There's an old cliché that goes like this: You can't win the Heisman Trophy in Week 1, but you can lose it.
That may or may not be true. But it sure seems to apply to Michigan's Denard Robinson. A big game against Alabama could have propelled the senior quarterback right to the top of the Heisman race. Even a decent game could have kept him alive.
But Robinson completed only 11 of 26 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Worse, his running was almost nonexistent, as he had just 27 yards on 10 carries, including a short touchdown. Robinson and the Wolverines were so dominated that it will be hard for him to shake that image the rest of the season no matter what he does.
Another Big Ten candidate also had a tough Week 1. Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead ran for a 57-yard touchdown early against Southern Miss but then missed most of the rest of the game with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Head coach Bo Pelini said it's not a long-term injury, but Burkhead's chances will depend on how quickly he can get back and resume putting up big numbers.
The other one of the Big Ten's big three preseason candidates, 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball, fulfilled the cliché by not losing the Heisman in Week 1. It was not one of Ball's classic performances against Northern Iowa, as he needed 32 carries to get to 120 yards and he scored "just" one touchdown. It's unfair to call that disappointing, but Ball will be judged against his own tremendous 2011. Still, he did nothing to take himself out of the Heisman race.
Meanwhile, three new Big Ten players entered the Heisman picture, which remains way out of focus after just one week. They are:
Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell: If you were to award a Week 1 Heisman Trophy, Bell just might win it. He was spectacular against Boise State, running for 210 yards on 44 carries and catching six passes for 55 yards. He also had Heisman-worthy highlights with his otherworldly hurdle and spin move out of traffic for a big gain. Can he keep this up? He'll certainly get plenty of other high-profile opportunities, facing Notre Dame and Ohio State still in September on national TV. And the Spartans figure to keep feeding him as their passing game develops.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez: With Burkhead out, Martinez stepped up in a huge way. He threw for 354 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions in an outstanding performance against Southern Miss. Martinez isn't likely to repeat those numbers each week, but he looked far more confident as a passer, and the Huskers' receivers also appear to have improved. He already has name recognition and will have some spotlight games this season. If Burkhead is out, Martinez may be in.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller: After a shaky start, Miller was brilliant against Miami (Ohio). He set a Buckeyes record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 161, including a 65-yard touchdown, while throwing for 207 yards and two scores. Heisman campaigns aren't built against subpar MAC teams, but it's pretty clear that the marriage of Miller and Urban Meyer's system could be extremely fortuitous. Miller still has to prove it against better opponents, but put him on the radar for now.
My Heisman Watch ballot for ESPN.com looked like this:
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
5. De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR, Oregon