NCF Nation: 110810 Heisman

SEC Heisman candidates

August, 10, 2011
It's time to take a look at the award in college football and who from the SEC might be up for that bad boy toward the end of the 2011 season.

That's right, folks, the SEC blog is tackling the Heisman Trophy. Don't worry, it's fine; it has a mean stiff-arm.

Three of the past four winners have come from the SEC. Three of the past four have been sophomores. Also, the SEC produced its first Heisman Trophy winners in back-to-back years when Cam Newton took home the award last season.

So what does that tell us? Pick a youngster from the South, and you should be fine in your Heisman pool.

Obviously, there is a lot of talent -- young and old -- in the SEC and a few players who have what it takes to win college football's most prestigious award.

Here are our five preseason SEC Heisman candidates (in alphabetical order, of course):
  • Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas: Davis burst onto the scene with a stellar second half in 2010. After rushing for 294 yards on 44 carries through his first six games, Davis kicked it up considerably, averaging 146.9 yards per game in the final seven games. He dipped below the 100-yard mark just once in that span, and his next-lowest outputs were 110 and 139 yards. Davis can flat-out fly, and he showed at times that he can slip though with enough wiggle room or break a tackle here and there. Although Arkansas has a very pass-friendly offense, Davis will be a major part of the Razorbacks' game plan.
  • Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: Jeffery proved to be the toughest receiver in the country to guard in one-on-one situations. At 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, he's like covering a fast linebacker out there. Jeffery was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, presented to nation's top receiver, after leading the SEC with 88 receptions for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. Coach Steve Spurrier and quarterback Stephen Garcia said the thing that makes Jeffery so good is his ability to catch pretty much anything thrown his way. He has exceptional hands and a very impressive vertical that allows him to manhandle smaller defensive backs.
  • Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: Well, we have our sophomore from the SEC. I guess we can stop looking now. Lattimore had a monster freshman season. He was third in the league with 1,197 rushing yards and third with 17 rushing touchdowns. He also had 29 receptions for 412 yards and two more scores. Oh, and he was the unanimous choice for National Freshman of the Year and SEC Freshman of the Year, and was a first-team All-SEC member. He bulked up to 231 pounds heading into the spring but cut his 40 time down to 4.5. He wants to pack more of a punch for defenders while keeping his speed, and although boxes are likely to be stacked for him, he has the power and speed to break down defenses, no matter the numbers against him.
  • Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Another sophomore makes the list and like Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford before him, he's a quarterback back -- and a darn good one at that. Murray has more touchdown passes from a year ago (24) than any other returning starter in the SEC and passed for a Georgia freshman record 3,049 yards (second in SEC history by a freshman) in 13 starts. He also rushed 87 times for 167 yards and four more scores, giving him the school and conference record for most total offensive yards (3,216) for a freshman. Murray will be without the talents of A.J. Green, but tight end Orson Charles and receiver Tavarres King should provide solid passing targets, plus Murray hopes to get use out of a few younger receivers as well.
  • Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: Richardson finally takes the reins in Alabama's backfield, and in his first year as a starter, a lot will be expected of him. He has a rare combination of strength and speed, making him a tank of a track athlete. With a young, inexperienced quarterback joining him in the Tide's backfield, Richardson's number will be called on more than maybe Mark Ingram's was. As a backup for two seasons, Richardson rushed for 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns, and there are people around the program who think Richardson might be a better all-around back than Ingram, who won the Heisman in 2009.

Big East Heisman candidates

August, 10, 2011
It's time to take a look at the Heisman contenders in the Big East. This is going to be a pretty short post, because there are not many serious candidates to start the season. But here are a few possibilities in order of likeliest candidates:

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. How many more times can we talk about potential in connection with Smith and the addition of new coach Dana Holgorsen? All you have to do is look at some stats to get an idea of what could happen to the West Virginia offense. Last season, Brandon Weeden threw for more than 4,000 yards with Holgorsen in charge. Case Keenum threw for more than 5,000 yards with Holgorsen in charge. Graham Harrell threw for more than 4,000 yards one season and more than 5,000 yards the next with Holgorsen in charge. You get the idea.

Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati. With the offense and players he has on his side, Collaros should top 3,000 yards. But the question, as always, is whether the Bearcats will be good enough to go undefeated. Heisman notice comes not just with eye-catching stats but also with a team that wins and wins a lot.

Ray Graham, RB, Pitt. This is a bit of an unknown because of the new offense that Todd Graham is bringing to the Panthers. Dion Lewis was talked about as a serious Heisman contender before last season started. Ray Graham might have been in the same situation if not for this offense. But there is no doubt Ray Graham still will have a big role with the ability to reach 1,000 yards.

Non-AQ Heisman candidates

August, 10, 2011
Who are some Heisman candidates from the non-AQ conferences? The usual suspects, no doubt.

[+] EnlargeCasey Keenum
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireCase Keenum resumes his quest to become the career NCAA passing yards leader.
Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State. Moore finished fourth in the Heisman balloting last season and returns for his senior season with a new receiving corps. Titus Young and Austin Pettis are gone, but plenty of players returning have seen game action. Among them are Tyler Shoemaker, Geraldo Boldewijn (formerly Hiwat), Chris Potter, Kirby Moore, Aaron Burks and Mitch Burroughs. Despite the relative newcomers, Moore has an ability to elevate the players around him. He has thrown for more than 10,000 career yards with 99 touchdown passes and just 19 interceptions. If he has another good year and the Broncos are in the hunt, he should make it two seasons in a row to New York.

Case Keenum, QB, Houston. Despite being labeled a "system quarterback," Keenum was in the discussion last year for the Heisman as he embarked on a quest to become the NCAA career passing leader. Unfortunately, his season ended in Week 3 after he tore his ACL. Keenum returns after being granted a sixth season and resumes that quest. Keenum stands 3,486 yards from breaking the NCAA passing mark of 17,072 yards set by Timmy Chang of Hawaii in 2004. Keenum also needs 28 touchdown passes to break the NCAA career mark of 134 set by Graham Harrell of Texas Tech from 2005-08. Those numbers are well within reach when you consider that Keenum threw for more than 5,000 yards in 2008 and 2009, along with 44 touchdown passes in each season. The bigger question is whether he can remain healthy.

Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State. This is a long-shot candidate, to be sure, but Hillman should be on everyone's radar after a breakout 2010 season. Hillman ran for 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns as a true freshman, reminding everyone of a certain other outstanding San Diego State running back. He is a preseason all-Mountain West selection and will try to build on his terrific first year. But he may find tougher sledding. With major question marks at receiver, teams could try to load the box to stop Hillman, daring Ryan Lindley to beat them with the pass.
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.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Eric Bronson/Icon SMIWill 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.
We're all about the Heisman race here on today, and here's your first look at the Big 12 contenders for the Heisman Trophy entering the 2011 season.

1. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones joins Stanford's Andrew Luck as one of the prohibitive favorites for the award entering the season. Such is life for a guy quarterbacking the nation's No. 1 team coming off a 12-win season with 4,718 yards and a league-best 38 touchdown passes.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Tim Heitman/US PresswireLandry Jones passed for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns for Oklahoma last season.
2. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: On the national stage, Weeden is a dark horse for the award. He'll likely put up the numbers necessary (4,277 yards, 34 TD in 2010) to win, but the Cowboys will have to win more than last year's 11 games.

3. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor: Griffin has entrenched himself as one of the league's most valuable players to his team, even as Baylor has quietly gotten more talented and deeper at every position since Griffin came to Waco with coach Art Briles. With Baylor's reputation, if the Bears rack up wins and flirt with being a Big 12 contender late in the season, it will work to Griffin's advantage.

4. Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M: Gray may not get the total touches necessary to win the trophy after the return of his running mate in the backfield, Christine Michael. If he does, though ... look out. Gray closed the season with seven consecutive games of 100 yards rushing against defenses like LSU, Nebraska and Oklahoma, and that could continue well into 2011.

5. James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Franklin is a big question mark entering 2011, but if he plays well, all the pieces are there for him to have a big year and sneak into the Heisman race late. Blaine Gabbert's stats in 2010 were modest, but Missouri is a team built to make a run at 10-plus wins and contend for a conference title. If Franklin controls the offense and nears what Gabbert did in 2010 (3,186 yards, 16 TDs), he could get some buzz for the trophy late in the season.

Pac-12 Heisman Trophy candidates

August, 10, 2011
No conference starts out the 2011 season as well-positioned to produce a Heisman Trophy finalist as the Pac-12, considering the conference produced two in 2010.

Here's a look at the candidates, from front-runners to dark horses.

The front-runners

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireStanford's Andrew Luck passed for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns last season.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: The 2010 runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton -- Wow, talk about a contrast in character studies -- Luck is the decided front-runner heading into the season. He ranked third in the nation in passing efficiency last fall, passing for 3,338 yards with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions, completing 70.7 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 453 yards and three scores. Stanford finished with a 12-1 record and a dominant Orange Bowl win against Virginia Tech, in which Luck threw four touchdown passes and earned MVP honors. He would have been the No. 1 overall NFL draft choice in the spring. He will be the No. 1 overall NFL draft choice next spring. The biggest cautionary tale to his Heisman campaign: Peyton Manning.

LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: James, a Heisman finalist last season, led the nation with 1,731 yards rushing-- 144.25 yards per game -- and ranked second with 21 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns. He was Oregon’s first unanimous All-American and he won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back. He's set Ducks freshman and sophomore records for rushing.

Not to get caught up in that "college" part of college football or anything but James was first-team All-Pac-10 and Luck was second-team -- All-Academic.

The contenders

Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk ranked second in the Pac-10 with 1,415 yards rushing -- his 108.9 yards per game ranked 13th in the nation -- and he scored nine touchdowns. He also caught 22 passes for 180 yards. He also closed the season strong during the Huskies' four-game winning streak to end the season, rushing for 138 yards against UCLA, 86 yards at California -- including the winning fourth-and-1 plunge on the game's final play -- and 284 yards at Washington State, the second-best rushing total in school history. Then, in the Holiday Bowl against a good Nebraska defense, he rushed for 177 yards on a career-high 34 carries and was named the offensive MVP. The rising junior's second-consecutive 1,000-yard season pushed him to No. 6 on the Huskies all-time rushing list with 2,561 yards. And with quarterback Jake Locker gone, Polk won't have to share the spotlight.

Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon: What if Oregon, with a rebuilt offensive line, ends up passing more in 2011? Thomas, a sophomore, first-year starter, completed 61.5 percent of his throws for 2,881 yards with 30 touchdowns. He also rushed for 486 yards and five scores. He ranked second in the Pac-10 and 17th in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns in the national championship game.

Matt Barkley, QB, USC: Barkley is a big-time talent playing on a high-profile team that has done well in the past when it comes to the Heisman. He ranked 31st in the nation and third in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency in 2010. He completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards, with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He's got an outstanding crew of young receivers who might help him put up big numbers.

The dark horses

Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Foles led the Pac-10 with 290 yards passing per game. He ranked fourth in passing efficiency -- 34th in the nation -- completing 67 percent of his passes with with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. With one of the best crews of receivers in the nation, he figures to be throwing a lot in 2011. If the Wildcats win early -- see a rugged early schedule against ranked teams -- he could start to generate some buzz.

Robert Woods, WR, USC: Heisman winners often come from surprising places. But not too surprising. As a true freshman, Woods caught a team-high 65 passes for 792 yards with six touchdowns. He also averaged 25.6 yards on 38 kick returns, with a 97-yard touchdown. What if he -- instead of Barkley -- becomes the captivating star of a resurgent USC team?