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NFP Heisman Watch

Klein wrests the lead away from Smith. But don't discount McCarron. Dave Miller

Print This October 23, 2012, 04:00 PM EST

After sitting atop the National Football Post's early Heisman Trophy Watch lists the last few weeks, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith struggled for a second straight game in his team’s blowout loss to Kansas State this past weekend.

The frontrunner for the award now just so happens to be Collin Klein, who was the leader of the K-State offensive onslaught against the Mountaineers’ defense in Morgantown.

Let’s take a look at how the NFP sizes up the race as we enter Week 9. And as the weeks continue to get shaved off of the season, this list will dwindle to a final five.

Collin KleinUS PRESSWIRECollin Klein recorded seven touchdowns in K-State's win over West Virginia.

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: The often-overlooked dual-threat quarterback is no longer being glanced over after his dominant performance in his team’s 55-13 win over West Virginia this past week. And it doesn’t matter that the Mountaineers’ defense is atrocious — what Klein was able to do was special. It was another road win for a Wildcats team that already has knocked off Oklahoma. While Klein will never have the most gaudy passing statistics, he’s been more efficient through the air this fall, including Saturday night when he went 19-of-21 passing for 323 yards and three touchdowns. And as he showed with his four scores on the ground this past week, not many quarterbacks are better as a runner, especially when the team needs the tough yards. Perhaps no player is as important to his team as Klein is to Kansas State, as evidenced by his seven-touchdown performance this past week. Next up for the Wildcats is a Texas Tech team that gave Geno Smith problems two weeks ago.

2012: 98 of 139 passing for 1,397 yards, 10 TDs and 2 INTs; 110 rushes for 551 yards and 14 TDs

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: The Crimson Tide signal-caller keeps taking care of business while going under the national radar, although he is starting to gain more traction as a serious candidate after going 17-of-22 passing for 306 yards and four touchdowns in a win at Tennessee. He's thrown 16 touchdowns against zero interceptions, and his banged-up knee didn’t bother the junior in the win over the Volunteers. The country’s top-rated passer has helped the Crimson Tide score 30 or more points in all seven games on the year. He’ll have a tough test Saturday against Mississippi State, but all eyes will be on the road game at LSU the following week.

2012: 106 of 154 passing for 1,476 yards, 16 TDs and 0 INTs

Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame: The leader of the dominant Fighting Irish defense had his third consecutive game with double-digit tackles in the team’s close win over BYU last week, and the senior also intercepted quarterback Riley Nelson for his fourth pick of the season. He is playing better than any defender in America, and he has had standout games in primetime contests against Michigan and Michigan State. He’s a true difference-maker who is strong against the run and pass. The Irish still have at least two showcase games remaining (at Oklahoma and at USC), so primetime opportunities remain there for Te’o to continue to make a statement.

2012: 69 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: The dual-threat signal-caller was knocked out of the Buckeyes' come-from-behind win over Purdue after a hard hit late in the third quarter, so Kenny Guiton came on and led the team to victory. Miller has been banged-up all season, particularly in the Michigan State game, but he has shown his toughness throughout his sophomore campaign. The perfect fit for Urban Meyer’s spread scheme, Miller has seemingly done it all for the Buckeyes this fall both on the ground and through the air and will remain in the race as long as OSU continues to win and if he's able to suit up this weekend in a tough road test at Penn State.

2012: 105 of 179 passing for 1,384 yards, 11 TDs and 5 INTs; 141 rushes for 959 yards and 10 TDs

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: After the Mountaineers signal-caller struggled in a loss to Texas Tech the previous week, he played an even worse game this past Saturday in a loss to Kansas State. Smith saw his streak of consecutive passes without an interception snapped at 273 when Arthur Brown, who was the first to pick off Robert Griffin III in 2011, had the first of Smith's two interceptions on the evening. Smith remains in this race because of his ridiculous start to the season, but he'll have to have strong efforts against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, which boast solid pass defenses. And I just don’t see this Mountaineers defense improving enough to stop some of the difficult teams left on the schedule, which will likely result in a few more WVU losses.

2012: 216 of 291 passing for 2,414 yards, 26 TDs and 2 INTs

Others who remain in the race:

Kenjon BarnerUS PRESSWIREKenjon Barner has plenty of marquee games remaining to make an impact in the Heisman race.

Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: Taking over for LaMichael James as the lead running back in Eugene, Barner has had three games of three scores on the ground and three contests of at least 140 rushing yards. He has plenty of big games left to remain in the national spotlight for the undefeated Ducks.

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State: The Seminole threw for 229 yards on 21 of 31 passing as FSU overcame a shaky start to beat Miami (FL) 33-20 on Saturday night. The 'Noles scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to break open a three-point game and keep alive their slim BCS title game hopes. Manuel may be hurt by the fact that the Seminoles suffered a meltdown in Raleigh two weeks ago, but he had a standout game in the showcase contest against Clemson earlier in the year and remains in the mix.

Continue to keep an eye on:

Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Stefphon Jefferson, RB, Nevada
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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