Big 12 should be loaded again with Heisman contenders

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 and Heisman Trophy winners have gone together like peanut butter and jelly during the conference's history.

The conference has produced more Heisman winners than any other conference during the past 13 seasons, including Sam Bradford's victory last season. And more of the same might be expected as Bradford and 2008 runner-up Colt McCoy both are back for another season.

It would be hard for the Big 12 top its unprecedented Heisman success when it made history last season with four of the final top five finishers when Graham Harrell finished fourth and Michael Crabtree fifth.

Bradford will be bidding to become only the second player in history to win back-to-back Heismans, joining Archie Griffin in 1974-75. He'll also have to beat out 2007 winner Tim Tebow, who placed third last season and then won the national championship after beating the Sooners less than a month after the Heisman presentation in the BCS National Championship Game.

McCoy is coming into the season after a phenomenal junior year and unprecedented excitement in the Longhorns' upcoming season.

But they aren't alone. A case could be made of any of five potential strong Heisman candidates in the Big 12 this season with a big season and a little luck.

Here's how I rank Big 12 players with a legitimate chance to make a trip to the Heisman presentation in New York City this December.

1. Texas QB Colt McCoy: If McCoy posts the huge numbers and leads his team into the BCS championship game, he might become the first Texas quarterback to win the Heisman. He didn't miss by much last season and again should be his team's top passing and rushing threat.

2. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford: Despite last season's Heisman, Bradford has returned driven for another season after he turned down NFL millions to return for another shot at the national championship. But it might be hard for Bradford to match his monster numbers from last season, considering he'll have four new starting offensive linemen protecting him.

3. Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant: The nation's returning leader in receiving yards per game can catch the attention of Heisman voters with a huge opener against Georgia. If he sparks the Cowboys' run into BCS contention as a receiver and returner, he might sneak his way into Heisman contention.

4. Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter: The Big 12's leading rusher last season has always had a knack for coming up with his biggest games against his toughest opponents. A big season could enable Hunter to change the growing national notion that the Big 12 is evolving into a pass-only conference.

5. Kansas QB Todd Reesing: The senior quarterback has quietly has become the most statistically proficient quarterback in school history. Leading his team to a Big 12 title might enable him to snatch some of the attention away from McCoy and Bradford with another huge season.