Big Ten: heisman watch 091812

Big Ten Heisman watch: Week 4

September, 18, 2012
9/18/12
10:30
AM ET
Could we already be down to just one serious Heisman Trophy contender in the Big Ten after only three weeks?

It looks that way, though things can change quickly (just ask Matt Barkley). And surprisingly, the league's top Heisman hopeful at this very early date is Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

We're not surprised that Miller is playing so well, especially in Urban Meyer's system. We're just surprised that he's doing so much as a true sophomore.

But Miller ranks 10th in the FBS in rushing yards and 12th in total offense, and he's had his share of Heisman moments already. The latest came Saturday against Cal, when he pulled off a 55-yard touchdown run after a sick juke move and later threw for the game-winner on a 72-yard pass off a scramble.

Miller has definitely put himself in the Heisman conversation, especially with Ohio State at 3-0 right now. But like the Buckeyes, he'll still have to prove it against better teams.

After Miller, things get a bit dicey. I had Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell near the top of my Heisman watch ballot the first two weeks, but Notre Dame shut him down Saturday. Bell had only 77 rushing yards on 19 carries and never sniffed the end zone. That performance, coming in prime time in a national showcase game, will be hard to overcome unless Bell goes nuts in the near future.

Wisconsin's Montee Ball had 139 rushing yards and a score against Utah State but needed 37 carries to do so. After three games, last year's Heisman finalist has 320 rushing yards and two scores. He had only 272 rushing yards at the same point last season, so it's possible that he could turn it on again. But he also had eight touchdowns after three games in 2011, and Wisconsin's offense has been miserable.

Michigan's Denard Robinson remains just off the radar because of his opening week performance against Alabama. But Robinson gets to play Notre Dame this week, and that could mean great things. He's had two monster games against the Irish the past two years, and another one under the lights in South Bend could put him back in the hunt in a hurry.

We can't discount Nebraska's Taylor Martinez yet, either. While the UCLA game hurt him, Martinez currently ranks 13th nationally in pass efficiency. He's completing 70.9 percent of his passes and has a 7-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, stats that would have been hard to fathom before this year. Upcoming big games against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan will give Martinez a boost if he keeps playing like that.

But for now, Miller is the man in the Big Ten as far as Heisman candidates go. My ESPN.com Heisman Watch ballot for Week 4:

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
2. De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR, Oregon
3. Miller
4. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
5. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

SPONSORED HEADLINES