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November 10, 2010

Heisman Watch: A two-horse race

The awards watch
A weekly look at the top three candidates for some key postseason awards:
Outland (best interior lineman)
Butkus (most outstanding linebacker)
Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)
Thorpe (most outstanding defensive back)
Rimington (most outstanding center)
Biletnikoff (most outstanding wide receiver)
(most outstanding wide receiver) 1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
2. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
3. Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
Doak Walker (best running back)
Mackey (top tight end)
Lou Groza (top kicker)
Ray Guy (top punter)

Late-season rallies always are possible, but barring any unforeseen circumstances (injuries, ineligibility, etc.), the chase for the Heisman has become a two-man race.

After solid performances last week, Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton and Oregon running back LaMichael James are clear-cut leaders over the rest of the field with a month left in the season.

Newton passed for 317 yards and accounted for five touchdowns in a 62-24 rout of FCS member Chattanooga.

"He was just very Cameron-like, if you will," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "He performed very well. I was very proud of him.

"I just think he played like he's played in just about all the other games. I thought he had a really nice game, and he had great leadership on the field and did all the things we ask our quarterback to do."

Meanwhile, James ran for 121 yards -- his seventh 100-yard performance in eight games -- and scored three touchdowns in a 53-16 romp over Washington. Yet because he's so explosive some might have considered his output in the victory as somewhat disappointing.

"We are human," James said. "Everybody might not think we are, because we score so many points. But you're going to have adversity when you're playing football. You just have to overcome that."

It's unlikely Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck or any other Heisman contenders could overcome either of the leaders and pull enough votes to win the trophy next month.

Still, in recent seasons, there have been players who appeared on the verge of winning the trophy, but injuries (Oregon's Dennis Dixon in '07) or poor performances in key games (Texas Tech's Graham Harrell in '08, Texas' Colt McCoy in '09) derailed their candidacies.

In each of those cases, there were other candidates still in strong contention, but this season's race between Newton and James is looking more and more like the '05 running back/quarterback race between USC's Reggie Bush and Texas' Vince Young.

Bush all but clinched the Heisman with a career-best performance in a 50-42 win over Fresno State, when he rushed for 294 yards and posted a record 513 all-purpose yards. A week later, Young had a rather ordinary showing in a 40-29 victory over Texas A&M that for all practical purposes settled the issue, even though he likely would have won had the voting been done after the BCS national championship game.

Newton widely is considered the front-runner this season, but James remains very much in contention. A record-setting performance or a sub-standard outing in the next month may determine this season's recipient.

This week's top five:

1. QB Cameron Newton, Auburn: Newton passed for a career-high 317 yards in a 62-24 win over Chattanooga that kept the Tigers unbeaten and on pace to play for the national championship. True, Chattanooga was an overmatched FCS opponent, but Newton did account for five touchdowns, and that's what a Heisman candidate should do against overmatched competition.

2. RB LaMichael James, Oregon: He had a solid but unspectacular performance in a 53-16 victory over Washington. Of course, for James a "solid" performance is anything less than 200 yards rushing. He gained 121 and scored three touchdowns against the Huskies. It was his fifth consecutive game with at least two touchdowns.

3. QB Kellen Moore, Boise State: The nation's leader in passing efficiency, Moore is coming off his best game of the season. He threw for 507 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-7 rout of Hawaii. On the season, Moore has passed for 2,372 yards and 21 touchdowns with four interceptions while completing 71.8 percent of his attempts.

4. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford: He continues to play his best in the Cardinal's biggest games. Luck passed for 341 yards against Oregon, 285 against USC and last week threw for 293, with a couple of touchdowns, in a 42-17 rout of Arizona. Overall, he's passed for 2,213 yards, with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. He's also Stanford's second-leading rusher with 370 yards.

5. WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: After sitting out a one-game suspension the previous week, Blackmon made up for lost time in a 55-28 blowout of Baylor. He had 13 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown and added a 69-yard rushing touchdown. Blackmon leads the nation with 1,285 receiving yards and 15 touchdown catches.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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