- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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It has felt like an eternity since Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith hoisted the Heisman Trophy in December 2006. The Big Ten was on top of the college football world back then, as Ohio State seemed destined for a national title. We all know what happened next, as the Big Ten endured struggles in big games. The league also didn't produce any legit Heisman contenders in 2007, 2008 or 2009.
Things could change this fall, as several Big Ten players could be in the mix for college football's top award.
Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: Pryor certainly lacks the numbers to be considered one of the nation's elite players, but he boasts tremendous skills. Most important, he always generates hype, earning back-to-back Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year awards. After winning Offensive MVP honors in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, Pryor looks ready to take the next step in his development. He boasts a 19-3 record as Ohio State's starter and should play in a more expanded offense this year. A big performance in Week 2 against Miami would boost Pryor's Heisman hopes.
Wisconsin RB John Clay: The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has been somewhat overlooked in the preseason, but things could change when the games get started. After leading the Big Ten and ranking 12th nationally in rushing average (116.7 ypg) in 2009, Clay is poised for a huge junior season. He'll run behind arguably the nation's best offensive line, and he should be more durable following offseason surgeries to correct nagging ankle problems.
Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn: Although he plays a different position, Clayborn already is drawing some comparisons to former Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh, who put defensive linemen on the national map in 2009. He's a disruptive force inside who won MVP honors at the Orange Bowl after dominating Georgia Tech's offensive line. Clayborn also has the hype factor going for him as his name and face are known around the country.
Penn State RB Evan Royster: As a young quarterback steps in for the Nittany Lions, Royster likely will take on an enhanced role this fall. He figures to get more carries as he chases Curt Warner's team career rushing record (only 481 yards away). Royster has eclipsed 1,100 rushing yards in each of the last two seasons. A big performance against Alabama and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in Week 2 would really help his candidacy.