The Heisman Trophy is the most coveted award in all of sports. In many ways it is like winning an Academy Award, regardless of a person’s pending success or failures they will always be associated with the trophy. The tradition of the award dwarfs that of any other in team sports.
One of the reasons the award has kept its allure over so many years is because the Heisman trophy is not about a players draft status, future success in the NFL, or where Mel Kiper ranks you in his pre, pre, pre draft. It is about this season and this season only. The award is about who places their name forever amongst the legends of college football, except OJ and Reggie Bush of course.
Football is the ultimate team sport. The Heisman trophy is no different in today’s voting climate. Quirky Internet marketing campaigns aside, a players performance on the field is going to be the deciding factor to his Heisman hopes. While you don’t have to be a national champion contender, putting up wonderful stats on a bad team simply will not win you the award (unless you go to Notre Dame of course). Many of these great players on this list will need the help of their teammates, to not only play well, but to win enough games to build the requisite momentum needed to stay in the race long enough into the season to win voters over.
That is why as more NFL influences emerge in college football, quarterbacks have lately dominated the trophy. They touch the ball every play and receive much of the praise and blame when their team wins and loses. This responsibility carries with it much pressure. Some players wilt under these circumstances while others rise above it.
In 2012 there will no doubt be many spectacular contenders for the trophy, many we have heard about for years and that have been much ballyhooed since their senior years of high school. Some others who come out of nowhere to capture the nation’s imagination.
This list is a look at the top 11 candidates heading into the season, with a realistic shot of not only getting invited to NEW York city for the ceremonies, but in fact joining the elite club that is known as Heisman trophy winners.
To the list:
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Matt Barkley is this years Andrew Luck. He is the prohibitive favorite to win the award. It is his trophy to lose. This may work to his detriment with Heisman voters however, as he is being judged against an almost unfair set of standards and hype. As the season goes on, fans and voters may grow tired of the Barkley hype and look for reasons not to vote for him. All he can control is his production on the field, and last season did he ever produce.
He set a USC single-season passing record with 39 scoring strikes in 2011, including 17 in his final four games. His team will likely start in the preseason top five, if not No. 1, and will return the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the nation. Barkley will enter his fourth year under center as the USC starting quarterback.
2. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
The most electric player in the nation will return to Ann Arbor with championship aspirations — and possibly not just Big Ten title hopes. He has posted back-to-back 2,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing seasons, for unprecedented levels of production from the quarterback position.
Quarterbacks traditionally show dramatic improvement in their second year in Al Borges’ system . Shoelace will never be an elite passer, but his arm strength is vastly underrated. His biggest issue is being impatient and trying to squeeze the ball into tight windows. If he can display more patience in the pocket, and develop the knack for checking the ball down when the big play is not available, his turnovers should be down from last year and his rating should be off the charts. His health and big game early vs. Alabama provide him both the stage, and the kryptonite to make a statement to the country Labor day weekend.
3. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Ball tied Barry Sanders’ single-season TD record with 39 (Barry Sanders played two less games & bowl games stats didn’t count then) and shocked most college experts in coming back to school for another season. He surely will not match last year’s numbers, but playing behind what is always a monstrous physical offensive line, Ball should be in the Heisman discussion all season. How the Badgers replace Russell Wilson could be the key to Ball’s Heisman hopes.
4. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
I love Geno Smith’s game. He could be this year’s Cam Newton/Robert Griffin III. He is that good and has that type of confidence that can elevate his team. With West Virginia moving to the Big 12, he will have a brighter spotlight and more perceived marquee games in which to make his case as the best player in the country. And with the Big 12’s recent history of playing flag football defense, I look for Geno and the rest of the Mountaineers having no issues as league play begins.
Smith was already going to be on most Heisman preseason lists, but a 407-yard, 6-TD performance in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson only solidified him as an elite passer. He can make every throw on the field and has a plethora of talented receivers coming back.
5. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Last season through six games and some change before suffering a season-ending injury, Lattimore rushed for 818 and caught 182 yards (144.3 yards from
scrimmage per game) and scored 11 total times. Ironically, with Steve Spurrier struggling to find the elite signal caller he so eagerly covets, he has to rely on a talented defense and the best running back in the country.
Lattimore would be higher but I have to see how he responds form last years knee injury before I catapult him into the top 3.
6. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
I am not the biggest Aaron Murray fan out there, but he has put up impressive stats in the obviously rugged SEC. Furthermore, he is entering his 3rd year as a starter after back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons in the same system, with a ton of surrounding talent. The Key for Murray to being a legitimate Heisman contender, and really for the Georgia program in general, is to win a game or two they aren’t expected to win.
Ask yourself this question: When is the last time Georgia played up to or exceeded expectations? Exactly. The Bulldogs need Murray to not just be good, but to be a star.
7. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
See Aaron Murray. Jones will put up great numbers but Oklahoma has earned a label of choker over the past 6 to 7 seasons. Fair or not, Fields has struggled on the road against teams the Sooners should beat.
8. Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
Count me in as a huge Burkhead fan. He is the most versatile offensive player in the country and last year played several games with a severely sprained ankle. He is a true workhorse who can also line up at quarterback, catch the ball out of the backfield and block with a vengeance. The key to his Heisman success and the Cornhuskers 2nd campaign in the Big Ten, is the improvement of Taylor Martinez and the passing game. IF they cannot effectively stretch the field, it doesn’t matter how talented and determined Burkhead is; he won’t be able to live up to his vast potential.
9. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Wilson will have every opportunity to win the Heisman trophy as Arkansas plays a plethora of high profile teams on national television. The biggest detriment to his campaign may be that his former head coach Bobby Petrino is a cheating bastard. He had an affair, got fired, and left the Razorbacks in the hands of resident meth addict, John L Smith. If I was Wilson I would audible every single play, no matter what the coaches called.
10. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
In his first full season as the starter, Thomas started slowly but exploded into the player Hokies fans envisioned when they landed the star recruit. Thomas is a tall, rangy player whose athleticism is deceiving. He has the arm strength to make all of the required throws a big time QB needs to make, and with star running back Wilson leaving for the pro’s, the offense is all his. The only question mark will be on the offensive line and if Frank Beamer will open the offense up to let him shine.
11. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
I know it sounds crazy, but Braxton Miller by mid season may be on everyone’s Heisman ballot. Look, I hate those mouth breathing Buckeye fans with the best of them. And I can’t for the life of me understand the female buckeye fans obsession with chewing tobacco, but there is no denying the talent of Buckeye signal caller Braxton Miller
Miller rushed for 472 yards and seven rushing touchdowns over the Buckeyes’ final six games. He also threw eight of his 13 touchdowns over that span. Playing in Urban Meyer’s spread offense is tailor made for him. It’s the same offense he ran in high school. Miller should flourish in his sophomore campaign. If he can survive the pounding, I look for him to have a serious chance of getting invited to NYC.
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: His suspension to start the season basically destroys his Heisman hopes (see Peter Warrick). But fret not, he will be back for his junior season, and NFL millions await in just two short years.
- Kenjon Barner (SR) and DeAnthony Thomas (SO), RB, Both are so explosive and will put up great numbers, but both will also split the load at running back, thus not letting either compile enough stats to seriously contend for the award.
- Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: Is a great talent who will split votes with suspended wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
- Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Tied an NCAA record with 27 rushing touchdowns last season.
Who did I miss?