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Heisman Watch: Robert Griffin III
Source: SI
Heisman hopeful Robert Griffin III made a strong final statement in leading Baylor to a key win over Texas.
Posted: Monday October 3, 2011 12:59PM ; Updated: Monday October 3, 2011 6:15PM
Cory McCartney
Cory McCartney>HEISMAN WATCH

LSU's Tyrann Mathieu could break new ground for defenders

Story Highlights

Despite Tyrann Mathieu's numbers, the odds of him winning the Heisman are slim

Russell Wilson moved up the rankings with a stellar showing against a top-10 team

Poised for 1,839 yards this season, LaMichael James is still a Heisman contender

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In just six starts, Tyrann Mathieu has already broken the Tigers career record for forced fumbles.
In just six starts, Tyrann Mathieu has already broken the Tigers career record for forced fumbles.
Donald Page/Southcreek/ZUMAPRESS.com

Why isn't Tyrann Mathieu at the top of --or even on -- your Heisman list? --Dick Derbes, Baton Rouge

[Mathieu] has to be on the list of "most outstanding players in college football." --Ben, Golden, Colo.

That's just a sample of the mail that has clogged the Watchman's inbox regarding LSU's standout sophomore cornerback, and it's forced me to take on one of the most predictable/explosive/maddening debates surrounding the Heisman Trophy: defensive players.

Is Tyrann Mathieu one of the nation's best? Without question. A mere 18 games into his time in Baton Rouge, which includes just six starts, he has already broken the Tigers career record for forced fumbles.

Though when have "best" and "Heisman" gone hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to players who aren't on offense? It's one of the major reasons I've been so reluctant to put a defender on this list. It's not because they aren't worthy of being in the conversation when debating the top players in the land, but if this list is meant to be an indication of the players that have the most realistic chance to win the award, it's difficult to include a player who faces the longest of odds, both historically and by voting trends.

Gallery: Wilson moves up the Week 5 Heisman rankings

We can go back 31 years to Hugh Green, one of the most decorated players in history, who finished second to see how what kind of chances defenders have here. Then there's Brian Bosworth (fourth) and Chris Spielman (sixth), Deion Sanders (eighth), Steve Emtman (fourth) and, most recently, Ndamukong Suh (fourth). Technically, Charles Woodson was a cornerback, but he was also a return man and spent time at receiver, so if we're being real about it no player has ever won based solely on his defensive play.

But Mathieu has been that rare defender who is staring to gain attention based on those exploits and that in itself is saying something. Still, winning would be a long shot and while his case could be helped by the fact that he's also a punt returner, that part of his game is still evolving (his season-long return is for 15 yards) and he likely need to become more dangerous there before turns into a viable threat.

Until then, the Honey Badger is certainly making his presence felt, debuting in this week's top 10. For those wanting to brush up, here's a look at the rankings after Week 4.

1. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford, Jr.

Last week: 23-of-27 passing for 227 yards and three TDs; three rushes for 11 yards and one reception for 13 yards in 45-19 win over UCLA.

Season: 80-of-112 passing for 1,013 yards, 11 TDs and one INT; 11 rushes for 58 yards and one TD; one reception for 13 yards.

Something tells me we're going to see this highlight a time or two. During the first quarter of the Cardinal's win, Luck pitched the ball to Tyler Gaffney, who then flipped it to receiver Drew Terrell, who was running a reverse. Terrell stopped and threw down the right sideline to Luck, who made a one-handed catch -- the second of his career -- for a 13-yard gain. He wasn't too shabby at QB either, hitting on a season-high 85.2 percent of his passes and coach David Shaw even allowed him to call the plays during a no-huddle sequence.

Next up: Saturday vs. Colorado

2. QB Russell Wilson, Wisconsin, Sr.

Last week: 14-of-20 passing for 255 yards and two TDs; six rushes for 32 yards and a TD in 48-17 win over No. 8 Nebraska.

Season: 83-of-111 passing for 1,391 yards, 13 TDs and one INT; 22 rushes for 140 yards and two TDs.

How's this for legitimacy? After carving up an FCS team, two non-AQs and a Pac-12 squad that has yet to win a game, Wilson may have had his share of doubters. But he entered the upper echelon of contenders by delivering another impressive performance, this time against a top-10 opponent -- and he helped give birth to the official @RussellManiaXVI Twitter campaign. For those looking for some chink in his game against the Cornhuskers, Wilson did put up his lowest completion percentage in his short time as a Badgers, hitting on a "pedestrian" 70 percent of his attempts.

Next up: Saturday vs. Indiana

3. QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor, Jr.

Baylor's Robert Griffin III threw his first interception of the season against Kansas State, and it was costly.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III threw his first interception of the season against Kansas State, and it was costly.
Dan Wozniak/Southcreek Global/ZUMAPRESS.com

Last week: 23-of-31 passing for 346 yards, five TDs and one INT; 12 rushes for six yards in 36-35 loss to Kansas State.

Season: 93-of-113 passing for 1,308 yards, 18 TDs and one INT; 36 rushes for 173 yards and one TD; one catch for 15 yards; one punt for 39 yards.

Kansas State made September's biggest star look human. RG3 threw his first interception of the year to set up the Wildcats' go-ahead field goal, as the Bears fell from the ranks of the unbeatens. The good news for his candidacy is he put up monster numbers yet again, posting his third five-TD game of the season and he still leads the nation in pass efficiency with a 230.3 rating. But stats can't keep making up for losses. Griffin's going to have to keep the Bears in Big 12 contention if he wants to bring Baylor its first Heisman.

Next up: Saturday vs. Iowa State

4. RB Trent Richardson, Alabama, Jr.

Last week: 29 rushes for 181 yards and two TDs; two receptions for 27 yards in 38-10 win over No. 12 Florida.

Season: 96 rushes for 622 yards and 10 TDs; 11 receptions for 148 yards and one TD; two kick returns for 43 yards.

As conference mate Marcus Lattimore takes a step back in this race, Richardson makes his move and lays claim to the title of best back in the land. He rattled off his fourth consecutive 100-yard game, finishing with career highs in yards and carries and he broke a 34-year-old Crimson Tide record for rushing yards against Florida. The junior continues to do most of his damage in the second half, totaling 101 yards against the Gators, and is now averaging a staggering 8.7 yards per carry in the final two quarters this season.

Next up: Saturday vs. Vanderbilt

5. QB Kellen Moore, Boise State, Sr.

Last week: 19-of-33 passing for 142 yards, two TDs and two INTs in 30-10 win over Nevada.

Season: 102-of-138 passing for 1,137 yards, 14 TDs and two INTs.

We've come to expect a certain level of efficiency out of Moore, and for a game he was simply very un-Moore like. The senior had a career low in yards (142) and had his worst QB rating (101.6) as he threw multiple interceptions for just the third time in his 44 games. But to Moore's credit he earned his 42nd career win to move into a three-way tie with David Green and Andy Dalton for second alltime and bypassed Colt McCoy for eighth on the passing TD list with his 113th scoring strike.

Next up: Friday at Fresno State

6. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma, Jr.

Last week: 23-of-33 for 425 yards, five TDs and one INT in 62-6 win over Ball State.

Season: 111-of-155 passing for 1,447 yards, 10 TDs and five INTs; eight rushes for three yards and two TDs.

Jones took full advantage as the Sooners took a break from Big 12 play. He doubled his season's touchdown pass total and posted his sixth 400-yard game and the second in as many weeks. Now, it was against a team that has allowed 460 yards per game, but Jones seems to have found his rhythm as Oklahoma begins a six-game stretch that includes four ranked opponents, beginning this week against rival Texas. The Longhorns rank fifth in pass efficiency D and have given up just two TDs through the air to date.

Next up: Saturday vs. No. 11 Texas

7. RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, Soph.

South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore scored his 29th career touchdown in a 16-13 loss to Auburn.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore scored his 29th career touchdown in a 16-13 loss to Auburn.
Cecil Copeland/Cal Sport Media

Last week: 17 rushes for 66 yards and one TD in 16-13 loss to Auburn.

Season: 124 rushes for 677 yards and nine TDs; 12 receptions for 139 yards and one TD.

For the second straight week, Lattimore was largely held in check as he had his lowest output of the season -- and this was against an Auburn defense that came in allowing over 225 yards per game on the ground. He still managed to score his 29th career TD with a 15-yard scamper, but you have to wonder how much longer he can remain a viable candidate if he can't get more help in the passing game as Stephen Garcia looked shaky again, completing 39 percent of his passes and he threw two picks.

Next up: Saturday vs. Kentucky

8. CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, Soph.

Last week: Five tackles, two forced fumbles, one returned for a 23-yard TD, one sack; two punt returns for 30 yards in 35-7 win over Kentucky.

Season: 35 tackles, 4 for loss and 1 sacks, four forced fumbles, two returned for TDs; one interception; four pass break-ups; 11 punt returns for 85 yards.

Mathieu broke a tie with former All-America Ali Highsmith for the Tigers record for career forced fumbles as he stripped Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith and returned it 23 yards for a third-quarter score. Then for good measure, Mathieu added his ninth in the fourth quarter. What is it about wearing No. 7 in the LSU secondary?

Next up: Saturday vs. No. 17 Florida

9. QB Denard Robinson, Michigan, Jr.

Last week: 15-of-19 passing for 169 yards and two TDs; six rushes for 51 yards and one TD in 58-0 win over Minnesota.

Season: 50-of-91 passing for 793 yards, eight TDs and six INTs; 77 rushes for 603 yards and six TDs.

A week after defending the run-heavy/pass-light version of Shoelace that has dominated his season, he ran for a season-low six times and broke a string of 100-plus yard games, though he did look more polished in the passing game, completing 78.9 percent of his passes and didn't throw a pick for the first time since Week 1. Bottom line: No, he didn't dominate, but Michigan didn't need all that much out of him as he was taken out in the third quarter of its most lopsided Big Ten win in 11 years.

Next up: Saturday at Northwestern

10. RB LaMichael James, Oregon, Jr.

Last week: Idle

Season: 65 rushes for 613 yards and seven TDs; 11 receptions for 159 yards and one TD; five punt returns for 114 yards and one TD; one kick return for 21 yards.

A radio host asked me whether James can realistically win given the stigma of his 54-yard game vs. LSU. James is on pace for more yards (1,839) than the 1,731 he had last year when he finished third in the voting, so the production could be there, as well as opportunities to make a statement. Two of Oregon's biggest games still lie ahead with No. 22 Arizona State, and most importantly, against Luck and Stanford on Nov. 12. He has plenty of ground to make up, but he could run his way to at least a return trip to the ceremony.

Next up: Thursday vs. Cal

 
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