It was a big day for multiple candidates on Saturday and one that might have separated the top five challengers from the rest of the pack. The list doesn't show much movement from last week, but that is only because so many of the frontrunners all played well.
Let's get into it.
1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (last week's rank: 1). Smith is looking like a man of steel right now when it comes to the Heisman race. On Saturday he went 15-for-23 with 217 passing yards and four first-half touchdowns. I'm not sure what else to say. After all, the only threat to Smith is either an apocalyptic disaster of a game (say, against Michigan), or the next guy on the list. So we might as well scurry along.
2. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame (2). As predicted here, the UCLA defense proved tougher than expected in South Bend on Saturday. Difficult enough, in fact, that the Irish were seconds away from losing and knocking Quinn right out of the race. However, just as he did in the Michigan State game, the Notre Dame star turned what looked like sure defeat and total Heisman disaster and spun it into a miracle victory and even more trophy momentum. College football is so dictated by wins and losses that the outcomes of these games are shaping this race. Lose to the Spartans or Bruins and Quinn is finished. However, because he narrowly avoided losses with winning drives, he actually flies up the list. Kind of strange. Quinn took way too many sacks and threw some hideous passes against UCLA, but in the end, got his yards (315) and touchdowns (2), avoided interceptions, and got all the pub for the comeback win. If the Irish keep finding a way to win up to and through the USC game, Quinn could cruise past Smith and into the poll position.
3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (3). I haven't seen any other Heisman lists with Hart this high, which makes no sense at all. He's the heart and soul of a Wolverines team that is now number two in the country and headed toward the game of the year with Ohio State. In a dangerous trap game against Iowa, Hart once again carried a huge load by running the ball 31 times for 124 yards and two scores. Slaton had more pre-season buzz and Ray Rice had the bigger game this weekend, but Hart has been the best running back in the country game-in and game-out.
4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (6). Coming off his worst game of the season, Rice bounced back in a huge way against Pittsburgh. With people still doubting the Scarlet Knights, Rice went nuts to the tune of 39 carries for 229 yards and a touchdown. That is the kind of game that tells a lot about a player. Plus, I like the alliteration of his name.
5. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (4). Slaton needs a huge game to bound up this list. He is going to get a couple of chances in the very near future, with contests against Louisville and Rutgers looming. If he can post monster numbers and help the Mountaineers knock off a big time opponent, Slaton is poised to get right back into the mix. This last week saw the lightening-fast Slaton run for 128 yards and a score, but he's going to need to go real big, real soon.
6. Marshawn Lynch (10). It was a good week to be a Heisman caliber running back. Smith and Quinn are the frontrunners, but after that it is all running backs, all the time. Lynch had a very flashy game against Washington on Saturday, totaling 203 yards from scrimmage and scoring two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. More importantly, because the Huskies tied it up in regulation with a wild Hail Mary play, everyone in the country saw the highlights from this one over and over again. Those highlights included Lynch looking like Laurence Maroney on the winning run (showcasing skills) and Lynch taking a victory lap in the injury cart (showcasing his, uh, personality). Like Quinn, if Lynch's squad can stay unbeaten and knock off USC, he has a fighting chance. Unlike Quinn, Marshawn plays for Cal, so he will probably need something like a 300-yard game to have any real shot.
7. James Davis (10). Did you happen to see that prime time game on Saturday night? Holy crap. Not only did Davis put on an absolute clinic, but his backcourt mate freshman C.J. Spiller sent shock waves through college football with some of the best stop-and-go cuts we've seen since Barry Sanders. But Spiller will get his time in the future – for now, this is about Davis, who might not be as flashy, but is one of the most talented and determined runners in the country. This guy has been piling up yards and touchdowns in relative obscurity, so it was great to see him go for 216 yards and two scores on a big stage. Throw in the fact that he did it with an injured shoulder, while splitting carries and getting no help from the passing game, and against the number seven run defense in the country and you are talking about a monster of the game. The only reason the nation's touchdown leader isn't higher than Lynch is that he didn't perform any bizarre victory celebrations.
8. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (5). Just when I thought McFadden might explode, he had a pretty quiet game against Ole Miss. Despite scoring twice and gaining 124 total yards, McFadden only had 39 yards on 14 carries and once again didn't lead the Razorbacks in rushing. He's an amazing talent, but I'm not sure he's a legitimate Heisman candidate.
9. Erik Ainge, QB, Tennessee (10). Ainge nearly cost Tennessee the game this weekend with his three picks, but I'm leaving him here for now. He threw for 302 yards, the overall numbers are still good, and the Vols continue to lurk as a top one-loss team.
10(tie). P.J. Hill, RB, Wisconsin (NR) and Garrett Wolfe (7) The Badgers have lost only to Michigan and Hill is quietly becoming a monster of a running back. He went for 161 yards and a couple of touchdowns as Wisconsin improved to 7-1 on the year. As for Wolfe, he is pretty much done. Another performance of less than 50 yards spelled doom. Which sucks, because the little man with the huge game is a great player. I'm keeping him on at least one more week with the hopes that he'll go for 350 or something and start climbing back up.
Falling Out: Charles Johnson (a shutout on national TV will do that to you).
On the Verge: Colt McCoy (keeps getting closer as he keeps avoiding interceptions), Ted Ginn Jr. (with a passing touchdown to add to his mix of eclectic stats he is getting some buzz again), and Pat White (if the WVU quarterback keeps upstaging his teammate Slaton, it will be too hard to ignore him any longer).