Last week, ESPN’s KC Joyner wrote about his eight off-the-radar Heisman candidates and drew some attention with his mentions of Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson and Florida quarterback John Brantley.
Wilson wasn’t much of a reach, but Brantley's mention confused some. I can understand that. Brantley had a miserable season last year and didn't look spectacular this spring. But with a new offense that fits his talents, Brantley is sure to put up better numbers this fall.
Joyner's piece got me to thinking about a few players in the SEC who could also be considered off-the-radar Heisman candidates.
Could one of these athletes be the next Cam Newton?
Jeff Demps, RB, Florida: A year ago, he was considered an outright Heisman candidate, but was ineffective for most of the season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot early in the season. This fall, he won't be asked to carry the ball 20 times and the pressure will be off him. He'll be used in space and won't be so beat up this fall. A healthy, rested Demps is a dangerous Demps. He has had carries for 60-plus yards four times in his career, including a long of 72 and his coaches will look to put him in situations where he can get to the outside and use that world-class speed to beat defenders.
Caleb King, RB, Georgia: King could be really off the radar. He might not even be the starter by the midpoint of the season if incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell has his way. But this is King's final ride in a Bulldogs uniform and he'll start the season as the go-to -guy in Georgia's backfield. He has the skill to be a top back in the league, but he has to get over the hump of underachieving. If King excels, he could be the key to helping this team compete for a SEC East title.
Jordan Jefferson, QB, LSU: Like Brantley, Jefferson's numbers were laughable in 2010. But he has a new offensive coordinator in Steve Kragthorpe, who worked tirelessly with him to improve his mechanics and presence. Head coach Les Miles said Jefferson had the best spring of his career at LSU, but the jury is still out on what he could do this fall. There are adequate weapons around him who should put up solid numbers and his maturity isn’t in question. If Jefferson is as improved as LSU's camp says he is, the Tigers will be right in the thick of the SEC West title until the very end.
Chris Relf, QB, Mississippi State: Relf is probably the most athletic quarterback in the SEC. He passed for 1,789 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing for 713 yards and five more scores. Relf ended the 2010 season with a lot of passing momentum by throwing for more than 200 yards in each of his last three games, after passing for more than 200 yards just once before that. The Bulldogs are a trendy pick in the West and Relf is the guy who will put a lot of the offense on his shoulders. If he can keep improving as a passer, he'll put up good numbers with the wealth of receiving talent around him.
Stephen Garcia, QB, South Carolina: You could argue that at one point he was just a regular Heisman candidate. However, with his spring suspension and the uncertainty of what he could do off the field, Garcia is stuck in this category. If Garcia can finally step up as a true leader for his team and cut down on some of his crippling mistakes, he could be get into the Heisman conversation. Garcia has to prove that he’s a changed individual away from the field as well.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: Hunter didn't catch a boatload of passes last season, but when he did, he seemed to always make a beeline toward the end zone. Of his 16 receptions, seven went for touchdowns, including a long of 80 yards. He's going to be a top target for quarterback Tyler Bray and will have more opportunities to make plays now that he's moved up the depth chart.