- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's campaign season, and across the blog network we're looking at college football players around the nation who will be officially announcing their Heisman candidacies. Here's a look at the top three Pac-12 players in the mix.
Matt Barkley, QB, USC
2011 numbers: Completed 308 of 446 passes for a 69.1 completion percentage. Tossed 39 touchdowns to just seven interceptions and totaled 3,528 yards.
Why he'll win: He's arguably the best quarterback in the country -- and the Heisman folks love quarterbacks -- with the best wide receiver duo in the country to throw to. USC checks in as a preseason top-five team and is expected to have one of the best offenses in the nation. Pair that with an emotional declaration of "unfinished business" and a potential national championship run and you have the perfect candidate wrapped up in a 6-foot-2, 230-pound package. The expiration of USC's postseason ban will also help Barkley get a little more exposure after the Trojans were an afterthought for much of last season.
Why he won't: It seems like being the preseason favorite is the kiss of death these days. Right, wrong or indifferent, Barkley is going to draw comparisons to another preseason favorite who came up short two years in a row: Andrew Luck. Both had comparable numbers and both surprised folks a bit when announcing they'd return for another year. The hype machine went into overdrive for Luck -- as it has for Barkley -- and by the middle of November, voters were looking for something fresh and different.
Campaign slogan: "Back to Business."
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
2011 numbers: Rushed for 595 yards on 55 carries and seven touchdowns. Caught 46 balls for 605 yards and nine touchdowns. Returned 36 kicks for 983 yards and two touchdowns.
Why he'll win: Thomas might be the most electrifying player in college football with his versatility as a back, receiver and returner. Every time he touches the football he's a highlight waiting to happen. He led the Pac-12 in kick returns, and when you factor in whatever contributions he'll make in the running and passing game, he has a good chance to gain more than 3,000 total yards. Tough to argue with that kind of production.
Why he won't: Heisman voters love to organize players into neat and tidy packages -- something that can be defined. Thomas is tough to define. Is he a running back? A wide receiver? All of the above doesn't typically sit well with voters. While his overall numbers might be staggering, his individual rushing or receiving numbers alone might not be enough to sway some folks. Being a sophomore doesn't help, either.
Campaign slogan: "Catch me if you can. (But you can't)"
Keith Price, QB, Washington
2011 numbers: Completed 242 of 362 attempts for a 66.9 completion percentage. Tossed 33 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and totaled 3,063 yards.
Why he'll win: If he manages to keep pace statistically with some of the other top quarterbacks in the country through a grueling six-week stretch to start the season, he'll make it awfully tough for people to ignore him. The last time folks saw him, he was upstaging Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. While the game was defensively nauseating, it was a veritable Smorgasbord of offense. Price made quite the impression. Now it's up to him to keep it going.
Why he won't: That same schedule that could propel him from dark horse candidate to legitimate contender could also sink his candidacy before it ever really gets off the ground. Three top-five teams in the first six weeks, and a potential top-15 team in Stanford means Price will have to be at his best early to make any sort of impression. Plus, he's going to have to prove he's the best quarterback in the conference (not easy with Mr. Barkley lingering) before he can prove he's the best player in the nation.
Campaign slogan: "Like RG3, but don't call me KP1."