First impressions send Martinez, Bell soaring up Heisman Watch
Le'Veon Bell, Taylor Martinez, Andre Ellington benefitted from big openers
Denard Robinson and Landry Jones suffered from poor Week 1 showings
Right now, Tyler Wilson looks like the top Heisman contender on his team
After months of pining for college football's return, it's easy to jump to conclusions after one game. When considering the Heisman Trophy race, that's not necessarily a bad thing. While it's ultimately all about how a player finishes, a dominant opener can go a long way toward launching a campaign. Just ask Robert Griffin III, who last fall thrust himself into the race with a five-touchdown performance in Week 1 against TCU and went on to win Baylor's first trophy.
This season is no different, as Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell introduced himself to the nation with a huge opener and Nebraska unveiled Taylor Martinez 2.0.
Of course, not all Week 1 statements were positive, especially for a pair of preseason contenders. In arguably the biggest game of his career, Michigan's Denard Robinson fizzled in a 41-14 loss to No. 2 Alabama, both through the air (11-of-26 for 200 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions) and on the ground (10 rushes for 27 yards and one touchdown). Meanwhile, Oklahoma struggled to protect Landry Jones against UTEP, and when Jones did have time, the results were underwhelming, as he was 21-of-36 for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Both players have time to climb back into the race, but clearly have work to do.
And now this week's ranking, which would stand as my ballot if the season ended today. As a refresher, here's a look back at my top preseason contenders.
Last week: 22-of-38 passing for 372 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-10 win over Hawaii.
Watchman's take: The preseason favorite couldn't have opened up his trophy quest much better. He hit Marqise Lee for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the season and by halftime had torched the Warriors for 215 yards and three total scores. When it was over, Barkley had delivered the 11th 300-yard game of his career and the eighth in which he threw at least four touchdowns. But it wasn't enough for Barkley, who afterward said: "I felt like we left a lot of points on the table. I feel like we could have scored at least 100 points in the first half."
Next up: Saturday vs. Syracuse
Last week: 32-of-36 passing for 323 yards and four touchdowns; eight rushes for 65 yards and one touchdown in a 69-34 win over Marshall.
Watchman's take: It seems the Orange Bowl was just a taste of what's to come from Smith, who threw as many touchdown passes (four) as incompletions in leading the Mountaineers to their highest-scoring opener ever. He also made some personal history along the way, breaking the program records for career completions (630) and touchdown strikes (59), both of which were held by Marc Bulger. Smith has clearly found his groove operating in Dana Holgorsen's offense, throwing for 730 yards and 10 touchdowns in his last two starts while completing 81 percent of his passes and delivering 12 total scores.
Up next: Saturday, Sept. 15 vs. James Madison
Last week: 44 carries for 210 yard and two touchdowns; six receptions for 55 yards in a 17-13 win over No. 24 Boise State.
Watchman's take: In his first game as the Spartans' lead back, Bell was the offense. He touched the ball on 50 of Michigan State's 90 plays, amassing 265 yards and hurdling a Boise State defender while channeling his inner Edwin Moses. Bell recorded the most rushing yards by a Big Ten player against a ranked team since Ohio State's Maurice Clarett had 230 against Washington State in 2002. At 6-foot-2, 244 pounds, Bell has the build and the stamina to be a workhorse back, but 50 touches per game is an unsustainable pace. At least he gets eight days off before Michigan State's next game.
Next up: Saturday vs. Central Michigan
Last week: 32 rushes for 120 yards and one touchdown; three receptions for 31 yards in a 26-21 win over Northern Iowa.
Watchman's take: Ball rushed for more than 100 yards for the 17th time and delivered his 21st straight game with a touchdown, but he had his struggles in the opener: The leading rusher in the FBS a year ago averaged just 3.8 yards per carry against a defense that ranked 69th in the FCS against the rush in 2011. The culprit could be rust after Ball was held out of contact drills this preseason while recovering from a concussion, or the result of working behind a line with three new starters. Either way, Ball didn't look like himself. To his credit he was strong late, picking up 24 yards and two key first downs on his final five carries.
Next up: Saturday at Oregon State
Last week: 26-of-34 passing for 354 yards and five touchdowns; six rushes for 10 yards in a 49-20 win over Southern Miss.
Watchman's take: Are we finally seeing T-Magic in full? It sounded ridiculous when Martinez said his completion rate goal for this season was "70 percent or above" -- Martinez had a 56.3 percentage last season and 59.2 as a freshman -- but maybe it wasn't so crazy. He was simply brilliant in the opener, hitting on 76.5 percent of his throws in totaling 364 yards of offense. He also matched his career-high with five touchdown strikes. Making it even more impressive, the outburst came largely without the aid of running back Rex Burkhead, who exited after the first three series with a knee sprain. Martinez has made appearances on this list over the last two years, but may finally be a factor for the long haul.
Next up: Saturday at UCLA
Last week: Three rushes for 64 yards and one touchdown; four receptions for 55 yards and two touchdowns; one punt return for six yards in a 57-34 win over Arkansas State.
Watchman's take: The Black Mamba was at his electric best on Saturday. He touched the ball all of eight times in the rout, but averaged 15.6 yards per play in piling up 125 yards and three touchdowns, all of which came before the 10:45 mark in the second quarter. So far in his career, Thomas has 21 touchdowns on 148 touches, an average of a score every seven times he gets the ball. By comparison, 1988 Heisman recipient Barry Sanders and vacated 2005 winner Reggie Bush averaged a touchdown every 10.1 and 15.4 touches, respectively, in their winning seasons.
Next up: Saturday vs. Fresno State
Last week: 19-of-27 passing for 367 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-24 win over Jacksonville State.
Watchman's take: After one game, Wilson has the leg up as Arkansas' leading Heisman candidate. He set the school record for passing yards in an opener (eclipsing the previous mark of 318 set by Casey Dick in 2008 against Western Illinois), while Knile Davis ran for 70 yards in his first game since the 2011 Sugar Bowl. It marked the fifth 300-yard game of Wilson's career, and he has a strong chance at another in Week 2 as the Razorbacks take on Louisiana-Monroe, which allowed an average of 412 yards against BCS conference teams last season. That'll be Arkansas' final tune-up before hosting No. 2 Alabama in Week 3.
Next up: Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Last week: 15-of-26 passing for 258 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-23 win over Buffalo.
Watchman's take: Murray admitted he was a "little juiced up early on." It showed as he overthrew his first two deep attempts, but he settled down with a 63-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King and connected on 10 of his next 15 attempts for 184 yards and three scores, giving him 62 career touchdowns. But if Murray was amped for a MAC squad, what's he going to be like next week when the Bulldogs make their first trip to new SEC East foe Missouri? Georgia is going to need Murray at his most efficient, especially if the suspensions to key defensive players like Bacarri Rambo aren't lifted.
Next up: Saturday at Missouri
Last week: 23 rushes for 110 yards and two touchdowns; three receptions for 21 yards in a 17-13 win over Vanderbilt.
Watchman's take: Lattimore got off to a shaky start in his return from an ACL tear, fumbling on his first touch. But he made up for it on his second carry, tearing off a 29-yard touchdown run. He ended the game with another score, putting him two behind Harold Green and 1980 Heisman winner George Rogers (31) for the Gamecocks' career record. Lattimore showed he can make cuts on his surgically repaired knee and was immediately back to doing what we've come to expect from him: gutting out 100-yard games. He wasn't overpowering, but he showed he's back to full health.
Up next: Saturday vs. East Carolina
Last week: 26 rushes for 231 yards in a 26-19 win over Auburn.
Watchman's take: No one ran for more yards in the season's first weekend than Ellington, who burned Auburn in the Tiger Bowl for his 10th 100-yard game, the most of any active ACC player. It was a dominant performance, but it did come against an Auburn defense that ranked 110th last season against the rush. And considering the other star power on Clemson's offense (QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins and, if Saturday was any indication, WR DeAndre Hopkins), Ellington won't be the only Tiger to appear on this list during the season. For now, the Watchman is skeptical of Ellington's candidacy.
Next up: Saturday vs. Ball State