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NFP Heisman Watch

It's early, but these top players are contending for the most distinguished individual award. Dave Miller

Print This September 25, 2012, 05:30 PM EST

With September soon coming to a close, the National Football Post is ready to unveil its initial Heisman Trophy Watch list.

While it's still very early in the season, these players have stood above the rest of the pack as we head into Week 5 of the 2012 season.

And as the weeks continue to get shaved off of the season, this list will dwindle to a final five.

Because we are still early in the season and many conferences have not accumulated a large chunk of conference games yet, I tend to lean toward "Most Valuable Players" over those who have accumulated more gaudy statistics.

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: The often-overlooked dual-threat quarterback notched a huge win on the road this past week against Oklahoma, helping K-State exorcise some demons from last year's meeting with OU. Klein will never have the most gaudy passing statistics, but he's been more efficient through the air thus far this fall. And 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.

2012: 56 of 80 passing for 758 yards, 5 TDs and 2 INTs; 63 rushes for 289 yards and 5 TDs

EJ ManuelUS PRESSWIREEJ Manuel led the Seminoles to a huge win last week against Clemson.

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State: The Seminoles are back, right? They obviously passed their biggest early-season test with the comeback win over Clemson last week, and a big part of that success was due to the career game played by Manuel. The veteran recorded 482 yards of total offense against the Tigers, and the 'Noles have a very favorable schedule the rest of the way. If Jimbo Fisher's squad doesn't trip up along the way, a spot at the Heisman ceremony in New York City could be there for Manuel's taking.

2012: 69 of 94 passing for 905 yards, 8 TDs and 1 INT; 24 rushes for 188 yards and 1 TD

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: While Georgia's Aaron Murray has the better numbers, McCarron's efficiency stands out, as well as the fact that he has been the leader of an offense breaking in new playmakers. The signal-caller leads the SEC and ranks fourth in the nation with a quarterback rating of 188.63. He's thrown for 819 yards and 10 touchdowns against zero interceptions. He continues to go under the radar, though. However, playing for the No. 1 team in the nation will keep him in the race all season long.

2012: 51 of 81 passing for 819 yards, 10 TDs and 0 INTs

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: The Mountaineers signal-caller is considered the frontrunner by many national writers. He has not thrown an interception this year and has recorded 13 touchdowns. He's coming off of a good performance against Maryland despite starting off shaky and being under pressure for a lot of that contest. I look forward to seeing him lead this Dana Holgorsen offense against a Manny Diaz-led Texas defense.

2012: 96 of 118 passing for 1,072 yards, 12 TDs and 0 INTs; 16 rushes for 67 yards and 1 TD

De'Anthony Thomas, ATH, Oregon: "Black Mamba" will always likely be overshadowed in the statistics department by quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Kenjon Barner. But anyone familiar with the Ducks knows that the explosiveness that Thomas provides is unparalleled in the college game and that he is a big play waiting to happen. So his value to Chip Kelly's squad is unquestioned. He is the Ducks' primary punt returner as well as a running back and slot receiver, and he displayed his special teams value in the team's 49-0 win over Arizona last week by recording a long punt return that helped set up a score.

2012: 25 rushes for 276 yards and 4 TDs; 13 receptions for 165 yards and 3 TDs; 8 punt returns for 131 yards

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: The dual-threat signal-caller has done it all for the Buckeyes thus far this fall. He is tied for second in the Big Ten in rushing yards with 441 and has seven touchdown runs while throwing for seven more while compiling 754 yards through the air. Miller will remain in the race, though his rushing numbers may take a slight dip with Jordan Hall now healthy at running back.

2012: 60 of 98 passing for 754 yards, 7 TDs and 2 INTs; 67 rushes for 441 yards and 7 TDs

Stefphon Jefferson, RB, Nevada: The Wolf Pack running back has had at least 135 rushing yards in each contest and in separate games has run for 247 yards and rushed for six scores. He was instrumental in the team's upset of Cal and was not the reason for his team's heartbreaking loss to South Florida. We know the Wolf Pack don't get the proper pub, but Jefferson deserves it thus far.

2012: 122 rushes for 699 yards and 11 TDs; 9 receptions for 89 yards and 1 TDs

Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame: The leader of the Fighting Irish defense intercepted Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson twice last week, and he's arguably playing better than any defender outside of Georgia's Jarvis Jones. He has three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and is very good defending the pass. Can he keep it up? It helps that the Irish still have at least three showcase games remaining (vs. Stanford, at Oklahoma and at USC).

Others who remain in the race:

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Murray threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns this past week against Vanderbilt, and he's currently second in the SEC with 1,092 passing yards and is tied for second with 10 passing touchdowns.

Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: The disruptive Jones has 4.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries this fall. I gave Te'o the edge in this initial list because of the impact he has made on a national stage, but Jones will remain a force all season.

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

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