NCF Nation: 111212-Heisman-look

Too-early SEC Heisman look

December, 12, 2011
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We at the SEC blog want to pass along our sincere congratulations to Robert Griffin III on his selection as the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.

He’s a terrific football player and a delight to watch play.

Now that the suspense is over for this year, it’s not too early to look ahead to next year.

Besides RGIII, who are the favorites to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy?

We’ve come up with four candidates in the SEC, and there are sure to be others who emerge. We’re not including Alabama’s Trent Richardson, only because we feel like he’ll decide to turn pro.

So here goes:

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireDefensive back Tyrann Mathieu, shown returning a punt for a TD against Georgia in the SEC title game, was a big-play machine for LSU this season.
1. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU: A finalist this year for the Heisman Trophy, Mathieu will be a junior next season, and that built-in mechanism he possesses for finding the ball and making plays isn’t going anywhere. The Honey Badger will be a known commodity heading into next season, too. As a general practice, defensive players don’t win the Heisman. But anybody who’s watched Mathieu play understands what a profound impact he has on every game -- defensively and on special teams.

2. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: Before he injured his knee this season, Lattimore was right there in the Heisman Trophy conversation with Richardson in SEC circles. Lattimore will work feverishly to get back to where he was physically, and you can bet the Gamecocks are going to feed him the ball next season. Lattimore has 2,015 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns in 20 career games. If he stays healthy, he has a chance to be a 1,500-yard rusher next season.

3. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: With a decent outing in the Outback Bowl, Murray can join the exclusive ranks in the SEC of a 3,000-yard and 30-touchdown passer in a single season. He was at his best this season down the stretch and was especially good at spreading the ball around. He threw 33 touchdown passes, with 10 players catching at least one of those scoring tosses. Freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell returns as one of the best deep threats in the league next season, which means Murray will have a chance for even more big plays in 2012.

4. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: As talented as Ryan Mallett was for the Hogs, Wilson stepped in at quarterback this season, and Arkansas really didn’t miss a beat offensively. Showing his toughness time and time again, Wilson led the SEC with 3,422 passing yards and also threw 22 touchdown passes. He’ll lose a couple of his key receivers in Jarius Wright and Joe Adams next season, but finding playmakers hasn't been a problem for the Hogs. Wilson should be even more productive in his second season as a starter.

Too-early Big 12 Heisman look

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
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What do you mean they just handed out the Heisman on Saturday night?

That's ancient history, right? Maybe not for those in Waco, but it's never too early to look ahead.

Here are a few Big 12 guys to look out for in the Heisman race next season.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Kelly Kline/Getty ImagesSure, he just won it. But if he returns to Baylor next season, could Robert Griffin win the Heisman two years in a row?
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor: Believe it or not, because of a medical redshirt for a 2009 torn ACL, RGIII has another year of eligibility remaining. The reigning Heisman winner will have to decide whether he wants to enter the draft this year, and if he doesn't he'll play next season without 1,500-yard receiver Kendall Wright. Still, he'd be near the top of the list next year if he decided to bid for a repeat.

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein developed some big-time momentum as a second-tier Heisman candidate late this season, and he could carry that over into 2012. He got better and better as a passer as the season went on, and he'll have some big-time name recognition if the Wildcats can knock off Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl in prime time on Jan. 6. His 26 rushing touchdowns are a big, big number. The only player with more this season was Heisman finalist Montee Ball of Wisconsin. K-State brings back a lot from a 10-win team this season that could knock on the door of next year's preseason top 10.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones was the favorite entering 2011, but late losses and a lack of touchdowns knocked him out of the race. Jones will have to decide whether he wants to come back, but after a rough finish and plenty to stay for, I'm betting he returns. He won't have his top receiver, Ryan Broyles, and it'll be interesting to see how the BellDozer formation fits into Oklahoma's offense next season. Either way, Jones is one of the nation's most talented QBs playing for a national power. He'll be in the conversation.

Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: Randle quietly put together a season on par with any running back in the Big 12, and as Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon leave, he'll emerge as the biggest name and most reliable talent for OSU next season. How many people realize Randle ran for 23 touchdowns this season? Only three players in the FBS had more, and he added 1,193 yards to finish third in the Big 12. He averaged over 6 yards a carry this season and will probably get even more touches while OSU breaks in a new quarterback next season.

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Hey, the new guys! West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen's last four quarterbacks have been Graham Harrell, Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Smith. Not bad. Smith will be in Year 2 under Holgorsen next season after throwing for 25 touchdowns and 3,978 yards as a junior this season. The transition to the Big 12 won't be easy, but Smith could be in for a special senior season.

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas: Brown was nagged by injuries this season and will have to fight off Joe Bergeron and newcomer Johnathan Gray in the backfield next season, but he was reliable when he was healthy, and Texas' intentions are clear. Its quarterbacks didn't show a ton of potential this season, and the Longhorns are still thin at receiver. Brown will get a lot of touches and turned just 159 carries into 707 yards this season.

Who else could get a look in the Big 12 next year?
The 2011 Heisman Trophy ceremony took place Saturday night, and very few people were talking about players like Robert Griffin III or Montee Ball as serious candidates before this season. So it's ridiculously early to be speculating on 2012 candidates. But it is a lot of fun.

Wisconsin's Ball is only a junior, and if he decides to come back for his senior season he'll be one of the preseason Heisman favorites in 2012. Most expect him to make the leap to the NFL, however, and his stock might never be higher.

So we'll assume Ball does not return as we examine some other potential Big Ten Heisman candidates next season:
  • Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Well, of course. Robinson has been in the Heisman conversation in the early part of the past two years, and voters are very familiar with his abilities. A couple of things could be in his favor in 2012: He'll be a senior, and he'll enter his third year as a starter. He'll also be in the second year of Al Borges' offensive system. Robinson will have to cut down on his interceptions, develop into a better passer and compete against the insane numbers he has put up the past two seasons. But he'll definitely be on the radar if Michigan keeps winning under Brady Hoke.
  • Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead: Burkhead blossomed into a star this season, rushing for 1,268 yards and 15 touchdowns, and is expected to come back for his senior season. He might not always be flashy, but few backs run harder. If Nebraska can have a big season, he can get into the mix, along with possibly his backfield mate, quarterback Taylor Martinez.
  • Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: It's probably wildly unfair to put Miller on this list. He'll only be a sophomore and will be learning a new system. But he did show signs of stardom as a rookie, and now he'll be showcased in Urban Meyer's spread system. Next season is likely too soon for Miller to make many Heisman waves, but don't be surprised if he's competing for the statue before his career in Columbus is over.
Others to watch: Iowa's James Vandenberg and Marcus Coker; Penn State's Silas Redd; Wisconsin's James White.

Too-early Pac-12 Heisman look

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
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At this time last year, no one saw Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as a top 2011 Heisman Trophy candidate, mostly because everyone thought he'd already be in the NFL.

Instead, he opted to return for his redshirt junior year, spent much of the season as the prohibitive Heisman favorite but finished second to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III on Saturday.

If any of you are worried about Luck being crushed by disappointment, we'd like to reassure you that things will likely be OK for him. Something is sure to come up in terms of career options, we suspect. We hear he's got some real talent as an architect.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireMatt Barkley could be next year's Heisman Trophy favorite if he decides to return to USC for another season.
Anyhow, our short list of potential 2012 Pac-12 Heisman candidates includes three that we suspect are headed into the NFL draft this spring. But we trust that you will be able to swipe them off your own list if they should make such an announcement before the Jan. 15 deadline.

Matt Barkley, QB, USC: If Barkley returns for his senior year, he will be on everyone's preseason shortlist. He might even be considered the favorite. He'd have a high-profile team that should win, plenty of name recognition, and a supporting cast that could help him put up big numbers.

LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: Most would project James entering the NFL draft. But perhaps this will intrigue him: If he returns for his senior year and produces a fourth consecutive 1,500-yard season, he'd become the conference's all-time leading rusher, easily breaking USC's Charles White's 6,245 mark, set from 1976-79. That also, of course, would probably get him another invitation to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Robert Woods, WR, USC: Woods will be a consensus preseason All-American. If Barkley comes back, Woods likely would play second fiddle. But if Barkley leaves, Woods still figures to put up good numbers, even with a first-year starter at quarterback. On the downside -- which is really an upside -- fellow receiver, sophomore Marqise Lee, is also an All-American candidate.

De'Anthony Thomas, WR/RB, Oregon: Thomas was just freak-show good in so many different ways in 2011 as a true freshman that he seems almost certain to become a Heisman candidate. In fact, he might be the most likely player on this list to get invited to New York because he's definitely coming back and a lot of folks already know who he is.

Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk is likely off to the NFL, but if he opts to return he and quarterback Keith Price would make plenty of preseason Heisman lists. Polk should put up big numbers as a rusher but his ability as a receiver would also give him a chance to put up big numbers. The Huskies will need to take another step in terms of win-loss record, though, for his candidacy to gain any momentum.

Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State: Wilson has been highly productive for two seasons. But what if new coach Mike Leach helps him put up ludicrous numbers and the Cougars start winning? Hey, you never know.

Too-early Irish Heisman look

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
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A defensive player was in New York for Saturday's Heisman Trophy presentation. That has to be a start, right? The next day, one decision by a prominent defensive junior gave Notre Dame an outside shot at a 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate.

Manti Te'o: The inside linebacker leads the Irish this season in tackles (115), tackles for loss (13) and sacks (4.5). For his career, Te'o has 311 tackles, 28 tackles for loss and 6 sacks. He would have likely been a first-round pick had he jumped to the NFL after this season. Notre Dame's schedule next season is loaded and expectations probably won't be what they usually are in South Bend, Ind., making this a longshot. But the season is a year away, and who honestly thought Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton would win the award before the 2011 or 2010 seasons?

Too-early ACC Heisman look

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
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There was a point this year when the ACC had a legitimate contender for Heisman Trophy. Clemson was 8-0, and quarterback Tajh Boyd had played his way into ESPN.com's weekly Heisman watch. If he did it in his first season as a starter, there's no reason to think he can't do it in his second season. The good news for the ACC? Boyd shouldn't be the only one. Here's a way-too-early look at the ACC's top Heisman hopefuls heading into 2012:

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneDavid Wilson will be a top Heisman candidate next season is he doesn't declare for the NFL draft.
1. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd: With so much young talent surrounding him and offensive coordinator Chad Morris getting a recent contract extension, the Tigers should continue to put up some impressive numbers. Boyd obviously has to stay healthy, but when he was at his best this year, so was Clemson. Boyd has established Clemson records for passing yards (3,578), total offense (3,764), touchdown passes (31) and touchdown responsibility (36) this year.

2. Virginia Tech running back David Wilson: This, of course, depends on whether Wilson sticks around or decides to leave early for the NFL draft. Wilson said he wants to come back, but in the same breath didn't sound so sure. Wilson was the ACC Player of the Year, as voted on by the media, and has rushed for 1,627 yards and nine touchdowns heading into the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He is No. 7 in the country with 125.15 rushing yards per game. He is No. 24 on Todd McShay's latest top 32.

3. Miami running back Lamar Miller: Here's another one who might jump early to the NFL draft. If he does, it will be devastating to Miami's offense. Miller finished second in the ACC in rushing with 106 yards per game, 1,272 yards and nine touchdowns. He is No. 30 on McShay's top 32. Both Miller and Wilson are listed among NFL.com's top 10 running backs.

Don't forget about: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins, Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas.

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