Six players to watch

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Mike Gillislee - Senior Running Back, Florida Gators

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

1. Collin Klein - Senior QB, Kansas State
Last Week: 16-24 (67 percent) for 187 yards. 25 rushes for 105 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and three TDs.
Season: 79-118 (67 percent) for 1074 yards for seven TDs and two INTs. 98 rushes for 510 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 10 TDs.

With West Virginia falling on its face against Texas Tech last week, Klein has vaulted to the top of the Heisman rankings. Again, his numbers aren’t off the wall, but he simply continues to get things done. He had just his second game without a passing touchdown, but he made up for it with his rushing performance. He rushed for over 100 yards for the second straight game and had three touchdowns for the first time since Kansas State’s crushing of Miami. Klein’s consistency will be put to the test this weekend against the explosiveness of the West Virginia offense. Fortunately for Klein, he should have no problem moving the ball against the Mountaineers. A win could cement Klein as the Heisman frontrunner with a little over a month to play.

2. Manti Te’o - Senior LB, Notre Dame
Last Week: 11 tackles.
Season: 57 tackles and three INTs.

Notre Dame has held its last five opponents under 20 points and last week Stanford’s only touchdown came on a defensive score. Stanford’s 148 yards rushing are the seconded highest total given up by the Irish defense this season, which has yet to allow over 200 yards on the ground. Te’o continues to be the primary defender for Notre Dame and had his nose in the middle of the goal line stand that kept the Irish undefeated for at least another week. It’s not enough for Notre Dame to keep winning, but it has to keep shutting teams down and dominating up front. The Irish offense isn’t exactly dynamic and explosive, but its defense is allowing only nine points per game, second only to Alabama. The Irish have played much more explosive teams than the Tide and will continue to with Oklahoma and USC still to come. If Notre Dame can lock down those offenses, Te’o will have the strongest resume for a defensive player since Ndamukong Suh in 2009.

3. Geno Smith - Senior QB, West Virginia
Last Week: 29-55 (53 percent) for 275 yards and one TD.
Season: 195-259 (75 percent) for 2271 yards and 25 TDs.

It finally happened. West Virginia’s offense hit a bump in the road, stalling out against the Red Raiders. This was an offensive system the folks in Lubbock were familiar with and it showed as Tech had an answer for everything the Mountaineers did on offense. West Virginia’s 14 points were a season low, but not by a huge margin. It was held to 31 by Maryland, and going back to last season, has been held in check more times than it probably should be. But Smith still has a chance to recover and become the front-runner for the Heisman again. First, a matchup against the toughest team in the Big 12 awaits in Morgantown this weekend. That’s if he can light up Kansas State, something no one has been able to do since Texas A&M did last season. But if he continues to struggle, his campaign will suffer a monumental setback.

4. Braxton Miller - Sophomore QB, Ohio State
Last Week: 13-24 (54 percent) for 211 yards and two TDs. 23 rushes for 149 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and one TD.
Season: 96-159 (60 percent) for 1271 yards, 11 TDs and four INTs. 129 rushes for 912 yards (7 yards per carry) and nine TDs.

Miller is a one-man wrecking crew for Ohio State. He had to be last week as the Buckeye defense could not stop two-win Indiana. He is always dangerous with the ball in his hands, but it’s a different story once it leaves his hands. Though he has only thrown four interceptions, he has completed less than 60 percent of his passes in four of his seven games this season. The schedule continues to help Ohio State as it faces two of the worst teams in the Big Ten over the next three weeks. But Penn State can be dangerous on the road, and games against Wisconsin and Michigan wait to close out the season. What will hurt Miller is that he will not play during the final week of the season, due to NCAA sanctions.

5. Mike Gillislee - Senior RB, Florida
Last Week: 17 rushes for 67 yards (3.9 yards per carry).
Season: 120 rushes for 615 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and seven TDs.

Not a stellar game last week for Gillislee, but it didn’t really matter. Florida is riding high right now off of its home win against LSU and against Vanderbilt, Gillislee wasn’t needed as his quarterback stole the show. His campaign was hurt slightly with his poor showing against the Commodores, but it wasn’t going to build much either. That comes over the next two weeks. Florida plays South Carolina and Georgia in games that will decide who wins the SEC East. If Florida is going to get back to the SEC title game, it will do it on the legs of Gillislee. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is getting better, but Gillislee is the senior who will need to come up with big plays if Florida is to stay in the national spotlight. South Carolina is giving up just 108 yards per game on the ground, and if it can bottle up Gillislee, consider his Heisman run over. But if he carries the Gators through a stout Gamecocks defense, look for his stock to rise significantly.

6. Kenjon Barner - Senior RB, Oregon
Last Week: 20 rushes for 122 yards (6.1 yards per carry).
Season: 116 rushes for 727 yards( 6.3 yards per carry) and nine TDs.

Forget De’Anthony Thomas, if an Oregon Duck is going to win the Heisman, it is going to be Barner. He is as explosive as any other player on the Ducks roster and he gets far more looks than his backfield mate. He has 20 rushes in each of the past three games, and with four road games remaining on the schedule, Oregon will need a steady ground game. A steady ground game means Barner will be getting the ball more and more. Oregon is heading into the toughest part of its schedule and its opponents will start to actually play some defense. Barner is the No. 12 leading rusher this season and his numbers should only get better as Oregon looks to secure wins and return to the Pac 12 Championship game. While Thomas is a niche back in a niche offense, Barner is a legitimate back in a niche offense. The difference between the two will become apparent as the season wanes.