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Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Johnathan Franklin: Heisman contender?

By Kevin Gemmell

The ESPN Heisman vote and Pac-12 blog Heisman tracker don't come out until 7:30 a.m. PT today. But sometimes you just can't wait an extra hour and a half to make a point. So here's something to mull over during your morning joe.

UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin will be on the ballots of at least two of the voters in the ESPN Heisman poll. I'm one of them, and I'll give you a hint about the other -- his name rhymes with thriller. And for some reason, his hair is a hot topic of conversation among blog readers. No more hints.

Yes, it's early in the season. But so far Franklin has all of the credentials that would qualify him as a Heisman finalist -- maybe even a winner.

Obviously, we don't expect Franklin to rush for 200-plus every week. But from what he's shown so far this season, how can you keep him off the ballot?

I've never had an issue revealing how I vote, be it in the conference power rankings, the ESPN Top 25 or the Heisman ballot. Full disclosure, this week I've got:
  1. Matt Barkley
  2. De'Anthony Thomas
  3. Johnathan Franklin
  4. Geno Smith
  5. Braxton Miller

A little homerish with three Pac-12 players in the top spots? I don't see how. Barkley leads the nation in touchdown passes, Thomas is, well, Thomas, and Franklin is the national leader in rushing. All three belong at the top of the ballot, though in what order can be debated.

Expect Franklin to have big numbers again this week when he faces a Houston rush defense that ranks 110th nationally and is allowing 246.5 yards per game. Then he'll get a stiff challenge against a not-so-surprisingly stout Oregon State defense, which has two weeks to prepare for the Bruins and is coming off a victory over Wisconsin. In that game, the Beavers held Wisconsin to 35 yards rushing and Montee Ball -- once on my Heisman ballot, but no more -- to 61 yards.

But as quarterback Brett Hundley continues to grow into his role, chances are the Bruins will continue to lean on Franklin to take some of the pressure off of their rookie quarterback. Which means Franklin could be in for a very big season.

But perhaps the greatest asset working in Franklin's favor is that his team is winning. When you beat BCS conference opponents and ranked teams, your highlights get shown across the country. That's the greatest advertising there is.

There's a reason Franklin's teammates call him Jet. And based on what we've seen so far, he should be skyrocketing up a lot of people's Heisman ballots. Not just the ballots of a couple of Pac-12 homers.