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Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Heisman Trophy candidates in the Big Ten

By Brian Bennett

If last year's Heisman Trophy voting had been conducted in mid-October, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson likely would have carried home the bronzed dude with the stiff-arm.

Alas, the voting doesn't take place until December, and by then, Robinson and the Wolverines had already faded. Shoelace would finish sixth in the voting well behind winner Cam Newton.

That was last year. Do any Big Ten players have a chance to bring home the most celebrated trophy in sports in 2011? Here are the top contenders to become the league's first Heisman winner since Ohio State's Troy Smith in 2006.

Denard Robinson
Will Denard Robinson be able to put up eye-popping numbers for a full season?
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan: Robinson already has the name recognition and the talent to rip off highlight plays. The concern is that his numbers may go down as he enters a new system designed to take a little bit of the running load off his shoulders. But if the Wolverines can generate more wins under new coach Brady Hoke, that will only help their quarterback's cause.

Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern: The Wildcats have launched a full-scale Heisman campaign for their quarterback, including the placement of a billboard near ESPN headquarters and sending out 7-pound dumbbells to media members. (I hope for their sake they qualified for super-saver shipping rates.) Persa surely is capable of producing eye-popping numbers; he had an amazing 73.5 percent completion rate before going down late last season with an injury. The question is whether Northwestern can win enough games and attract enough attention to get Persa truly into Heisman contention.

Montee Ball or James White, RB, Wisconsin: We know the Badgers are going to run the ball and do so effectively behind their wall of Midwestern muscle on the offensive line. That means a guy like Ball (996 yards, 18 touchdowns in 2010) or White (1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns) could put up huge numbers on a team expected to contend for the Big Ten title. The problem: Both guys could split carries and votes. One would have to establish himself as the go-to workhorse back to get separation.

Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: Martinez would have to make great strides from his inconsistent freshman season to get anywhere near the ceremony in New York, but T-Magic can electrify crowds with his running and passing. If he can stay healthy and adjust to a new offensive coordinator, Martinez could get some consideration for leading the consensus Legends Division favorites. The next Eric Crouch, perhaps?

Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: If the Spartans can build on their 11-2 campaign from 2010, Cousins will gain some national notice. He completed nearly 67 percent of his passes as a junior and has a solid cast of skill players around him. He'll need help from a rebuilt offensive line, but at least he'll have several showcase opportunities in games against Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. And we're sure he'd give a pretty good acceptance speech.

Jared Crick, DL, Nebraska: The last defensive player to win the Heisman came from the Big Ten (Michigan's Charles Woodson), and Crick's friend and former teammate Ndamukong Suh finished in the top five two years ago. Like Suh, Crick plays defensive tackle and is many observers' choice as preseason Big Ten defensive player of the year. He would have to dominate at a level even higher than Suh to make voters look away from their bias toward quarterbacks and running backs.