NCF Nation: Heisman contenders 090812

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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Eight players from the SEC have won the Heisman Trophy, college football's most-coveted individual prize.

Will that exclusive club add a member this season?

Of course, if Florida's Tim Tebow wins it again, as he did in 2007 as a sophomore, he would join Ohio State's Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner of the award.

Here are the four players in the SEC who have the best chance this season (listed alphabetically):

Safety Eric Berry, Tennessee: He might be the best defensive back in the country. He might be the best defensive player in the country. How ironic would it be if Berry were to become only the second defensive player in history to win the Heisman Trophy? The first time it happened still causes great pain and anguish on Rocky Top. Charles Woodson wrested the trophy away from the Vols' beloved Peyton Manning 12 years ago. Berry's the kind of electric player who will catch the voters' attention. But to have a fighting chance, he will need huge interception numbers, a few highlight-reel plays on special teams and/or offense and the Vols to win at least nine games. He's a long shot for sure, but so was Woodson at the start of the 1997 season.

Receiver Julio Jones, Alabama: OK, Jones probably won't have the numbers to make a serious run. Then again, look at what he did last season as a freshman despite the kind of injuries that would have sidelined a lot of players. The Crimson Tide plan to move him around more this season to make it difficult for teams to double-team him. What kind of shot does he really have? Put it this way: If the Heisman Trophy is truly about the nation's most outstanding college football player, then Jones ought to at least be in that conversation. The next time he goes down on the initial hit in a one-on-one situation will be the first time.

Quarterback Jevan Snead, Ole Miss: If Snead plays the entire season the way he ended last season, look out. He threw 16 touchdown passes and only three interceptions during Ole Miss' six-game winning streak, which was capped by the 47-34 beatdown of Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Snead will need some help to be a serious candidate, as in the Rebels living up to their lofty billing and getting to the SEC championship game for the first time in their history. A Tebow vs. Snead showdown in Atlanta would be a lot of fun. Round 1 went to Snead last season in the Swamp.

Quarterback Tim Tebow, Florida: Going into the season, Tebow's as good a bet as any to be holding the statue come December. If he gets the Gators back to the BCS National Championship Game and puts up comparable statistics as a year ago (he passed for 30 touchdowns, ran for 12 touchdowns and only threw four interceptions), somebody's going to have to have a monster season to beat him out. The way Tebow outdueled 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford in the BCS National Championship Game last season shouldn't do anything but help Tebow's cause. This is his chance to punctuate his legacy as one of the greatest college football players of all-time.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ever since Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy in 2006, the Big Ten has been mostly absent from the discussion about college football's most coveted award. No Big Ten player finished in the top 10 in voting in 2007, when Florida's Tim Tebow won the trophy. Iowa running back Shonn Greene finished sixth in voting last year, while Michigan State running back Javon Ringer came in 10th.

Will the Big Ten have a horse in the Heisman race this fall?

Most prognosticators are overlooking the league's stars, and unfortunately, this award has more to do with preseason hype than anything else. But keep your eyes on these potential candidates.

Penn State QB Daryll Clark -- A first-team All-Big Ten selection last year, Clark did a fabulous job in leading Penn State to the Rose Bowl. By all accounts, he has gotten even better during the offseason. He faces an uphill climb in the Heisman race, however, because of Penn State's soft schedule. Clark must put up big numbers each and every time he steps on the field this fall. He also needs Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State to start strong so his performances against those teams would gain more national recognition.

Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor -- Pryor might be the Big Ten's best candidate for the Heisman, even though Clark is the more accomplished quarterback. Everyone in the country knows Pryor because of his hype during the recruiting process and his ascent to the Buckeyes starting job last year. Plus, Pryor gets an early chance to make a national statement when Ohio State faces USC on Sept. 12. Pryor needs a huge performance against the Trojans to have any shot at the Heisman, but he's a much improved player and will be watched throughout the season.

Penn State RB Evan Royster -- The big question will be how many carries Royster receives. He did major damage last fall despite limited carries and is the Big Ten's leading returning rusher. If Penn State feeds him often and he puts up big numbers every Saturday, he could make his way onto the Heisman radar. As with Clark, Royster will be fighting the schedule issue and likely won't be left on the field when a game is out of reach.

Illinois WR Arrelious Benn -- Like Pryor, Benn is a known name not only in Big Ten circles, but around the country. He was a big-time recruit who has matched the hype so far, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2007 and eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards last year. Benn needs another huge year this fall to have any shot, and his touchdowns total must go way up.

ACC's Heisman hopefuls

August, 12, 2009
8/12/09
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

One of the knocks on the ACC has been its lack of many true Heisman-caliber quarterbacks, and while the league should improve noticeably at the position this fall with so many starters returning, it's not where the national spotlight will be when it comes to legitimate Heisman candidates. The country is loaded with possibilities for college football's most prestigious award, and two of them can be found in the ACC. Only two though. Here's a look at the players who have the most realistic chance at winning the 2009 Heisman Trophy:

1. C.J. Spiller, Clemson -- What separates Spiller from Dwyer is his versatility. Last year, Spiller was first in all-purpose yards, second in kickoff return yards, second in punt returns, third in touchdowns, and second among ACC running backs in catches per game. He led ACC running backs last year in receiving yards with 436, a school single-season record. With James Davis gone, it's Spiller's time to shine, and the offensive line should help him do that. He's got to be the center of the offense, though, and have a 1,000-yard season to even be considered.

2. Jonathan Dwyer , Georgia Tech -- While Spiller's carries are going to increase, Dwyer's might actually decrease this fall because of how deep the Jackets' backfield is. That doesn't mean, though, that Dwyer's yards per carry won't increase, and that would be a wow-stat if it did because Dwyer averaged seven yards per carry in 2008. Dwyer is the reigning ACC Player of the Year. He's the Preseason Player of the Year. He the league in rushing last season with 1,395 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, and should be even better know that he is more comfortable in Paul Johnson's offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Jahvid Best, RB, California: He's the West Coast's top candidate and probably the No. 1 running back in the nation. And he's often spectacular, see an 8.1 yards per carry average and seven runs of of 60 or more yards.

Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon: He was brilliant over the final three games of the 2008 season, completing 50 of 75 (67 percent) passes for 830 yards and six touchdowns with one interception. He also rushed 38 times for 248 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and seven scores. What happens if that's his standard in 2009?

Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: He was the 2008 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman and was the key player in the Beavers upset of USC. If Oregon State makes a move in the polls, and Rodgers is doing his thing, his name could start to generate some buzz.

The USC QB: Yeah, sound silly -- is it Aaron Corp or Matt Barkley? -- but the USC quarterback is almost always worth noting as a Heisman candidate considering two -- Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart -- have won the award since Pete Carroll took over.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Every season, a handful of players emerge as Heisman hopefuls because of their play on the field against a tough schedule, but rarely does that list include players from the non-AQs.

I'm changing that.

There are several players coming into this season who have as good a chance as Tebow, Bradford and McCoy to have stellar seasons and put themselves on the Heisman map. Here are a couple of players who fall in that category (in no specific order):

Max Hall, QB, BYU: It's been 19 years since BYU produced a Heisman trophy winner, but Hall has the schedule and the cast to make it happen. There's no doubt about Hall's arm strength and skill, but his ability to play under the pressure of big games came into question during losses to TCU and Utah. He'll have a couple of early chances against Oklahoma and Florida State to show that he belongs with the nation's elite.

Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU: A defensive player has not won the Heisman since 1997 and only two defensive linemen have ever won the award. But if Hughes can put together another stellar campaign like he did a year ago, the Horned Frogs have the schedule to get him noticed. Hughes led the nation in sacks last season and TCU led the country in rushing defense and total defense.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada: Last season, Kaepernick quietly burst on the scene after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and rushing for more than 1,000 and this year figures to be even better. Kaepernick said he's become a more accurate passer and with the ability to run circles around defenses, Kaepernick could make a quick name for himself with a strong performance in South Bend to open the season.

Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State: Wilson's return to school for his senior season will not only improve his draft status, but also give him a chance to earn some national accolades. Only one cornerback has won the Heisman -- Charles Woodson in 1997 -- and Wilson faces an uphill battle because he doesn't play as tough of a schedule as some of the other Heisman hopefuls. Still, he is the anchor of the Boise State defense and puts up the numbers to be worth a mention.

Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State: Moore, a sophomore, showed the poise of a senior last year by leading the Broncos to an undefeated regular season in what was supposed to be a down year. With several key components returning and a better offensive line, Moore stands to put up more impressive numbers, but his strength of schedule might hurt his chances to be a serious Heisman contender.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

The 2009 Heisman Trophy discussion begins and very nearly ends with Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy this preseason.

But things rarely go according to plan in the Heisman race. All three will be held to extremely high -- maybe impossibly high -- standards this season, and darkhorse candidates are sure to emerge.

So why not Jimmy Clausen?

Yes, the Notre Dame quarterback has been up and down his first two years in South Bend. But consider the factors in Clausen's favor this season:

• He's a junior and a three-year starter who should now have a great handle on Charlie Weis' offense. He did throw for 3,172 yards and 25 touchdowns last season (albeit with 17 interceptions), and those numbers should only improve.

• He's got a terrific receiving corps, including Golden Tate, Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph. (Tate himself could be a Heisman candidate, but it's very difficult for receivers to win the award; Tate would have to make highlight plays on kick returns a la Tim Brown and Rocket Ismail to stand out).

• The Irish have a schedule that's set up for them to win at least eight games and maybe make a run at a perfect season. Clausen will have a showcase game against USC at home.

• He's the Notre Dame quarterback. There are few positions in college football that offer more exposure. Publicity and hype won't be a problem if he plays well.

To be clear, Clausen is still a longshot for the Heisman race. But don't count him out completely.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Let's be real: It's going to take a near miracle for a Big East player to win the Heisman Trophy this season.

That's not a knock on the league's talent -- although the lack of advance buzz on many Big East stars will hurt. It's more a reflection of how closed this race is this season, with previous winners Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford returning along with last year's top-three finisher, Colt McCoy.

One of those guys is going to win it this year unless there's a major upset. But here are some Big East players who could at least get into the conversation if everything goes right:

Noel Devine, West Virginia: He ran for 1,289 yards last year as a sophomore and probably has the best chance of any Big East player to work his way into the Heisman mix. The Mountaineers may give him the ball more this year with Pat White not around. Devine averaged 6.3 yards per carry and is capable of churning out the kind of thrilling highlight plays that the short attention span voters love.

But he'll also have to increase his touchdown production (just four scores last year) and have West Virginia go at least 11-1. Remember that Donald Brown rushed for more than 2,000 yards and led the nation in rushing but couldn't even get an invite to New York last December.

Matt Grothe, South Florida: Has a chance to convince the voters he's a shorter version of Tim Tebow. Like Florida's star, he carries a heavy load on offense, having led his team in rushing each year. He'll become the Big East's all-time career yardage leader as soon as Week 1, and he should put up big numbers in Mike Canales' new offense. But he'll have to cut way down on the interceptions, and South Florida will likely have to run through the Big East and beat both Miami and Florida State with monster games from Grothe for him to be considered.

Tony Pike, Cincinnati: He'll have opportunities to post obscenely large stats if Brian Kelly does unleash the full fury of the offense as planned. He'd probably have to throw for more than 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns with an undefeated Bearcats season to have a realistic chance against the higher-profile quarterbacks.

Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati: It's awfully hard for a receiver to win the Heisman. Michael Crabtree wasn't invited to New York last year, and the most spectacular receiver in recent Big East history -- Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald -- came in second. Gilyard has one advantage in that he also returns kicks and does it extremely well; he averaged 27.5 yards per return and scored twice on returns last year. He'll need to have a storybook season to even get noticed.

SPONSORED HEADLINES