Week 3 did little to reduce the number of candidates still vying for the coveted 2011 Heisman Trophy. Dozens of legitimate candidates remain in the race, but there are a few at this point that have separated themselves from other competition.
Here are my front runners, those just off the pace, falling off the pace, and the sleepers that remain.
THE FRONT RUNNERS
Andrew Luck (QB/Stanford)– After three weeks, Andrew Luck has done nothing to knock himself from the top spot, and there haven’t been any others that have been good enough just yet to supplant him. Luck and Stanford faced their first real test of the season on Saturday night in Tuscon against Nick Foles and the Arizona Wildcats. The Cardinal had little trouble disposing of the Wildcats, winning 37-10. Luck completed 64.5% of his passes (20-31) in the win for 325 yards and two touchdowns to no interceptions. So far in 2011, Luck has completed 67.1% of his passes for 786 yards and 8 touchdowns to 1 interception. Last season’s runner-up has put himself in good position to bring a Heisman Trophy to Palo Alto. Stanford takes next week before back-to-back games within the friendly confines against UCLA and Colorado.
Kellen Moore (QB/Boise State) — It’s hard to argue that any player in college football has played better than Kellen Moore so far this season. After taking last week off, Moore led Boise State on the road against a Toledo team coming off of a near upset win over Ohio State in the Horseshoe the week prior. Moore torched the Rockets secondary, throwing for 455 yards on 32/42 passes and 5 touchdowns to just 1 interception. In two games, Moore is completing 78.9% of his passes for 716 yards with 8 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. He’s currently 4th in the nation in QB rating with a 187.6. After two road games, Boise State plays their first game on the smurf turf on Saturday against Tulsa, before they get their rematch with Nevada.
Landry Jones (QB/Oklahoma) — Landry Jones’ road struggles continued in Tallahassee on Saturday night, but fortunately, his top-ranked Sooners were able to defeat Florida State 23-13. Jones did complete 18 of his 27 pass attempts, but for only 199 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Through two games, Jones’ QB rating is just 140.3, and he has as many interceptions as touchdown passes (2). Because of that, and because of Kellen Moore’s excellence, Jones slides back into third after two weeks. He has plenty of time to make up the ground, and will get a chance to do just that in Norman on Saturday against Missouri in the Big XII opener.
Marcus Lattimore (RB/South Carolina) — The Gamecocks got all they wanted and more against the Naval Academy in Columbia this weekened. Navy’s triple-option frustrated the South Carolina defense, and it wasn’t for Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks would have suffered a bitter defeat. Lattimore was the workhorse for Steve Spurrier’s offense, carrying the ball 37 times for 246 yards with three touchdowns on the ground as South Carolina survived 24-21. At this point, Lattimore is college football’s leading rusher, racking up 534 yards in three games, while also carrying the ball an absurd 87 times, while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Because of his performance against the Midshipmen, Lattimore vaulted up from just off the pace to one of the front runners, checking in at 4th. Next up for the Gamecocks is a home date against a better than expected Vanderbilt team.
Robert Griffin III (QB/Baylor) — Robert Griffin certainly hasn’t done anything to fall back a spot in the Heisman race, and the only reason he did was the performance of Lattimore. Here’s the individual stat of the college football season for you: After two games, Robert Griffin has as many touchdowns (8) as incomplete passes. He’s completed 41 of his 49 attempts (83.7%) for 624 yards and 8 touchdowns without throwing an interception. The competition wasn’t near as stiff this weekend as the season opener against TCU was, but Griffin still completed 20 of 22 passes for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns against Stephen F. Austin. He also rushed for 78 yards on 8 carries in the win. The Bears have one more tune-up against Rice in Waco before opening up their conference schedule.
JUST OFF THE PACE
Trent Richardson (RB/Alabama) — Trent Richardson fell back from one of the front runners to just off the pace, but only because of Marcus Lattimore’s spectacular performance. Richardson was pretty good in his own right against North Texas in Bryant-Denny, rushing for a career-high 167 yards on just 11 carries (15.2 YPC) and three more touchdowns, upping his total for the season to eight. He’s carried the ball 50 times for 315 yards through three games for an average of 6.3 yards per carry. He’s had back-to-back 100-yard games, and will get a chance to jump back up to front runner status on Saturday when Alabama hosts Arkansas in Tuscaloosa for the SEC opener. Alabama’s going to need a big game from Richardson if they plan on passing their biggest test to date.
Russell Wilson (QB/Wisconsin) — Russell Wilson continues to impress in his first and only season in Madison. The former NC State quarterback transferred to Wisconsin during the Summer for one final run at a championship in college. He had his most gaudy statistical game on Saturday against Northern Illinois. He completed 23 of his 32 passes for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns, but he did throw his first interception of the season in the Badgers 49-7 win over the Huskies. He’s thrown for 791 yards through three games with a 75.8% completion percentage with 8 touchdowns and 1 interception. Wisconsin faces one final tuneup at home on Saturday against South Dakota before Big Ten play begins on October 1st with Nebraska making the trek to Camp-Randall Stadium.
Denard Robinson (QB/Michigan) — D-Rob had another good performance against Eastern Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, but his passing remains to be an issue. As ballyhooed as his performance was against Notre Dame last week, he still only completed 45.8% of his passes. This week, even with the step-down in competition, Robinson only completed 38.9% of his attempts (7-of-18) for 95 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. But, he once again did it with his legs, carrying the ball 26 times for 198 yards and another touchdown in Michigan’s 31-3 win. For the season, Robinson is connecting on under 50% of his pass attempts for 6 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. If he wants a legitimate shot at bringing the Heisman Trophy back to Ann Arbor, his passing numbers are going to have to improve.
FALLING OFF THE PACE
Ray Graham (RB/Pittsburgh) — Graham’s chances of Heisman glory aren’t officially dead in the water yet, but he struggled in his first game against higher competition. He looked good in the first two games of the season against Buffalo and Maine, but he was held under 100 yards in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes. He was held to just 97 yards on 22 carries and was kept out of the endzone after scoring six touchdowns in the first two weeks. Pittsburgh’s 31-27 loss to Iowa also dampened his chances. But, nobody loses the Heisman Trophy in one game, and he certainly has a chance to prove himself in the coming weeks, but he’ll have to perform better against higher competition. Next up for the Panthers is a home date with Notre Dame where he’ll get a chance to prove himself on a national stage.
Tyler Bray (QB/Tennessee)– Tyler Bray was excellent in the first two games of the season against Montana and Cincinnati, and he had a chance to become a legitimate contender if he could lead the Vols to a win over Florida in the Swamp. Instead, Tennessee fell 33-23, and so did Bray’s chances at the Heisman for the time being. He wasn’t awful, but he didn’t play to the level that he had in the prior weeks. He threw for 288 yards, but completed just 26 of his 48 attempts with 3 touchdowns, but also 2 interceptions. Tennessee made a statement on Saturday, but it wasn’t the statement some had hoped. They showed that they are still a year away from seriously contending in the SEC East. The Vols have a bye week on Saturday before Bray gets a stat padding opportunity in two weeks against Buffalo.
Ronnie Hillman (RB/San Diego State) — This might come as a surprise, but Ronnie Hillman is the nation’s 2nd leading rusher behind Marcus Lattimore for an undefeated Aztec squad. While the first two games against Cal Poly and Army were not much to get excited about, Hillman gashed BCS opponent Washington State on the ground with 191 yards on 32 carries with 4 rushing touchdowns. He has 497 yards on the ground in three games, averaging 6.5 yards per carry with 8 rushing touchdowns. Hillman has a great shot at vaulting up the Heisman board on Saturday when San Diego State takes puts their undefeated mark on the line at the Big House against Michigan. If he can have a big game with the Aztecs pulling the upset, look for Hillman to really begin getting noticed in the Heisman race.
Sete Doege (QB/Texas Tech) — Texas Tech’s gunslinger put up record-setting numbers in the Red Raiders’ 59-13 win over New Mexico. He completed 40 of his 44 pass attempts for an NCAA record 90.9 completion percentage for a minimum of 40 pass attempts. He threw for 401 yards and 5 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. I realize the competition wasn’t impressive, but any time you set an NCAA record, it is impressive. So far in 2011, Doege is 3rd in the nation in QB rating (195.4) and second in completion percentage (81.8%). It will be interesting to see if Doege can keep up this high level of play once the competition rises. Texas Tech has one more out of conference matchup against Nevada before they open up conference play in two weeks on the road against Kansas.
David Wilson (RB/Virginia Tech) — Wilson is 5th in the nation in rushing yards in the first three weeks with 387 yards and 4 touchdowns. He posted 162 and 137 yards against Appalachian State and East Carolina respectively, but he did struggle against Arkansas State this weekend, rushing for only 88 yards on 21 attempts. He’s still averaging 6.2 yards per carry on the season, but the competition will rise in the coming weeks when ACC play begins after their final non-conference matchup on the road against Marshall.
Michael Dyer (RB/Auburn) — Despite how bad Auburn has looked in the first three weeks of the season, Michael Dyer has been great. After being sluggish out of the gate, rushing for just 57 yards against Utah State in the opener, Dyer posted back-to-back games of over 150 yards in games against Mississippi State and Clemson. Despite Auburn’s loss to Clemson on Saturday, Dyer rushed for 151 yards on just 16 carries and he punched in a pair of touchdowns. Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn have to get the ball to Dyer more during games, because it’s a crime that he only got 16 touches against Clemson, despite averaging over nine yards per carry. Dyer is a pretty long shot if Auburn doesn’t steadily improve over the course of the season, but he deserves mention at this point.