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Davey O’Brien Award Semi-Finalists Power Rankings

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Davey O'Brian Award Semi-Finalist Power Rankings

A.J. McCarron

Each year, the Davey O’Brien Award is given to the top college quarterback in the nation. The award is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious national quarterback award and recognizes exceptional student athletes who exemplify outstanding character while exhibiting teamwork, sportsmanship, and leadership in both academics and athletics.

This week, the Davey O’Brien foundation announced the semi-finalists for this year’s award, narrowing the candidate list down to 16 very deserving candidates all across college football. However, as is the case with any award watch-list, they can’t include everybody and there were some notable omissions.

Sophomore Taylor Kelly of the Arizona State Sun Devils is ranked eighth in the country in efficiency rating, but couldn’t crack the top 16 for the Davey O’Brien. Junior Tyler Bray of the Tennessee Volunteers has shown an ability to make every throw this season, but could not make it as a semi-finalist for this list. There are likely many others who you could make an argument for, as well.

But let’s focus on those signal callers who did make the list. All six of the BCS conferences are represented. The Big East has one representative, while the ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12, and SEC all have two QBs on the list. The Big 12 is very well represented with six quarterbacks named as semi-finalists. One non-AQ quarterback made the cut, making the WAC proud.

So who among the semi-finalists has the inside track to the Davey O’Brien Award? We find out now as we count down the semi-finalists in the Rant Sports Davey O’Brien Award Power Rankings.

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16. Denard Robinson, Michigan Wolverines, Big Ten

Denard Robinson
Rick Osentoski - US PRESSWIRE

Denard Robinson has led the Michigan Wolverines since he was a freshman under Rich Rodriguez. He has electrified college football fans with his ability to make huge plays. When he was younger, it was almost entirely with his legs, but he’s been developing as a passer over the years in order to become a true dual threat.

However, Shoelaces has had some trouble living up to the heightened expectations placed on the Wolverines in 2012. He’s completed just 83-of-155 passes this season (53.5%), the lowest number of completions and the lowest completion percentage of anyone on this list. He’s thrown for just 1,264 yards in seven games and has as many interceptions as touchdowns (9).

In Michigan’s two biggest games of the season so far against the Alabama Crimson Tide and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Robinson has been at his worst, throwing just one touchdown and six interceptions. He is ranked No. 100 in passing yards this season and No. 60 in passing efficiency.

Robinson continues to be an elite college football athlete, rushing for 90 yards or more in all but one game this season (including a pair of 200-yard rushing performances), but his ability to throw the ball has continued to be a struggle. Many were surprised that he made the cut for this list and he will need a miraculous stretch run to have any shot at becoming a finalist.

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15. Braxton Miller, Ohio State Buckeyes, Big Ten

Braxton Miller
Greg Bartram - US PRESSWIRE

The Ohio State Buckeyes aren’t allowed to participate in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, but that hasn’t stopped Braxton Miller from trying to get invited to some postseason award banquets. Miller has been dynamic in leading the Buckeyes to an 8-0 record so far this season.

But it’s been as much about Miller’s athletic ability running the ball as his ability to throw that’s led to the team’s success. He is completing less than 60-percent of his passes, going 105-for-179 (58.7%) on the year. He’s thrown for 1,384 yards with just 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

A lot of his impact on games has come via his legs, as he leads the team in rushing attempts and yardage, carrying the ball 141 times for 959 yards with 10 touchdowns. The heavy use of Miller in the running game has started to take its toll on the sophomore, who had to be carted off the field last Saturday and taken to a local hospital after taking a hard hit after a long run. He was diagnosed with a neck injury and time will tell how cautious Urban Meyer becomes with his best offensive weapon going forward.

While Miller has been phenomenal this season and earned some traction in the Heisman Trophy race, he’s done it by being an exceptional athlete who plays quarterback more than by being a great quarterback. His often shaky performances with his arm will make it difficult for Miller to become a legitimate contender for the Davey O’Brien, but he has plenty of time and talent to make a run for it next year.

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14. Landry Jones, Oklahoma Sooners, Big 12

Landry Jones
Matthew Emmons - US PRESSWIRE

Once considered the next great Oklahoma Sooners quarterback, Landry Jones has taken some major hits to his legacy by coming up short in big games for Bob Stoops and company. The amount of blame he’s taken might be a little harsh, as Jones has had to deal with injuries to his receiving corps and offensive line that have made life in Norman difficult for him. Despite the struggles, he’s still put up some very respectable numbers.

Jones has completed 134-of-213 passes (62.9%) this season and is the leader of the fifth highest scoring offense in college football. He’s thrown for over 200 yards in every game this season and eclipsed the 300-yard mark twice. He’s thrown a touchdown in every game, and has two or more in five of six.

His 1,653 yards passing rank fourth in the pass-happy Big 12, and his 274 yards passing per game average is the 17th best in the country. He’s also been making good choices with his throws, getting intercepted just three times in six games.

Hurting Jones is that Oklahoma has become a two-quarterback system with sophomore Blake Bell and the Sooners’ “Bell-dozer” offense. Any time OU gets into a short-yardage or goal-line situation, Jones takes a seat and Bell carries defenders into the end zone. Great quarterbacks don’t come off the field, no matter what. Jones, however, has fallen off his pedestal as a “great” quarterback and has settled into being “pretty good,” which doesn’t win you the Davey O’Brien.

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13. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M Aggies, Big 12

Johnny Manziel
Brett Davis - US PRESSWIRE

Johnny Manziel has been a freshman phenom for the Texas A&M Aggies this season, bursting onto the scene with a playmaking ability that has really helped ease the Aggies’ transition into the SEC. He burst onto the scene and gained some Heisman Trophy buzz after breaking the SEC all-purpose yards record with his 576-yard, six-touchdown performance against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

On the season, Manziel has completed 157-of-246 passes (63.8%) for 1,956 yards, second best in the SEC (by a single yard). He’s tossed 14 passing touchdowns through seven games with just six interceptions. He’s proven to be a true dual threat quarterback, rushing for 703 yards and 10 touchdowns as well.

But “Johnny Football” looks like he might be coming back down to earth. Through his first four games, Manziel was spotless, throwing 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. In his last three games, however, he’s thrown just four touchdowns and six interceptions, including a game where he failed to score for the first time rushing or passing.

In Manziel’s last game against the LSU Tigers, he finally started looking like a freshman. He completed just 52-percent of his passes, his lowest mark of the season, had no touchdowns and threw three interceptions. As the talent level of the defenses continues to rise, Manziel might have a few more games where he’ll struggle, which makes it unlikely he’ll be in the discussion for too many post-season awards this season. In the coming seasons, though? He might sweep them all.

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12. Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12

Marcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas - US PRESSWIRE

Freshman Marcus Mariota won the starting quarterback job for the Oregon Ducks in Fall Camp over the older, more experienced Bryan Bennett. He has rewarded Chip Kelly for that decision with poise beyond his years and the playmaking ability that caught everyone’s eye during the spring. Mariota leads a potent Oregon attack that is undefeated and making a push for a National Championship.

The Oregon offense isn’t prone to giving quarterbacks opportunities to put up big numbers, as they enjoy to hurt defenses with the running game, but Mariota has been deadly efficient when called upon. He’s completed 123-of-180 passes (68.3%) for just 1,347 yards, but has thrown 16 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

Oregon’s blur offenses, however, isn’t doing Mariota’s DOBA candidacy any favors. The main problem is that he doesn’t get the opportunity to pass that often. He’s thrown the ball 30 times or more just twice this season which has contributed to him eclipsing 200-yards passing just three times on the year.

Highlighting Mariota’s predicament was his last game against the Arizona State Sun Devils. The Ducks scored 43 points in just over a quarter of play and Mariota passed the ball just 12 times. He completed nine of them for a 75-percent completion percentage but gained just 46 yards. He threw one touchdown on one of the better passes we’ve seen from him this season, and finished with a quarterback rating of 134.7, his second highest of the season.

He won’t get the opportunities to put up big numbers, which will cost him the personal accolades, even though he has the talent to be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country. I’m sure he’ll take the second-highest scoring offense and a chance at a national title as consolation.

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11. Tahj Boyd, Clemson Tigers, ACC

Tahj Boyd
Greg M. Cooper - US PRESSWIRE

The Clemson Tigers have been one of the most offensively talented teams in the country this season behind the strong play of quarterback Tahj Boyd. He might have fallen off the fringe of the Heisman Trophy race but he has continued to play explosive, dynamic football for the Tigers as they try and win another ACC title.

On the year, Boyd has completed 149-of-222 passes (67.1%) for 1,908 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s thrown at least one touchdown in every game this season and eclipsed the 200-yard passing mark in six of seven games.

Boyd has also been a weapon with his feet. He is Clemson’s second-leading rusher this season, running for 251 yards on 91 carries with four touchdowns. He ranks 15th in the country in total offense and first in the ACC.

Hurting Boyd is the lack of attention that the Clemson Tigers are getting on a national stage. The ACC as a whole has been disappointing and gone largely unnoticed after the Florida State Seminoles dropped a game and fell out of the BCS title hunt. Boyd has only one game left against a quality opponent and that isn’t until the final game of the season when Clemson takes on the rival South Carolina Gamecocks. By then, it might be too late for Boyd to attract enough attention to be a contender.

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10. Matt Barkley, USC Trojans, Pac 12

Matt Barkley

“Unfinished business,” was the official reason that Matt Barkley gave for returning to the USC Trojans for his senior season. Most assumed that meant a Heisman Trophy for Barkley and a national championship for the Trojans. Now, you can add the Davey O’Brien Award to the list of accomplishments that Barkley still has an outside shot of achieving.

Through seven games, Barkley has completed 140-of-213 passes (65.7%) for 1,773 yards. He’s thrown a Pac 12 leading 22 touchdown passes, good for third best in the country, to just six interceptions. He ranks second in the conference in passer efficiency behind only Taylor Kelly of Arizona State.

But what has knocked Barkley and the Trojans off their projected path to glory has been the inconsistent play under center. Barkley has thrown for 250 yards or more in four games this season, but never in consecutive games. He’s been up, like against the Colorado Buffaloes where he went 19-of-20 (95%) for 298 yards and six touchdowns, and he’s been down, 10-for-20 (50%) for 167 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Washington Huskies, in consecutive weeks.

Lane Kiffin has told the media that his quarterback can still win all of the awards and that might turn out to be true. Barkley will have to find some consistency from week to week before it will happen, however. Throwing a dozen touchdowns against the porous defenses of the Syracuse Orange and Colorado Buffaloes isn’t going to cut it.

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9. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville Cardinals, Big East

Teddy Bridgewater
Jamie Rhodes - US PRESSWIRE

Perhaps the best college football player that nobody is talking about, Teddy Bridgewater of the Louisville Cardinal is the lone representative for the beleaguered Big East on this list. Bridgewater has been the driving force behind the Cardinals perfect record through seven games and will be the key for Louisville if they make a run to a Big East title.

Bridgewater has been incredibly accurate this season, completing 138-of-188 passes (73.4%) for the third highest completion percentage in the country. He’s thrown for 1,694 yards on the season with 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

The key for Bridgewater this season has been his consistency. He’s completed 65-percent of his passes or better in six of his seven games. He’s completed more than 80-percent of his passes three times and has thrown for 250 yards or better four times this season. Charlie Strong can count on his quarterback to make great decisions with the football and deliver a solid performance every time out there.

But he still might not make the final cut. The problem being the best player that nobody is talking about is that nobody is talking about you. That makes it hard to generate any buzz for an award campaign. Bridgewater has been very good, but he doesn’t have the flashy stats or big-game performances that really impress voters. Slow and steady may win the Cardinals the Big East, but it won’t earn Teddy Bridgewater much recognition beyond that.

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8. Colby Cameron, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, WAC

Colby Cameron
Kevin Jairaj - US PRESSWIRE

Colby Cameron represents the only non-BCS quarterback to make the semi-finalist as the quarterback of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Cameron has led one of the most explosive offensive attacks in all of college football and went toe-to-toe with a top 25 club when they fell just short against Texas A&M. The Bulldogs’ 56.1 points per game average is the best in the nation.

Cameron has been nothing but dynamic this season, completing 196-of-275 passes (71.3%) for 2,306 yards, the second highest total in college football. He’s thrown 20 touchdown passes and has remarkably gone seven games without a single interception.

Cameron’s biggest asset this season has been his accuracy. His completion percentage is the fifth highest in the country and he has yet to have a game where he completed under 65-percent of his passes. He hasn’t lost any aggressiveness to maintain that accuracy either, averaging 8.39 yards per attempt, attacking defenses down the field.

The whole Bulldog offense courses through Cameron at quarterback. He has thrown for at least 200 yards in every game this season, eclipsed 300 yards four times and thrown for 400 yards or more twice. He’s accurate, he’s aggressive, and he doesn’t make mistakes.

But this season is a huge leap in productivity for the senior. He’s never finished a season at better than 60-percent completion percentage, topping out at 59.3 in 2010. It’s left to be seen if Cameron is just hitting his stride and playing up to his potential this season or if he has been playing above his head for the first half of 2012. Either way, it will be difficult for the small-conference quarterback to take home the hardware over the more highly publicized signal callers also in contention.

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7. Aaron Murray, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC

Aaron Murray
Daniel Shirey - US PRESSWIRE

Aaron Murray has led the Georgia Bulldogs this season to a 6-1 record despite personal tragedy. Leading up to the Bulldogs’ loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks, Murray learned that his father had been diagnosed with cancer. He was noticeably shaken by that news, as most anyone would be, and turned in his only lackluster performance of the season.

Other than that one game, Murray has been fantastic. He’s completed 130-of-199 passes (65.3%) for 1,914 yards. His 9.62 yards per attempt is the third highest in the country, showing that he’s attacking defenses down the field. He’s thrown 16 touchdown passes to just four interceptions.

Murray has been remarkably consistent this season, as well. He’s completed 70-percent or more of his passes in five of seven games this season and thrown two touchdown passes or more in six of seven. Take out the one bad game against South Carolina, and Murray might be the top quarterback in the country.

Most impressive, however, has been Murray’s resolve. After learning about his father’s illness, having the worst game of his career, and then having his house egged by angry fans, Murray bounced back in a big way. Against the Kentucky Wildcats in the very next game, Murray went 30-for-38 (78.9%) for 427 yards and four touchdowns, all season highs.

Murray is a great story, and if he can continue his excellent play, he should find himself right in the thick of things for the Davey O’Brien Award at the end of the season.

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6. EJ Manuel, Florida State Seminoles, ACC

EJ Manuel
Steve Mitchell - US PRESSWIRE

The Florida State Seminoles have enjoyed a national renaissance thanks to the efforts of their quarterback EJ Manuel. With the senior quarterback under center, many pundits were ready to declare the return of the Seminoles' glory days. An upset on the road, however, derailed the national title talk, but Manuel still has his club in the driver’s seat for an ACC title.

Through eight games, Manuel has completed 153-of-214 passes for 2,033 yards. He has opened up his game as the season has progressed, throwing the ball down the field more often, and getting excellent results. On the season, he’s thrown 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

As the season has gone on, Manuel has taken on more of the offensive responsibility. Through the first three games, he had no games with more than 200 yards passing. Since then, he’s thrown for over 200 yards in every game, including a 380-yard performance against the Clemson Tigers and a 439-yard showing against the Boston College Eagles.

His role will only get bigger down the stretch now that the backfield will be without Chris Thompson, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. If Manuel can meet the challenge of the additional pressure of carrying the offense, his numbers will continue to grow and he could lead the Seminoles to a BCS bowl and get himself something for the trophy case in the process.

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5. Seth Doege, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Big 12

Seth Doege
Kevin Jairaj - US PRESSWIRE

The Texas Tech Red Raiders have been a surprise power in the Big 12 this season behind the strong arm of their quarterback Seth Doege. The senior quarterback has given Lubbock flashbacks to the Air Raid days of Mike Leach with his aggressive and efficient dissection of opposing defenses.

On the season, Doege has completed 189-of-267 passes (70.8%) for 2,209 yards, the sixth highest total in college football. He’s thrown 28 touchdown passes, the most in college football, with seven interceptions. His 28 touchdowns match his 2011 season total when he threw for 4,004 yards, showing that he has been much more effective this season throwing the ball down the field.

Most impressive has been how proficient Doege has been this season. He hasn’t completed less than 61-percent of his passes and has completed more than 75-percent of his passes three times. Doege is also racking up yardage in bunches, throwing for 300-yards or more in five of seven games this season, with a 499-yard performance under his belt as well. He has thrown five touchdowns or more four times this season, including 13 touchdowns in the last two weeks. He is the trigger man that makes the 10th highest scoring offense in football run.

Already he’s led Tech to big wins over the West Virginia Mountaineers and TCU Horned Frogs with showdowns looming with the Kansas State Wildcats and Texas Longhorns looming. If he continues to produce offensive numbers at the clip he has been, he’ll lead the Red Raiders right into the thick of the Big 12 race and himself into contention for the Davey O’Brien.

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4. Geno Smith, West Virginia Mountaineers, Big 12

Geno Smith
Rob Christy - US PRESSWIRE

Geno Smith set the college football world on fire with his early season performances for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Through the first five games, the Mountaineers’ offense looked unstoppable racking up points like they were going out of style and Smith was the key to the whole thing.

On the season, Smith has completed 216-of-291 passes (74.2%) and has thrown more passes than anybody else on this list. He’s ranked second in the country in yards, with 2,414, and touchdowns thrown, 26. He didn’t throw his first interception of the season until last Saturday, when he threw two against the Kansas State Wildcats.

Smith was electric to start the season. Through five games, he was averaging nearly five touchdown passes per game, had no interceptions, and was throwing for nearly 400-yards per game. His early success was highlighted by the shootout with the Baylor Bears where Smith completed 88-percent of his passes for 656 yards with eight touchdown passes. At that point, people seemed content to hand him the Heisman Trophy.

But Smith has struggled in the last two games. After throwing 24 touchdowns and no interceptions in his first five games, Smith has thrown just two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Mountaineers last two games, where WVU has mustered just 28 points combined. Smith hopes this is just a bad couple of games and not a downward trend that points to where his season is headed.

Smith built such a commanding lead in the race for the best quarterback in the country over the first month of the season that he is still right in the thick of it despite a pair of lackluster performances. If he turns things around during the Mountaineers week off and gets back to early-season form, Smith will have plenty of hardware for his mantle at season’s end.

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3. Nick Florence, Baylor Bears, Big 12

Nick Florence
Brendan Maloney - US PRESSWIRE

Leading the top-rated passing attack in the country for the third highest scoring team in football gets Nick Florence high on this list despite the Baylor Bears not having a winning record this season. The blame for that can’t be placed on Florence and the offense, though, which have averaged 48 points per game this season, including 63 and 50-point efforts in two losses. Having a defense that allows 44 points per game will do that.

Florence has been sensational, however. On the season, he’s completed 142-of-217 passes (65.4%) for 2,226 yards which is the fourth highest total in the country. He’s averaging 10.26 yards per attempt, demonstrating the big-play philosophy of the Bears offense. He’s thrown 20 touchdown passes with 10 interceptions.

Playing with one of the worst defenses in the country, if not the worst, has forced Florence to play with a gunslinger mentality. He’s thrown two or more touchdown passes in every game this season, but he’s also averaged two interceptions per game over his last five games. The high risk has been yielding pretty good rewards, however, as the quarterback has thrown for 300-yards or more in five of six games even if that production hasn’t quite equated to wins.

Florence will continue to put up big, flashy numbers down the stretch, but the lack of wins will come back to haunt him come awards season. Voters tend to reward players who play on a winning team, so if Florence wants to win the Davey O’Brien, he’d better have a tough talk with his defensive teammates.

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2. Collin Klein, Kansas State Wildcats, Big 12

Collin Klein
Charles LeClaire - US PRESSWIRE

Collin Klein just wins. He’s willed the Kansas State Wildcats to a perfect 7-0 record, first place in the Big 12, and the No. 3 spot in the BCS standings with a mix of toughness, intelligence, and playmaking ability. Whether it is on the ground or through the air, Klein finds a way to get it done.

On the season, Klein is 98-for-139 in passing (70.5%) for just 1,397 yards with 10 touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Most of his contributions come in the rushing game, where he’s run for 551 yards on 110 carries with 14 touchdowns this season. He doesn’t drop back to pass a whole lot, but he’s incredibly effective when he does.

Klein’s ability to run the ball and grind out tough yards draws defenses up into the box to stop the run. When they do that, Klein has been hurting them with passes over the top, averaging 10.1 yards per attempt this season. His accuracy and decision making in the passing game combined with his playmaking ability and toughness in the running game make Klein a dangerous dual threat to opposing defense and the key to the Wildcats’ offense.

Klein’s success this season has already earned him recognition in the race for the Heisman. While his legs have been doing a lot of the work this season, his ability to pass the ball is surprisingly excellent. He isn’t going to put up big numbers in the passing game, but if anyone could win the Davey O’Brien as an unconventional quarterback, I wouldn’t bet against Collin Klein.

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1. A.J. McCarron, Alabama Crimson Tide, SEC

A.J. McCarron
Randy Sartin - US PRESSWIRE

The Alabama Crimson Tide has been rolling this season. While most of the credit for that will go to the vaunted Nick Saban defense, quarterback AJ McCarron has been doing more than his fair share. McCarron has quietly been fantastic this season and will be the biggest reason for the Tide to make a return trip to the BCS title game.

On the year, McCarron has completed 106-of-154 passes (68.8%) for 1,476 yards. He’s yet to throw an interception through seven games while throwing 16 touchdowns. He’s already matched his touchdown total from last season with five regular season games to go. He’s completed at least 60-percent of his passes in all but one game this season and has at least one touchdown pass in six of seven games.

Saban isn’t a big fan of playing loose with the offense, so it isn’t likely that McCarron is going to turn into a gunslinger down the stretch. But he’s been able to take advantage of the opportunities he’s gotten, hurting defenses who over-commit to stopping the Alabama running game with big plays over the top. He’s averaging 9.58 yards per attempt, a full yard and a half better than he was last season.

The Tide offense has been deceptively potent this season, averaging 41 points per game (14th best in the country). McCarron has been the driving force behind this with efficient play and has quietly been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. If he can continue his spotless play and lead a dominant Alabama team through the SEC, he’ll stand tall at the end of the year with the Davey O’Brien Award in hand.