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Heisman Watch: A clear No. 1

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It's the midpoint of the regular season, and it's time to revisit the Heisman Watch. Three of the top five players weren't even in my preseason top 10, and three of my preseason top six candidates (Adrian Peterson, Chris Leak and Pat White) aren't even in the top 10 any more.

Will the second half of the season bring a similar shakeup? We'll see. …

1. Troy Smith - Sr., QB, Ohio State Preseason rank: 3

Last week: 15-of-22 (68%), 234 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT in 38-7 win over Mich. St.
Season totals: 124 rating, 116-of-170 (68%), 1495 yds, 17 TD, 2 INT
Next: Indiana, 12 ET (ESPNU)

Smith is my clear No. 1. He is the best player on the nation’s best team, and week in and week out he delivers a great performance. There are a lot of great players on the Buckeyes including Ted Ginn Jr. (read on), but Smith definitely is the guy who makes the Buckeyes go.

He is ranked sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, and the only quarterback on my Heisman Watch list ahead of him is Pittsburgh’s Tyler Palko. I especially like his touchdown to interception ratio.

2. Brady Quinn - Sr., QB, Notre Dame Preseason rank: 1

Last week: Idle
Season totals: 100 rating, 148-of-233 (64%), 1634 yds, 16 TD, 4 INT
Next: UCLA, 2:30 ET (NBC)

I still think there is something about being the quarterback at Notre Dame and the possible No. 1 guy taken in the NFL draft that makes Quinn a compelling Heisman candidate. Although Quinn is only 31st in passing efficiency, he is putting up some very good numbers.

The Fighting Irish have a good chance of running the table going into their final game (against USC), and that would put Quinn in the limelight at the right time.

3. Steve Slaton - Soph., RB, West Virginia Not ranked in preseason

Last week: 20 rushes, 163 yds, 1 TD in 41-17 win at Syracuse
Season totals: 132 rushes, 931 yds (3rd in nation in yds/gm), 8 TD
Next: at Connecticut, Fri 8 ET (ESPN)

I have this sneaky feeling that West Virginia is going to make it to the national championship game, and someone on the team is going to get most of the credit. Although quarterback Pat White upstaged Slaton last week with 247 rushing yards, Slaton still managed to pick up 163 on the ground.

The WVU offense will continue to allow Slaton to put up some phenomenal numbers, and voters will be forced to give him his due.

4. Garrett Wolfe - Sr., RB, Northern Illinois Not ranked in preseason

Last week: 18 rushes, 25 yds in 16-14 loss at Western Michigan
Season totals: 174 rushes (2nd in nation), 1368 yds (leads nation), 13 TD (4th in nation)
Next: vs. Temple, 3:05 ET (CSN Chicago)

Anytime someone does something better than everybody else, you have to give him credit. I have running backs Mike Hart, Marshawn Lynch and of course Slaton on my Heisman Watch list, and Wolfe has better numbers than all of them.

He was shut down this past week by Western Michigan for 25 yards on 18 carries, but he still is averaging 40 more yards rushing per game than the next closest back (Adrian Peterson, who is out for the rest of the regular season). If Wolfe keeps up that average, the end result will be hard to ignore.

5. Mike Hart - Soph., RB, Michigan Not ranked in preseason

Last week: 26 rushes, 112 yds, 1 TD in 17-10 win at Penn State
Season totals: 183 rushes (leads nation), 906 yds, 6 TD
Next: vs. Iowa, 3:30 ET (ABC split national)

I broadcasted Michigan's game against Wisconsin and got an up close and personal look at Hart. I am 5-foot-6 and he isn’t much taller than me, but he is a giant on the field. The Michigan offense can hurt you in a lot of ways – especially if Mario Manningham gets back at wideout – but it all starts with the zone running play. Hart can find the crack in a defense as good as anybody, and when he does he makes you pay for it.

Lloyd Carr told me the other day that the Wolverines would like to reduce their diminutive back's carries, but week after week Hart totes the skin about 30 times a game. He forces the safeties down into the box and opens up the single-covered deep ball. On top of this, the Wolverine defense is better than the offense, and I’m not convinced anyone, including Ohio State, can beat them this year.

6. Ted Ginn Jr. - Jr., WR/KR/PR, Ohio State Preseason rank: 4

Last week: 3 rec, 57 yds, 60-yd punt return TD in 38-7 win over Mich. St.
Season totals: 36 rec, 517 yds, 6 TD; 13.3 yds/PR (w/ TD), 15.9 yds/KR
Next: Indiana, 12 ET (ESPNU)

I don’t think Ginn can win the Heisman this year because Troy Smith is running the same offense, but ask me to pick the most exciting player in the country and I will select Ginn. If you don’t believe me, find his highlight reel online. It will blow you away.

If Ohio State makes it to the national championship game, I guarantee you Ginn will be wearing a tux in New York City as a Heisman finalist.

7. Marshawn Lynch - Jr., RB, California Preseason rank: 10

Last week: 25 rushes, 152 yds, 2 TD in 21-3 win at Wash. St.
Season totals: 111 rush, 757 yds, 6 TD, plus 3 rec TD
Next: Washington, 3:30 ET (FSN)

Someone has to be on the Heisman Watch from the West Coast, and Lynch looks like the best candidate. He had a bum ankle coming into last weekend but delivered big against Washington with 152 yards and two touchdowns.

California has the best chance to dethrone USC as the Pac-10 champion, and if the Bears do I don’t know if there will be a better one-loss team.

8. Calvin Johnson - Jr., WR, Georgia Tech Not ranked in preseason

Last week: Idle
Season totals: 35 rec, 559 yds, 8 TD (T-3rd in nation)
Next: at Clemson, 7:45 ET (ESPN)

In the back of my mind I want to think that the Heisman Trophy really is about the best player in college football. If it is, Johnson needs some consideration. This guy is a difference maker, and no receiver delivers the big play better than Johnson.

If he has a huge game against my brother’s Clemson Tigers this weekend and puts up some big numbers and a few video highlight clips, he may stir up some excitement among the Heisman voters.

9. Brian Brohm - Jr., QB, Louisville Preseason rank: 8

Last week: 20-of-37 (54%), 324 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT in 23-17 win over Cincinnati
Season totals: 95 rating, 65-of-111 (59%), 1066 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Next: at Syracuse, 12 ET (ESPN regional)

I still am not ready to count out the Cardinals from the national championship. And although Brohm had been injured with a bad thumb, he is back and ready to lead Louisville there.

In spite of all the props I have given to West Virginia, if Louisville beats the Mountaineers on Nov. 2 Brohm will jump in the Heisman race.

10. Tyler Palko - Jr., QB, Pittsburgh Not ranked in preseason

Last week: 11-of-15 (73%), 172 yds, 2 TD in 52-7 win at UCF
Season totals: 189 rating (leads nation), 114-of-161 (71%), 1661 yds, 17 TD, 3 INT
Next: Rutgers, 5:45 ET (ESPN2)

Pittsburgh is having a heck of a season and will have something to say about the Big East title. The big reason for their resurgence is the play of Palko, who leads the nation in passing efficiency.

While Brady Quinn may be the best quarterback prospect in the next NFL draft, if there is one guy who could prove that wrong, it is Palko.

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