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October 5, 2011

Heisman Watch: Playing big in big games

Gaudy statistics often are sufficient for Heisman candidacy, but winning it requires impressive performances in big games against tough opponents.

the awards watch
A weekly look at the top three candidates for some key postseason awards.
Davy O'Brien
(top quarterback)
Doak Walker
(best running back)
Biletnikoff
(most outstanding wide receiver)
Mackey
(top tight end)
Rimington
(most outstanding center)
Outland
(best interior lineman)
Nagurski
(most outstanding defensive player)
Butkus
(most outstanding linebacker)
Thorpe
(most outstanding defensive back)
Lou Groza
(top kicker)
Ray Guy
(top punter)
That's why Alabama tailback Trent Richardson and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson now are among the leading Heisman contenders.

Wilson had played well in the Badgers' first four games but it was against lackluster competition. Saturday, he proved himself a strong Heisman contender by throwing for two touchdowns and running for another in a 48-17 thrashing of Nebraska.

"If there's a better player in college football right now, I'd like to see it," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.

Well, Bielema should take a gander at Richardson, who rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama's 38-10 victory at Florida. He scored on runs of 5 and 36 yards.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Buchanan audio mailbag]

"He never gets tackled by arm tackles -- ever," Alabama center William Vlachos said.

Richardson has exceeded 100 rushing yards in each of the past four games. Three of those games were against opponents who were ranked at the time -- Penn State, Arkansas and Florida.

That's what should set Richardson apart.

Upcoming games against ranked opponents will give other Heisman hopefuls a great opportunity to boost their candidacies.

Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones faces Texas on Saturday and three more ranked teams later. South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore still has games remaining against Arkansas, Florida and Clemson. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson goes against Michigan State, Illinois and Nebraska. Oregon tailback LaMichael James still has games against Arizona State and Stanford.

The top five Heisman candidates this week:

1. RB Trent Richardson, Alabama: He is ninth in the nation with 644 rushing yards, has rushed for at least two touchdowns in four games and has scored a touchdown in every game. He's also caught 11 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Remaining opponents currently ranked: LSU, Auburn

2. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford: Last season's Heisman runner-up hasn't compiled eye-popping stats. Yet. That's mainly because he hasn't had to. Luck has thrown for 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns with one interception. He ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency. He's coming off a stellar performance in a win over UCLA in which he went 23-of-27 (85.2 percent) for three touchdowns. He also made a remarkable one-handed catch on the sideline.
Remaining opponents currently ranked: Oregon

3. QB Russell Wilson, Wisconsin: Wilson has thrown for 1,391 yards and 13 touchdowns with just one interception. All that was missing was a top performance in a big game. He took care of that in last week's 48-17 thumping of Nebraska in which he threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another score. He has rushed for 140 yards and two scores this season.
Remaining opponents currently ranked: Michigan State, Illinois

4. QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: Weeden leads the nation in passing and is in the top five in passing yards per game and total passing yards. He's thrown for 1,592 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing nearly 75 percent of his attempts. He does have six interceptions, but he also led the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory over Texas A&M in their most recent outing. He passed for a school-record 438 yards in that game.
Remaining opponents currently ranked: Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma

5. QB Robert Griffin, Baylor: Griffin has to fall because of a late-game interception that set up Kansas State's winning field goal in last week's 36-35 victory. But he still threw for 346 yards and five touchdowns. Griffin leads the country in passing efficiency, though now he has more incompletions (20) than touchdown passes (18).
Remaining opponents currently ranked: Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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