As week eight of the college football season concludes, the Heisman trophy candidates are starting to take form. Of the top five I have in contention as we near the end of the season, I think it's safe to say none of them were considered at the beginning of the season. Remember the preseason Heisman picks in: Matt Barkley, Denard Robinson, Montee Ball, Landry Jones and Tyler Wilson? They all have underperformed and the new Heisman leaders have stepped up. Let's take a look at the semi-revamped Heisman list of contenders as we enter week nine of the college football season.
1. Collin Klein
I think at this point its safe to say that Klein is sitting nicely in the driver's seat for the Heisman as of right now. If he were to lead the Wildcats to an undefeated season and a berth in the national championship game, he would almost certainly garner enough winning votes. He's been the cornerstone of the offense behind mastermind head coach Bill Snyder who has the Wildcats off to one of their best seasons ever. Klein came into Manhattan listed as a wide receiver and later was converted to the quarterback position. I think it's safe to say that Kansas State wouldn't be sitting undefeated without Klein at the helm. He's Tebowesque in terms of his football skills, and uses his legs when needed to produce points on the board. His accuracy through the air isn't spectacular, but the past month he is averaging two touchdowns on the ground and another two through the air. Klein is just another product of the amazing things that Snyder has done in Manhattan since he took the job in 1988. I don't think Klein will take the Heisman trophy home if Kansas State suffers a loss this year, but if they stay undefeated he will have the best chance out of the other candidates.
2. Braxton Miller
Miller's season has been an example of what happens when a coach of Urban Meyer's pedigree comes in and takes the reins of a program shackled with sanctions. Miller had his growing pains under interim coach Luke Fickell last season as they stumbled to a seven win season. But Miller has shown poise and leadership in his second season at the helm of the offense, and has Ohio State off to an 8-0 start---and they can't even play for the championship this year. In arguably Miller's hardest test of the season to date, he led the Buckeyes to victory over Penn State in Happy Valley in front of 107,000 raucous fans. Miller plays in a mediocre conference with a subpar schedule, but nonetheless has shown he is one of the best athletes in college football. Miller has a great chance to lead Ohio State to an undefeated season, with three more tests standing in the way: Illinois, at Wisconsin and Michigan. If Miller performs well in the final three games, it will be a very close race for the Heisman in January.
3. A.J. McCarron
Maybe I keep ranking McCarron higher than he deservedly should be, but I think he's warranted himself as a serious contender for the Heisman. He has yet to throw an interception this season which is absolutely ludicrous considering some of the defenses he has gone up against. McCarron has been lucky enough to have the best defense in the nation helping him, but he also has transformed from last year into a true game manager and leader. Nick Saban is one of the best recruiters (if not the best) in the nation, and he has surrounded McCarron with a ton of talent. But Saban can only do so much, and McCarron has shown that he doesn't shy away from challenging games or raucous away game atmospheres. His biggest test of the year will be this Saturday in Baton Rouge against Les Miles and the LSU Tigers. If McCarron can lead the Tide past LSU and then Texas A&M the following week, it isn't out of the realm of imagination that he could move up even higher on the Heisman board. Decision making is McCarron's strong point in his skill set and it shows with how he limits turnovers which is scary considering McCarron has already won a nation championship and is better than last year.
4. Manti Te'o
If you are a college football fan and aren't a huge fanatic of the Notre Dame Irish, you should at least be able to agree with me that the Irish linebacker has been unbelievable this season. He has exuded everything you want in a football player, and he has been a leader on and off the field. Te'o lost his girlfriend and grandmother within a 48 hour stretch and still led his teammates to victory the same week. He has had key tackles in marquee games (Stanford) and late game changing interceptions (Oklahoma) that have preserved the Irish's undefeated season. His personality and humble attitude alone are Heisman worthy, and any NFL team that drafts him next April will have an amazing young man suiting up for them on Sunday's. It has been a long time since a defensive player has hoisted the Heisman and Te'o has a decent chance of becoming the next defender to do so. If Miller, Klein and McCarron fall in the next three weeks with subpar performances, Te'o could find himself in the midst of a national championship appearance as well as a date to New York City in January.
5. Johnny Manziel
There is probably a slew of other candidates that could be ahead of Manziel on the Heisman board, but I can't get enough of the freshman quarterback. Manziel has impressed his teammates, coaches and opponents and should be a force in the college game until he eventually leaves for the NFL. Rarely do freshman quarterbacks perform as well as Manziel has against some of the biggest names in the game. He almost lead the Aggies to victory over LSU and Florida, and has lead the team to blowout victories over Auburn, Arkansas and Ole Miss. He's definitely the real deal. He may not make it to a BCS bowl or even to the Heisman ceremony after the season is over, but give him another year of preparation and film study, and he could be scary next season for opposing teams. His numbers are comparable to Klein's and he has actually ran for a 100 yards more than Klein and passesd for 600 more as well. The two losses on the season have hurt his chances at the coveted trophy, but look for him to be a leading contender next season.