Heisman watch: Braxton Miller still paces Big Ten

Most Heisman straw polls were shaken up with USC losing to Stanford, which impacted the candidacy of Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley. He’s still in the race, but Barkley has work to do.

With my ballot, I’m keeping an eye on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas—among others. I also think Ohio State’s Braxton Miller deserves mention in the top three, too.

Wisconsin’s Montee Ball? It likely would take a miracle for him to get into the race after being a Heisman finalist last year and the Big Ten favorite entering 2012. Ball has 320 yards rushing and two touchdowns, averaging 3.8 yards per tote for a Badger offense that is last overall in the Big Ten (276.0 ypg); last in scoring (16.3 ppg); 11th in rushing (119.7 ypg).

Here are my top three Big Ten players in contention for the Heisman Trophy:

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State. He far and away is the top contender from the Big Ten, but Urban Meyer often has said he wants to lighten Miller’s load. How will that impact his Heisman candidacy? The sophomore is the Big Ten’s top rusher with 377 yards (125.7 ypg). He also paces the conference with five rushing touchdowns. And Miller is No. 4 in passing efficiency, hitting 61.5 percent of his attempts for 611 yards with seven touchdowns and two picks for the 3-0 Buckeyes. Miller completed a big game-winning 72-yard touchdown pass last week vs. Cal. UAB’s defense, which is No. 7 overall in C-USA (477.0 ypg), shouldn’t pose much resistance. The Blazers are allowing 220.5 rushing yards per game and 256.5 passing yards.

[Related: Week 4 Power Rankings | Week 4 Player Rankings]

2. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan. After that dreadful opener vs. Alabama, Robinson has come on. He ran for 218 yards and passed for 208 vs. Air Force. Last week vs. UMass, he ran for 106 and passed for 291 in three quarters. Yes, neither was top-flight competition, but it allowed Robinson to get on track. The visit to Notre Dame is no doubt a Heisman showcase game for “Shoelace.” For the season, the senior has carried 40 times for 351 yards and four touchdowns (8.8 ypc). He also has completed 41-of-75 passes for 699 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions. The Fighting Irish defense is yielding 288.7 yards per game, ranking 18th in the country. Notre Dame’s rush defense is 23rd (96.3 ypg) and ND is 38th vs. the pass (192.3 ypg). With a big game vs. ND—and a win—Robinson could jump to the top of this list.

[Related: Denard vs. Te'o highlights Best of Week 4]

3. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State. Yes, his Spartans tasted defeat for the first time last Saturday, but Bell did his part by running 19 times for 77 yards in the 20-3 home loss to Notre Dame. The junior is No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing with 357 yards (119.0 ypg). Bell also has 11 catches for 75 yards. He figures to have a big Saturday with Eastern Michigan coming to town. The Eagles have the 116th ranked defense in the nation (514.3 ypg) and are dead last in America vs. the run (312.3 ypg).

[Related: Better Bell hurdle: Boise State or Notre Dame?]

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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