NCF Nation: Heisman watch 083110

Pac-10 Heisman list

August, 31, 2010
The Heisman Pundit website has been around a long time -- at least in Internet years -- and is widely seen as an expert on how the selection process for the Heisman Trophy goes.

You can read its "10 HEISMANDMENTS" here and see its preseason Heisman Poll here.

On Tuesdays going forward, we're going to have a Heisman update post. But we thought it would be a good idea to put together a preseason top-10.

So here we go.

1. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Rodgers is the most accomplished player in the Pac-10, therefore he has good name recognition. The key for him is putting up big numbers in the rugged nonconference schedule -- TCU and Boise State -- to create momentum.

2. Jake Locker, QB, Washington: He's got the name recognition. He's got help on offense. He's got a marquee schedule. But can he win enough to stay front-and-center? Big numbers in an upset win over Nebraska and its tough defense would be his launching point.

3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: The top talent on what most feel is the team that will win the Pac-10. Also, he's a great home run threat, which means good things for a highlight package. Problem: His backup Kenjon Barner is really good, too, and will get plenty of touches.

4. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: He's got the talent and name recognition. Toby Gerhart proved last year that a Stanford player on a good but not great team could nearly win the Heisman. So big numbers for Luck could land him in the race.

5. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Foles looks primed to make a big jump this year with a veteran supporting cast. If he throws for 300 yards and a few touchdowns in an upset win over Iowa, he'd make more than a few lists.

6. Matt Barkley, QB, USC: Typically the USC quarterback makes the list because he's the USC quarterback. But that might work against Barkley this fall. Still, he's a major talent with lots of weapons, and the Trojans play a favorable schedule. If the wins are piling up as the Trojans surge in the AP poll, Barkley could start to make some lists.

7. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State: His brother gets more publicity but most recognize that James Rodgers is just as valuable to the Beavers. He's always been an elusive playmaker with the ball in his hands, but he's also become a polished receiver. And guess what: quarterback Ryan Katz throws a pretty deep ball. If James Rodgers catches a couple vs. TCU and Boise State, he could make a push.

8. Shane Vereen, RB, California: What if Cal is better than people think? If quarterback Kevin Riley forces defenses to play honest, Vereen could roll up some big numbers. And that could generate some momentum. If you want a comparison from the Bay Area: Recall Gerhart's candidacy.

9. Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk is a physical runner with good speed. He breaks tackles and he can scoot away from a defense. Obviously, his candidacy is a long shot because of Locker. But what if Locker's numbers are merely good while Polk runs for 1,700 yards and 25 touchdowns? It also would help that the return of the Huskies to respectability is a good story.

10. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: He's the Trojans' best deep threat. He's a long shot. But if he starts to make highlight-reel plays on a regular basis, who knows?

Big Ten's Heisman contenders

August, 31, 2010
It has felt like an eternity since Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith hoisted the Heisman Trophy in December 2006. The Big Ten was on top of the college football world back then, as Ohio State seemed destined for a national title. We all know what happened next, as the Big Ten endured struggles in big games. The league also didn't produce any legit Heisman contenders in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

Things could change this fall, as several Big Ten players could be in the mix for college football's top award.

Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: Pryor certainly lacks the numbers to be considered one of the nation's elite players, but he boasts tremendous skills. Most important, he always generates hype, earning back-to-back Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year awards. After winning Offensive MVP honors in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, Pryor looks ready to take the next step in his development. He boasts a 19-3 record as Ohio State's starter and should play in a more expanded offense this year. A big performance in Week 2 against Miami would boost Pryor's Heisman hopes.

Wisconsin RB John Clay: The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has been somewhat overlooked in the preseason, but things could change when the games get started. After leading the Big Ten and ranking 12th nationally in rushing average (116.7 ypg) in 2009, Clay is poised for a huge junior season. He'll run behind arguably the nation's best offensive line, and he should be more durable following offseason surgeries to correct nagging ankle problems.

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn: Although he plays a different position, Clayborn already is drawing some comparisons to former Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh, who put defensive linemen on the national map in 2009. He's a disruptive force inside who won MVP honors at the Orange Bowl after dominating Georgia Tech's offensive line. Clayborn also has the hype factor going for him as his name and face are known around the country.

Penn State RB Evan Royster: As a young quarterback steps in for the Nittany Lions, Royster likely will take on an enhanced role this fall. He figures to get more carries as he chases Curt Warner's team career rushing record (only 481 yards away). Royster has eclipsed 1,100 rushing yards in each of the last two seasons. A big performance against Alabama and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in Week 2 would really help his candidacy.

Heisman candidates in the Big East

August, 31, 2010
The last Heisman Trophy winner from the Big East was Miami's Gino Torretta in 1992. The last player from a current Big East school to win college football's big prize was Pitt's Tony Dorsett in 1976.

So you're bucking history if you think a Big East player will win the Heisman this season. Yet there are some good candidates to at least get to New York from the league this year. Let's take a look at each.

Dion Lewis, running back, Pitt: Lewis is the nation's leading returning rusher, and he's on the team that is the Big East preseason's favorite. The question is whether he can repeat or exceed last year's 1,799 yards, especially with a rebuilt offensive line.

Noel Devine, running back, West Virginia: Nobody creates better highlights than Devine, and that's something the voters live. He'll have to do better than last year's 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns, and the Mountaineers will need a big season. But he has the name recognition already.

Zach Collaros, quarterback, Cincinnati: Collaros played at an amazing level during four starts last year, completing 78 percent of his passes. He could put up video-game numbers in Butch Jones' high-tempo offense, but the Bearcats will have to remain a national contender.

Jon Baldwin, wide receiver, Pitt: There may not be a more gifted wideout in the country, and Baldwin should get even more looks this year. But if Larry Fitzgerald couldn't win the Heisman with the final year he had in a Pitt uniform, you've got to wonder if any receiver can these days.

I didn't include Jordan Todman -- he might have a huge year but it's nearly impossible to imagine a UConn player winning the Heisman -- or Tom Savage or B.J. Daniels -- too young, overall offense too inconsistent.

The Big 12's Heisman contenders

August, 31, 2010
Unlike the past three seasons, the Big 12 doesn't seem likely to send a representative or two to New York as a finalist for the Heisman. But here's a few players who have a shot to throw their name into contention soon.

1) Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M: Likely the most outstanding of the Big 12 quarterbacks, Johnson needs at least 10 wins to become a finalist. And Heisman contenders are perhaps too often judged against themselves, so he'll need to surpass his almost 3,600 yards and 30 touchdowns from 2009. Doing all three won't be easy.

2) Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Landry Jones is an excellent quarterback to make a big jump, but listing him at No. 2 in the Big 12 among Heisman contenders is somewhat of a token gesture. Quarterbacks like Jake Locker at Washington, Kellen Moore at Boise State, Ryan Mallett at Arkansas and Case Keenum at Houston might have better seasons than Jones, but history has shown us that quarterbacks who win 11+ games at a national power, throw for 25+ touchdowns and over 3,000 yards get Heisman buzz. Jones fits that formula.

3) Garrett Gilbert, QB, Texas: See Jones, Landry. Gilbert winning would have been unthinkable five years ago, but Jones and Gilbert could be the fourth consecutive sophomores to win the Heisman.

4) DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma: Bob Stoops might be the only one who thinks DeMarco Murray can rush for 1,900 yards this season. But it sounds like Stoops will give him enough carries to do it, and if he stays healthy and follows through on Stoops' forecast, Murray will be a top contender for the trophy.

5) Roy Helu Jr., RB, Nebraska: Helu doesn't have Murray's name recognition, but he's been more productive for the past two seasons. Now that Nebraska finds itself in the top 10, if Helu can hold off talented sophomore teammate Rex Burkhead for touches, rush for around 1,500 yards and lead the Huskers to a Big 12 title, he'll punch a ticket to New York.

6) Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: Gabbert should have the pedigree and production to become Missouri's second consecutive Heisman-finalist quarterback, and passes the eye test easily for national pundits. But it'll take an upset of Nebraska in Lincoln and a big-time coming out party (a la Jerrod Johnson vs. Texas in 2009) in the Big 12 title game for Gabbert to head to New York the following week.

And for the record, my Week 1 ballot for ESPN's weekly Heisman Watch looks like this:

1) Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
2) Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
3) Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State
4) Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
5) Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

ACC Heisman contenders

August, 31, 2010
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder has been getting a lot of the Heisman hype this offseason, but he’s hardly the ACC's only viable candidate for college football’s most prestigious award. Of course, in order for anyone to have a legitimate shot at it, he has to be playing for a winning team. In fact, he probably has to win the ACC title. Based on talent alone, though, here are the ACC’s top Heisman candidates:

FSU quarterback Christian Ponder: He led the ACC with 321.8 yards per game, despite missing the final four games with a shoulder injury. He finished with 2,717 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams: He rushed for a school-record 1,655 yards, also an ACC freshman record. He scored 22 touchdowns, including 21 rushing – ACC records for both. The 21 rushing touchdowns tied an NCAA record for a freshman.

N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson: He led the ACC and ranked fourth nationally last season with 31 touchdown passes. He had 3,287 yards of total offense in 2009, the third-best mark in school history. He ranked third in the ACC in passing efficiency with 137.8.

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris: He has to cut down on his 17 interceptions, but he threw for more than 3,000 yards last season and 24 touchdowns. He ranked third in the ACC in passing average per game with 263.7.

Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt: He is the most prolific rushing quarterback in school history (2,079 yards), and needs 739 more to become the top rushing quarterback in ACC history. The question is whether or not voters will hold Paul Johnson’s spread option offense against him, but the Jackets are expected to pass the ball more this season. The website will be unveiled at 2 p.m. today. More on that later.

SEC Heisman Trophy watch

August, 31, 2010
The Heisman Trophy returned to the SEC last season when running back Mark Ingram became the first player in Alabama history to win college football’s most prestigious individual award.

It was also the second time in the last three years that an SEC player had won the Heisman. Florida’s Tim Tebow won it in 2007.

Overall, nine SEC players have won the Heisman Trophy. Florida leads the way with three winners – Danny Wuerffel, Steve Spurrier and Tebow.

Never has the SEC produced the Heisman Trophy winner in back-to-back years. Maybe this is the year.

Here’s a look at the SEC players who have a chance to be in the race this season. They’re listed alphabetically:

John Brantley, QB, Florida: Yes, he’s never taken what you’d call a meaningful snap in a college game. And, yes, he’s taking over for a legend. But Brantley can really throw the football, and the Gators are going to gear what they do offensively around his strengths. He’s going to put up big numbers, and Florida’s going to win a bunch of games. So you never know.

A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: Green is the most dynamic offensive player in the SEC, which makes it puzzling when you see Heisman lists that don’t include his name as a candidate. It’s a fact that receivers rarely win this award. But Green was off to a record-breaking start last season before getting hurt. If he can stay healthy this season, don’t count him out.

Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: History is working against Ingram. Archie Griffin is the only two-time winner of the award, and that was back in 1974 and 1975. Plus, Trent Richardson may get even more carries this season. But Ingram is on everybody’s radar now, and if he has similar numbers as a year ago and Alabama has a similar season, he’ll be right there in the thick of the race.

Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: After throwing for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdown passes a year ago in his SEC debut, Mallett should be even better the second time around. So should his team. If he improves on those numbers and the Hogs end up winning the West or at least making a run, he will get some serious consideration. Other than Ingram, Mallett is the SEC’s best hope this season.

Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Ole Miss: This may be a stretch, especially with Nathan Stanley in the equation and Masoli still needing a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible. But if Masoli puts up the same kind of numbers he did at Oregon last season and leads Ole Miss to nine or more victories, he’ll get some attention.

Notre Dame's Heisman candidates

August, 31, 2010
Notre Dame hasn't had a Heisman Trophy winner since Tim Brown in 1987. Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate each entered the discussion during last season, but the team's second-half collapse prevented either from serious consideration.

Odds are heavily against the Irish producing a Heisman winner or even a finalist this season. But it's Notre Dame, so if the team is good and a player has a remarkable season, the attention on the program will help his cause. Here are Notre Dame's two potential, albeit long-shot, candidates in 2010:

Dayne Crist, QB

Pro: Crist will play in a very quarterback-friendly offense. Brian Kelly's signal callers at Cincinnati put up huge numbers, and Tony Pike likely would have been a major candidate last year had he stayed healthy. Crist has plenty of receiving targets and has a big arm. He's the quarterback at Notre Dame.

Cons: Crist has never started a game in college. He's coming off major knee surgery. He's learning a new offense. Those factors make it hard to believe he'll top Clausen's numbers from '09, much less contend for the Heisman.

Michael Floyd, WR

Pro: Floyd is one of the most talented receivers in the country. He's a matchup nightmare who put up big stats when healthy a year ago. Kelly said Floyd worked harder than anyone in the offseason. He is in a prolific passing offense.

Con: It has become exceedingly difficult for receivers to win the Heisman, especially ones who do not return kicks or punts like Brown did. Floyd has yet to stay healthy for an entire season.