Heisman watch: Ohio State's Miller remains in hunt

The Heisman race doesn’t appear to be coming into focus.

Without a doubt, Kansas State’s Collin Klein is the clear leader in the Heisman chase. But after him, things look wide open. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Texas Tech’s Seth Doege, USC’s Marqise Lee and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron all look to be in the race. And Ohio State’s Braxton Miller also is a factor.

Miller has made himself a legit candidate again after leaving the Purdue game on October 20 with a neck injury. But Miller looks like the lone Big Ten player with a good chance to win the Heisman.

Here are my top three Heisman contenders from the Big Ten.

[RELATED: Week 10 Power Rankings | Week 10 Player Rankings | Week 10 Bowl Projections]

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. He augmented his cause in engineering a 35-23 win at Penn State. The sophomore hit just 7-of-19 passes for 143 with a touchdown (Watch it) and interception but ran 25 times for 134 yards and two scores (Watch highlight TD run). Miller has a great chance to improve his numbers and stock this week with Illinois coming to Columbus. The Illini defense is struggling, ranking No. 8 in the Big Ten (365.9 ypg). Miller paces the Big Ten in rushing with a 121.4-yard average, running 166 times for 1,093 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is fifth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions to go along with 1,527 yards passing. And best yet: Miller has Ohio State at 9-0.

2. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska. He may be the most well-rounded signal-caller in the Big Ten. The junior is No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency, hitting 66 percent of his attempts for 1,781 yards with a league-high 16 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. Martinez also is 12th in the Big Ten in rushing (57.6 ypg). Most vital: He has Nebraska in the driver’s seat to win the Legends Division after big wins at Northwestern and vs. Michigan. But Martinez will be tested this Saturday at Michigan State, which has the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten (267.4 ypg). The Spartans also are No. 1 vs. the run (91.2 ypg).

3. Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern. He may be the most exciting player in the Big Ten not named Braxton Miller. The ultra-quick Mark is No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing (119.7 ypg) with 1,077 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. That makes him Northwestern’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006. Mark doubles as a deadly return man, averaging 25.1 yards on punt returns with two runbacks for touchdowns. And he has 17 catches for 100 yards and a score. The Wildcats are off this Saturday, but Mark still has time to impress with games at Michigan, at Michigan State and vs. Illinois.

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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