing game, leading to Klein getting the chance to throw the ball around a little bit. Incredibly, Oklahoma last Saturday was the first team all season to not throw for 300 yards against the Bears, and that statistic includes teams like Sam Houston State, SMU, and Kansas.
A career-high for Klein (321) is very doable if K-State needs that much offense. Considering Baylor hasn't been held to less than 21 points all season, I think it's very possible. This could easily be another 4, 5 or even 6-touchdown day if everything falls right.
Lots of movement here this week, coming largely out of that game down in Tuscaloosa. Also, it went largely unnoticed, but Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's fringe campaign with its loyal, cultish followers went up in flames with his team's 45-26 loss to Syracuse.
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State:
Johnny Manziel, QB: 227-336 (67.6%) 2,780 yards, 18 TD, 6 INT, 156 rush, 1,014 yards, 15 TD
Marqise Lee, WR, USC: 98 catches, 1,447 yards, 13 TD, 10 rush, 100 yards
Geno Smith, A.J. McCarron both dropped off less because they had bad games (though McCarron did throw two picks despite posting a season-high 309 yards) but because they lost. Or in Geno's case, they lost their fourth straight game, three of which have been blowouts. Goodbye.
Oregon's Kenjon Barner, on the other hand, did have a bad game, rushing for just 65 yards on 20 carries against California. He also got hurt, so he certainly doesn't make the list this week, though I suppose he could still earn a trip to New York with strong showings against Stanford, Oregon State, and Oregon's Pac-12 championship opponent.
If you were going solely based on statistics, you could easily make the case for Manziel over Klein, and it's only going to get worse with Sam Houston State and Missouri coming to Aggieland in the next two weeks. But Klein clearly has more intangibles going for him, which is vital to this award, and he doesn't have the black marks Manziel has on his resume (hello, 3 INTs vs. LSU).
Marqise Lee is putting up insane numbers, but it's a lot less impressive when you realize the Pac-12 doesn't have a single defense other than Oregon in the top 75 in passing defense, and even the Ducks are 58th. Plus, Lee had just two catches for 32 yards against Washington. Really?
What others are saying
Manziel is the man of the moment, for obvious reasons, but it appears most voters are still rational enough to realize the award is based on your efforts for the entire season, not just last week. USA Today's poll of voters has 34 of 36 giving their first place votes to Klein, and I have to admit to having an odd sort of respect for the guy who gave his top spot to Colby Cameron, the Louisiana Tech quarterback who broke the NCAA record with 419 passes without an interception, including all 358 this season.
The Heisman Pundit/CBS Sports rankings still like Klein, and the Sporting News Steven Greenberg says the award is Klein's if he doesn't slip up. SI's Zac Ellis is a little higher on Johnny Football, but he still puts Klein as the clear #1 for now, largely because Manziel is a freshman, which is truly the dumbest reason to rank Optimus ahead of Johnny Football.
Naturally, it's two ESPN "experts" who were actually "bold" enough to put Manziel ahead of Klein on their ballots, and someone even ranked Klein third. I'm happy to report friend of BOTC David Ubben kept his wits about him, though Manziel is #2 and Lee is not in the top 5.
I'm not really even sure why I'm still mentioning this other than the fact it still counts as an official vote, but Klein did at least finally pass Geno Smith in the ESPN fan poll. So that's something. Of course, Manziel almost immediately passed Klein to push him back to third. Sigh.