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College football commentary: Hold that Heisman!

Here it is: the obligatory Heisman column. I’m not one to toot my own horn, but ESPN’s Heismanology’s got nothing on me.

I was going to write this about 3 weeks ago, and I was going to hand the trophy to West Virginia QB Geno Smith. At that point, he hadn’t thrown an interception and was coming off a win against Baylor in which he threw two more TD passes than incompletions (eight and six, respectively) and put up a staggering 656 yards.

But, as my esteemed 95-year-old grandmother would say, hold the phone.

In less than a month, Smith has gone from favorite to merely a candidate – thanks mostly to a three-game losing streak.

Into that void has stepped – maybe sprinted is a better term – Kansas State QB Collin Klein. The kid has put up gaudy numbers with his arm and legs while leading the Wildcats to a 9-0 record.

Here is my list of the top nine Heisman contenders, broken into three categories: the Big 4 (the top players on three of the four unbeaten teams at the top of the BCS poll), the Numbers Guys (players whose teams aren’t in the running for the national title, but might put up great numbers), and the Dark Horses (players who are having impressive seasons but haven’t garnered much of the Heisman spotlight).

The Big 4

Collin Klein, Kansas State QB: He’s completing 71 percent of his passes, has amassed 2,573 yards from scrimmage and accounted for 29 TDs against just 2 INTs.

AJ McCarron, Alabama QB: He’s thrown for 1,849 yards and 19 TDs – without an interception – and completed 67 percent of his passes in the toughest defensive league in the nation.

Manti Te’o, Notre Dame LB: He has 87 tackles (42 solo), 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 5 INTs, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He’s the face of the defensive unit that’s the reason the Irish are 9-0.

The Numbers Guys

Geno Smith, W. Virginia QB: Even with the recent swoon, he’s completing 72 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards and 29 TDs against 3 INTs.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma QB: His numbers are down a little this year (65 percent completions, 2,414 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs), but he’s the Sooners’ all-time leading passer and will get some legacy votes.

Matt Barkley, USC QB: He’s thrown for 2,750 yards, 30 TDs and 10 INTs with a 65 percent completion rate, but like Jones, he’s a record-breaking QB at a school known for QBs.

The Dark Horses

Jordan Lynch, NIU QB: His numbers are impressive – 2,175 passing yards, 1,342 rushing yards, 35 total TDs, only 3 INTs – but he plays in the MAC, so he rarely gets national exposure. On the plus side, the Huskies have a good chance to finish 12-1 and win the conference title in his first year as starter.

Braxton Miller, Ohio St. QB: He’s amassed 2,919 total yards (more than 1,000 of both passing and rushing) and 27 TDs, but plays for a team ineligible for the postseason.

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M QB: He’s become known as Johnny Football, and has thrown for 2,527 yards and run for another 922, with 31 total TDs, but hasn’t beaten the SEC big boys.

No. 11 Oregon State at No. 14 Stanford

When: 2 p.m. Saturday Where: Stanford Stadium

TV: Fox Line: Stanford by 4

What’s up: This is a battle for second place in the Pac-12 North behind Oregon, with the winner still in position for a trip to the conference title game. The Cardinal play the Ducks next week and the Beavers play Oregon the week after, and whoever leaves Stanford still with only one loss will control their own destiny.

My pick: Oregon St. 24-21

Penn State at No. 16 Nebraska

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday Where: Memorial Stadium

TV: ABC Line: Nebraska by 7½

What’s up: The Huskers can basically lock up the Legends title with a win, as all that’s left ahead of them after the Nittany Lions are Minnesota and Iowa. The Lions have looked good on offense the past few weeks, but the Huskers’ D will be one of the best they’ll face all year. 

My pick: Nebraska 27-14

No. 15 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium

TV: CBS Line: Alabama by 13½

What’s up: The Tide cut it close against LSU, but escaped Baton Rouge with a W. With their path to the SEC title game much clearer, don’t expect too much of a letdown at home against the Aggies – although A&M QB Johnny Manziel is eager to show his stuff against the best D in the land. 

My pick: Alabama 31-17

West Virginia at Oklahoma State

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday Where: Pickens Stadium

TV: ESPN2 Line: Oklahoma State by 8½

What’s up: This will easily be the fastest-paced game of the weekend, and if both offenses are on, could be the highest-scoring as well. The Mountaineers need to rediscover their groove in the passing game, while a suddenly strong run game behind standout back Joseph Randle could be the secret weapon for the Cowboys.

My pick: Oklahoma State 52-45

No. 2 Kansas State at TCU

When: 6 p.m. Saturday Where: Carter Stadium

TV: Fox Line: Kansas State by 7

What’s up: The Wildcats put up some impressive offensive numbers the past few weeks, but their run game will face a good test this week in the Horned Frogs. TCU has given up points on occasion this year, but its run defense is one of the best in the Big 12 – and will need to bring its “A” game against K-State.

My pick: Kansas State 31-20

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