2012 CFB Preview Part 10: Ten (Roughly) Heisman Candidates

The Heisman Trophy is the culmination of a tremendous season that results in one player being picked above his peers who represents greatness on and off the field (unless you’re Reggie Bush). It’s a fraternity that every college player strives to be a part of with some greats as Tim Tebow, O.J Simpson, Charles Woodson, Eddie George, Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie and of course the only two-time winner, Archie Griffin. Picking the winner before the season starts is a task that requires not only estimating the level of play a player pulls off but also their team. It’s almost evolved into as much a team award as a player award although Robert Griffin III did win it last year even on a team that lost multiple games. The pick last season from me was Landry Jones. Ok, stop laughing. STOP. Seriously, he seemed like a reasonable pick going into the season given Oklahoma looked like a national title contender, he would surely (but didn’t) put up elite numbers and the Sooners QBs had previous success with the award in similar situations. So looking at the candidates in 2012, there’s a chance I’ll be off again but here are Ten Heisman Candidates for the 2012 College Football season.

If you’re a new reader or just missed a breakdown of some things we’ve covered earlier this offseason, here’s a recap at what we’ve touched on already. Feel free to comment on anything to date.

Post National Signing Day Top 25

Part 1: #’s 18-25
Part 2: #’s 9-17
Part 3: #’s 1-8

Also Parts 1-9 of the offseason preview that preceded this one can be found below:

Part 1: Ten Teams on the Rise
Part 2: Ten Teams Due For a Fall
Part 3: New Coaching Faces
Part 4: Replacing 2011′s Stars (CFB Replacements)
Part 5: Top 5 Non-AQs Not Named Boise St.
Part 6: Coaches Feeling The Heat
Part 7: Top Storylines Entering 2012
Part 8: Five Weekends to Circle
Part 9: Ranking The Conferences (#’s 11-12)
Part 9: Ranking The Conferences (#’s 9-10)
Part 9: Ranking The Conferences (#’s 7-8)
Part 9: Ranking The Conferences (#’s 5-6)
Part 9: Ranking The Conferences (#’s 3-4)
Part 9: Ranking The Conferences (#’s 1-2)

Here we go, a rundown of the give or take ten candidates that will make up the Heisman Race this season (in no order per group):

Long Shots:

Logan Thomas, QB Virginia Tech- The longest of long shots on this list, Logan Thomas has one thing going for him in 2012 and that is he will be just about the entire Virginia Tech offense with the loss of David Wilson and few certainties surrounding him. While the defense will be the strength of the Hokies per usual, Thomas will become the household name if he isn’t already. A physical specimen who still needs to improve his passing, Thomas was most notable last season in a win over Miami where his late scramble pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. Down on the goal line he’s nearly impossible to tackle one on one and much like Blake Bell on Oklahoma, should get a lot of keepers when they’re in that area. The Hokies figure to be a player in the ACC title chase which will give a boost to his chances, however he’ll need to play much better in his team’s biggest games. With another relatively weak non-conference schedule year for Virginia Tech, the bulk numbers could be there but he’ll only have a few chances for those “Heisman games” that every winner has relied on. After a 30 (combined) TD campaign with over 3000 yards passing, Thomas sits on the outskirts of Heisman contenders this year.

Potential Heisman Game: November 8th vs. Florida State

Ed Lacy, RB Alabama- A few seasons ago it was Mark Ingram winning the Heisman Trophy. Last year Trent Richardson made it as a finalist before finally losing out. While I’m not ready to claim Alabama as Wisconsin-like with their running backs, it is developing into a trend that Crimson Tide running backs perform very well for themselves. Lacy was in the shadows of Trent Richardson a year ago who went on to become a top pick of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL draft. However, he wasn’t non-existent as his 674 yards and 7 TDs will attest to accompany a staggering 7.1 YPC. In 2012 Alabama returns four of their five offensive linemen including all-conference guard Chance Warmack and AP All-American Barrett Jones, which for a team who averaged basically as many yards on the ground per game last year as through the air bodes well for Lacy. A.J McCarron may be relied on a little bit more after he showed his abilities in their national championship game victory, but make no mistake Alabama will continue to be an elite defensive team who runs the ball early. As the defending national champs, while all eyes will be on the team to back up last season’s performance, it also bodes well for Lacy who will have the nation’s attention regularly.

Potential Heisman Game: November 3rd at LSU

Denard Robinson, QB Michigan- Denard Robinson is the classic overrated player who makes a few highlight plays a season, plays on a team that could be pretty good and thus is thrown into Heisman talks. Last season that player was….well…Denard Robinson. Ironically, despite the improved Wolverines team in year one under Brady Hoke, Hoke’s style of play may have actually hurt Robinson’s Heisman prospects with a more traditional offense. Robinson would likely have a to have a Tebow-like season if he wants to emerge into a serious contender for the Heisman in 2012. He still lacks the consistency of a credible passer and like Tebow who was never a terrific passer in college is probably more of a concern with his legs to most defenses. A 20-20 TD season is probably the floor for him if he wants a shot at it because odds of him throwing 30-35 TDs are low. With that said, if his team has the type of season I’m thinking they’ll have, it may not matter anyways. Robinson and Michigan get Alabama in the season opener and if Saban has the success against him that Virginia Tech did in the Sugar Bowl, it could kill Robinson’s chances before they start who won’t play a bigger opponent all year. The first game of the year is really hard to call someone’s Heisman game though.

Potential Heisman Game: November 24th at Ohio State

Geno Smith, QB West Virginia- It’s Geno time!!! Alright, different Geno, different spelling. However the West Virginia faithful will be as excited for their Geno as Celtics fans are for theirs. Smith comes back off a monster Orange Bowl performance where each TD seemed to represent a personal message to me after my boastful guarantee of a Clemson victory. Last season Geno Smith was tremendous throwing for just under 4400 yards and 31 TDs, all the while in a Big East conference that doesn’t lend itself to the shootouts West Virginia is sure to encounter in the Big 12. The new kids on the block, West Virginia will be guided into league play by former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen who surely looks forward to hanging some crooked numbers on his counterparts in league play. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey both coming back means Smith will have his two premier targets back in the fold as well and barring injury or a drastic regression he should be penciled in for another 4000+ yards and 30-35 TDs minimum in this league. Still, don’t count out a season of 4500-5000 yards and 40 TDs if the Mountaineers turn him loose. The numbers will almost surely put him in discussion. Where WVU finishes in league play may be the biggest factor.

Potential Heisman Game: November 17th vs Oklahoma

Landry Jones, QB Oklahoma- This one is very questionable and has a lot of “If’s” attached to it. Landry Jones of two years ago would certainly enter this season as a Heisman contender. In fact, if Landry Jones was close to the 2010 version last year he’d probably be on an NFL roster already. The biggest question one has to ask when looking at last year and the transition to this year is was the drop off after Ryan Broyles injury just a fluke due to the lack of adjustment time or was it a sign of a guy who couldn’t get production without him top WR? While Oklahoma isn’t hurting at WR by any means, there’s no question that Kenny Stills isn’t filling the shoes of Broyles on his own and with the suspension of three receivers including Jaz Reynolds, Jones may not have the weapons he’s accustomed to outside. The emergence of Dominique Whaley last year also could put a damper on Jones’ Heisman hopes if they become more of a balanced offensive attack. Still with the potential he’s shown in the past on a team that should be among the top contenders in the Big 12 and with the offensive prowess Oklahoma consistently has, it’s really hard to rule him out completely.

Potential Heisman Game: November 17th at West Virginia

The Field:

Marcus Lattimore, RB South Carolina- When Marcus Lattimore is healthy he’s probably the best RB in America. While he doesn’t put up the bulk numbers of a Montee Ball or Lamichael James in past years, his brilliance and importance for the South Carolina Gamecocks can’t be overlooked. Last season his numbers were a little inconsistent but he still managed to run for over 800 yards and 10 TDs in only seven games including a huge performance in a game against Georgia which at the time figured to be a key in the SEC East race. His 176 yards and a score may have been overshadowed by the performance of Melvin Ingram, but it still was enormous to the Gamecocks success and his role will be even bigger this season. Coming off a tough ligament tear a year ago, the only concern going into 2012 for Lattimore is injury and how the knee feels on cuts and contact. While Lattimore was never a speedster he could run between the tackles and make players miss with his elusive ability. With the graduation of Alshon Jeffery from the passing game, South Carolina will become an even heavier ground team than they were before which was still pretty potent. He’ll have a tough time living up to the numbers of some other RBs in America on more explosive offensive teams, but he has multiple games that could put him in New York if he dominates.

Potential Heisman Game: October 13th at LSU

De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner, RBs Oregon- The talented tandem for Chip Kelly will look to replace the workload carried by Lamichael James ago and if 2011 was any indication, Kelly doesn’t have a ton to worry about. De’Anthony Thomas emerged as one of the most explosive players in all of college football a year ago and left a lasting impression all offseason for Ducks fans in the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Thomas adds the added dimension of  being able to work from the slots and on the return team as well. His TD on a kick return vs USC at home got the Ducks back into a game that appeared to be getting away from him and he’s very likely going to add at least one return score in 2012. Barner filled in at times for James last season after James’ ugly elbow injury and to say he lived up to the task would be a gross understatement. Barner ran all over Arizona St. in James’ absence and even went off against USC in a late season loss with 123 yards and 2 TDs on only 15 carries. Both have home-run play abilities every time they touch the ball and are sure to break a few long ones in 2012. The one concern for both of them is with the skillset each brings, could the touches each of them get hurt each other’s Heisman chances when other backs have less of a load to share?

Potential Heisman Game: November 3rd at USC

Montee Ball, RB Wisconsin- The player who I would have given my Heisman vote to at the end of last season, Ball exploded in 2012 with 1923 yards and 39 total TDs (6 receiving) for a Badgers team that went to the Rose Bowl for a second season in a row. Unfortunately they fell short to Thomas and Barner in the Rose Bowl, one of the big reasons Ball returned to school for his senior season. Ball’s numbers have spiked dramatically each of the last two seasons but it’s hard to imagine he could even match his numbers last year. Perhaps he could top the yardage and break the 2000 yard mark, but it’s tough to think he’ll even match the 39 TDs he scored which matched Barry Sanders’ single-season record. Wisconsin is a big favorite to win the Leaders Division at this point which means Ball is probably looking at another 14-game season which will help his numbers. Last season after a slow start he came on and dominated Big Ten play, going over 100 yards in all but one league game and 137 or more in all but two Big Ten games. One has to wonder if the prolific numbers he put up last season will actually be held against him when it comes time to vote. If so, Ball may get back to New York, but he may again be watching someone else accept the trophy.

Potential Heisman Game: October 27th vs. Michigan State

Sammy Watkins & Tajh Boyd, WR & QB Clemson- Part of the joy in playing quarterback for a prolific offense with a ton of talent is you sometimes get praise that doesn’t really warrant your talents. Meet Tajh Boyd. I personally wouldn’t vote Tajh Boyd as a Heisman finalist, let alone winner due to the fact Sammy Watkins does a hell of a lot more for Boyd’s play than the other way around. Watkins came into Clemson last season and despite not garnering the preseason national hype dominated from the get-go. After a breakout performance against Florida State, Clemson knew they had something special on their hands and when he all but single-handedly carried Clemson back against Maryland, the nation learned about the freshman. Boyd had a strong season himself with just under 4000 yards and 33 TDs in the air. Between the two of them, Clemson has one of the top QB-WR combos in all of America who should drop some numbers on ACC defenses in 2012. Boyd struggled with decision-making in the second half of last season and it will be interesting to see if he corrects those mistakes this year. With a number of other weapons around Watkins, he may lose out on some bulk numbers to the likes of Deandre Hopkins and Andre Ellington but barring injury should be a lock for 1300-1400 yards receiving and double digit TDs. Like Barner and Thomas, one has to wonder if the two will steal votes from one another, but with Weeden and Blackmon gone, Trojans fans don’t like to hear it but there’s a good chance you’re looking at the premier pass-catch combo in the country.

Potential Heisman Game: November 24th vs South Carolina


Matt Barkley, QB USC- There may not have been a bigger surprise return to school than when Matt Barkley passed up being a top 10 pick to return to Southern California for what he and teammates deemed “unfinished business.” Despite the great WR core he has around him and the undeniable talent he possesses, I don’t even think Barkley is the best QB in the country (hello Tyler Wilson). However, when you are an elite talent, who plays the QB position, for a team many consider the best in college football entering the season, well you tend to get thrust into the favorite role. Barkley threw for over 3500 yards and 39 TDs a year ago as the Trojans began playing their best football down the stretch. In 2012 there will be much more pressure on Barkley and the Trojans who regain bowl freedom and are pegged by many to play for the national title. The early part of the schedule presents a number of traps before the big game with Oregon on November 3rd as the Trojans travel to Stanford, Utah and Washington. With Robert Woods and Marqise Lee back at WR, expect the passing attack to be turned loose and to carry the Trojans. If the Trojans live up to the hype and Barkley has another season like last year, he’s almost a lock for New York and has a real good chance to bring home the hardware. However, like Andrew Luck last year, there’s a number of players waiting in the wings to steal it if he stumbles at all.

Potential Heisman Game: November 3rd vs. Oregon

Others who missed the cut:

Tyler Wilson, QB Arkansas- Despite my belief he is the best QB in the country, he just didn’t look good vs LSU and Alabama last year and unless those performances improve he won’t sniff the award. The return of Knile Davis and a WR core that lost a lot from last year could mean a heavier attention to a run game too, hurting his stats.

Collin Klein, QB Kansas State- Despite a monster season last year, Klein didn’t get the notoriety of past running QBs who put up big numbers. The simple fact is I anticipate a drop in the team’s level of play from a year ago and lets be honest, do enough people pay attention to Kansas St. for him to have a chance?

Tyrann Mathieu, CB LSU- Last year was about as perfect a season as a defensive player could have to warrant Heisman consideration and it even earned him a trip to New York. It will be hard for him to match the highlight reels he put on and with another dominant defense, there’s another chance for him to not stand out.

Robert Woods/Marqise Lee, WRs USC- Despite being two of the top WRs in all of college football, if anyone from the USC passing attack is going to get Heisman votes come the end of the season it will be Barkley. The two of them also likely will have too much competition from one another, let alone the rest of the nation, to contend for a Heisman.

About Bryan Doherty

Boston native and Clemson grad. Big fan of sports, beer and country music. Ride and die with Arizona Mens Basketball. Bill Russell is the GOAT. Tom Brady is trying to get there. Failure with women. Find me at @BDohertyCFB on Twitter.

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