Kevin Gemmell: The toughest thing about being a dark horse is that you not only have to exceed expectations -- but you have to exceed them so gloriously that you're able to leap those perceived to be ahead of you.
Stanford's schedule could lend itself to a late Heisman Trophy charge for QB Kevin Hogan.
For starters he's a quarterback, which is always helpful. And he'll begin the season in a fortuitous position. His Cardinal will likely enter the season ranked in the top 5 (we haven't done our preseason top 25 yet, but I'm strongly considering them for the top 3 -- or higher). He'll have an outstanding offensive line to keep him upright, a stellar defense watching his back and, if some of the wide receivers and tight ends develop, nice receiving weapons to go with a solid stable of running backs.
But the most important factor for Hogan is the schedule. The Cardinal have some tough games early -- home to Washington and UCLA, at Pullman and Salt Lake City. But the schedule really ramps up in the home stretch with consecutive games against Oregon, at USC and home against Cal and Notre Dame to close out the season. That's right about the time flip-flopping Heisman voters will really start to buckle down and narrow their candidates. If the Cardinal are 8-0 heading into those games, Hogan will be more than a blip on the Heisman radar.
Hogan will have the chance to play, potentially, two top-15 teams and one top-5 team in the final four weeks. Even with above average numbers going into those games, four wins could propel him beyond the front-runners and on a plane to New York.
We know he has the mental chops. After all, he won at Autzen -- in his first road start no less. Know how tough that is? Only one other quarterback did it during the Chip Kelly era. The other was Matt Barkley.
People are likely taking a wait-and-see approach to Hogan. And it won't be easy. Stanford's offense doesn't lend itself to video game numbers like some of the spread offenses. But the pieces and schedule are in place for him to make a late-season run and snatch the Heisman from the hands of the front-runner du jour.
Ted Miller: A lot goes into a Heisman campaign. Numbers are Point A -- a guy has to impress with production. Winning is critical. It's nearly impossible to win the Heisman playing for a 3-9 team. Heisman moments help -- big plays against good teams. Being fancy can't hurt.
And overcoming horrible adversity also moves voters.
Arizona State running back Marion Grice could touch all those bases in 2013.
Grice, a 6-foot, 199-pound senior, is a dual-threat back. In 2012, he rushed for 679 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry, and he caught 41 passes for 425 yards, 10.4 per yards per reception. He also had an undeniable nose for the end zone, producing 11 rushing TDs and eight receiving scores, a total that led the nation for running backs.
The junior college transfer also surged late in the season with 315 yards rushing and five touchdowns in the final two games, winning MVP honors for both the Territorial Cup victory against rival Arizona and in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Further, Grice played in the bowl game just over a week after his brother was shot and killed in Houston during a robbery attempt where two men tried to steal a pair of new Air Jordans from Grice's brother and a friend. That required fortitude. Grice's success in 2013 could produce an inspiring story for people, particularly those who have also experienced family tragedies.
Arizona State could -- should -- start the season with a top-25 ranking. It will certainly be a favorite in the Pac-12's South Division, along with UCLA. Winning the division would mean a puncher's shot at the Rose Bowl, though the going could be tough against the North Division champ.
Still, what if Grice produces 2,000 all-purpose yards and 25 touchdowns? He is probably going to have to share the ball with the talented D.J. Foster in the backfield, but Grice still could get 1,200 or so yards rushing with his receiving numbers going up steeply with an experienced and productive quarterback in Taylor Kelly.
If the Sun Devils get on a roll with Grice leading the charge, he could quickly become a national story, one that would appeal to voters on many levels.