Manuel, McCarron see Heisman stock rise as 'Noles and Tide roll
E.J. Manuel now looks like the ACC's top 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate
AJ McCarron can't shake the 'game manager' label, but is playing great ball
Manti Te'o is Notre Dame's catalyst -- and the only defender on our top 10
He plays the position that has produced 10 of the last 11 Heisman Trophy winners, does so for the nation's No. 1 team and was the offensive MVP of last season's BCS championship game.
So why, with that Heisman blueprint, isn't Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron a bigger presence in this year's race?
It may still be a matter of perception. Despite matching Georgia's Aaron Murray with 10 touchdown passes this season -- which puts McCarron on pace to shatter Greg McElroy's single-season record of 20 set in 2010 and keeps him in line to break John Parker Wilson's career record of 47 -- the Crimson Tide's redshirt junior can't seem to shake the "game manager" label.
Granted, McCarron hasn't had to win a game on his own. With a defense that's allowed 5.2 points per game, the second-year starter has yet to face many high-pressure situations. That could change during a two-week stretch against No. 21 Mississippi State and No. 3 LSU, but that's still a month away.
The Watchman, though, is finished ignoring the Yellowhammer State's budding fashion icon, who makes his debut this week. Meanwhile UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, who was Oregon State's latest victim, and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, who hasn't surpassed 100 yards rushing since the opener, bow out.
As a refresher, here's a look at how things stacked up after Week 3. And remember: This would represent my ballot if the season ended today.
Last week: 30-of-43 passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-21 win over Maryland.
Season (three games): 96-of-118 passing for 1,072 yards and 12 touchdowns; 16 rushes for 67 yards and one touchdown.
Watchman's take: Smith was shaky in his first game since ascending to the top of this list. He had nine first-half incompletions, as many as he had in his first two outings combined; he finished with 14 incompletions and a season-low 69.8 completion percentage. But he wound up with more than 300 passing yards for the third consecutive game and has now thrown 12 touchdowns while not being intercepted since Dec. 1 of last season. Smith makes his Big 12 debut in Week 5 and should do so in style, as he'll face a Baylor defense that is last in the conference against the pass, allowing 315 yards per game.
Next up: Saturday vs. Baylor
Last week: 27-of-35 passing for 380 yards and two touchdowns; 12 rushes for 102 yards in a 49-37 win over No. 10 Clemson.
Season (four games): 69-of-94 passing for 905 yards and eight touchdowns; 25 rushes for 188 yards and one touchdown.
Watchman's take: Manuel is the biggest winner of the week and now rates as the ACC's best bet. He outdueled Clemson's Tajh Boyd with a career-high 380 passing yards and became the first Florida State quarterback since Charlie Ward in his 1992 Heisman-winning season to pass for more than 300 yards and run for more than 100 in a game. Manuel was at his best when Florida State needed him most. After Clemson went up 28-14, Manuel was 11-of-11 the rest of the way for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Obstacles remain, but Manuel appears to be well positioned to become the Seminoles' first finalist since Chris Weinke in 2000.
Next up: Saturday at South Florida
Last week: 13-of-21 passing for 149 yards; 17 rushes for 79 yards and one touchdown in a 24-19 win over No. 6 Oklahoma.
Season (four games): 56-of-80 passing for 758 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions; 63 rushes for 289 yards and five touchdowns.
Watchman's take: He plays the piano. He can exorcise demons. Is there anything Kansas State's bruising quarterback can't do? Klein helped the Wildcats avenge last season's 41-point drubbing by the Sooners, accounting for 228 yards and the go-ahead touchdown on a five-yard run early in the fourth quarter. We continue to focus on Klein's improved ability as a passer, and for good reason. Saturday's 61.9 percent completion rate was his lowest of the season; he has hit on 70 percent of his attempts on the year after finishing 2011 at 57.3 percent.
Next up: Oct. 7 vs. Kansas
Last week: 12 rushes for 48 yards; two receptions for 11 yards; one punt return for 38 yards in a 49-0 win over No. 22 Arizona.
Season (four games): 25 rushes for 276 yards and four touchdowns; 13 receptions for 165 yards and three touchdowns; eight punt returns for 131 yards.
Watchman's take: Rich Rodriguez joked last week that he hoped Thomas, whom Rodriguez recruited while coaching Michigan, would leave for the NFL before facing his Wildcats. Maybe Rodriguez needn't have worried. Black Mamba, last week's Sports Illustrated cover boy, didn't exactly torch Arizona. For the first time this season Thomas failed to reach the end zone or record more than 100 total yards, finishing with 97; he falls two spots as a result. But Thomas did show why he was dubbed "The Fastest Man in Football," as he punished Arizona for having the audacity to kick to him by returning a punt 38 yards.
Next up: Saturday at Washington State
Last week: 18-of-24 passing for 250 yards and two touchdowns; four rushes for five yards and one touchdown in a 48-3 win over Vanderbilt.
Season (four games): 69-of-104 passing for 1,092 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions; 19 rushes for one yard and three touchdowns.
Watchman's take: Murray didn't start slowly this week, hitting his first 12 passes. He left in the third quarter after leading Georgia to its fourth consecutive game with at least 40 points, the longest streak in school history. The performance was merely Murray's latest dissection of the Commodores: In three starts against Vanderbilt, Murray has thrown for 863 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. With two touchdowns in this contest, Murray also continued his chase of David Greene's Georgia record of 72 career passing scores. Murray currently ranks second in the SEC in pass efficiency (182.4) and points responsible for (20.5 per game).
Next up: Saturday vs. Tennessee
Last week: 12-of-20 passing for 143 yards; 11 rushes for 64 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-15 win over UAB.
Season (four games): 60-of-98 passing for 754 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions; 67 rushes for 441 yards and seven touchdowns.
Watchman's take: Miller and Co. struggled against UAB, which came in allowing 44 points and 477 yards per game. Miller was held under 300 yards for the first time this season, but did add to his highlight reel with a spin move on a 12-yard touchdown run. He ultimately put the game out of reach, accounting for 61 yards on a 10-play drive that ended in a one-yard rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion run. Miller continues to be a one-man show, but he'll face a test Saturday against No. 20 Michigan State, which ranks first in the Big Ten in total defense (233.5 yards per game) and scoring defense (11.7 points per game).
Next up: Saturday at No. 20 Michigan State
Last week: 22-of-34 passing for 192 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 27-9 win over Cal.
Season (four games): 88-of-143 passing for 1,005 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Watchman's take: Barkley didn't help his Heisman cause a week after losing the top spot. He threw two first-half interceptions, giving him five on the season, which is just two fewer than he had all of last year. He also now has as many sub-200-yard games (two) as he had in 2011. What's more, Barkley took a back seat to the running game as the Trojans ran a season-high 40 times and both Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd topped 100 yards. Barkley remains a threat to reach New York, but the preseason favorite's hopes of winning are fading.
Next up: Thursday, Oct. 4 at Utah
Last week: 15-of-25 passing for 212 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-7 win over Florida Atlantic.
Season (four games): 51-of-81 passing for 819 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Watchman's take: McCarron is closing in on Crimson Tide history. After his 25 attempts against the Owls, McCarron has now gone 176 passes without throwing an interception, 14 behind Brodie Croyle's program record of 190. McCarron has done it by being an equal-opportunity passer. So far this season he has thrown touchdown passes to six different players, including an 85-yarder on the fourth play Saturday, the longest of McCarron's career and tied for the fifth longest in Alabama history. He currently ranks first in the SEC and fourth nationally with a 188.6 efficiency rating.
Next up: Saturday vs. Ole Miss
Last week: 36 rushes for 253 yards and one touchdown; one reception for minus-eight yards; three punt returns for 18 yards in a 23-7 win over Eastern Michigan.
Season (four games): 117 rushes for 610 yards and five touchdowns; 12 receptions for 67 yards.
Watchman's take: After two lackluster games, Bell broke out again with a career-high 253 yards, albeit against an Eastern Michigan squad that currently ranks dead last in the FBS in rush defense. It was the second 200-yard game of the season and the sixth-best performance in school history for the Big Ten's leading rusher, whose 152.5 yards per game rank third nationally. However, Bell racked up 36 carries against the now 0-4 Eagles, an alarming number on what should have been a light day for the back, especially with the Spartans' Big Ten opener against Ohio State looming.
Next up: Saturday vs. No. 14 Ohio State
Last week: Eight tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions in a 13-6 win over No. 18 Michigan.
Season (four games): 38 tackles, two tackles for loss, three interceptions, five passes defended, two fumble recoveries.
Watchman's take: We've discussed the near-impossibility of a defender, especially one who doesn't touch the ball on special teams or offense, winning the Heisman. But as the catalyst of the Irish's best start since 2002, Teo has earned a spot on this list. He picked off Denard Robinson twice in the win over Michigan, tying Teo with Miami (Ohio) linebacker Pat Hinkel for the most picks in the nation among non-defensive backs. Teo and Co. rank fourth in FBS in scoring defense (9.0 points per game), a standing that's sure to be tested when the Irish face No. 8 Stanford and No. 16 Oklahoma over their next four games.
Next up: Oct. 6 vs. Miami