We have now officially reached the doldrums of the college football calendar, where up is down, left is right, and the only thing passing for “news” these days is when a bunch of bloated (literally and figuratively) athletic directors get together in a secluded room, argue for eight hours, then spend the rest of the evening blowing through their expense accounts like John Junker at a strip club.
Good times! Oh, and how many days until kick-off again?
Thankfully we here at Crystal Ball Run are going to spare you. Rather than sitting around and twitting our thumbs for the next 90 days, we instead plan to hit you with more college football content then you know what to do with. Why’s that? Well, in addition to our regular coverage of whatever kind of interesting/unique/breaking news that comes up over the course of the day, we're also going to have what we're calling "theme" weeks. Every week from now until the middle of August, we're going to have a "theme" with at least one article a day from our various writers covering that specific topic. Some examples are "coaching hot seats," "breakout players.” Stuff like that.
And today, we start theme week by discussing America’s favorite stiff-armed trophy, the Heisman. Over the next five days our staff will give you everything you need to know about college football’s most prestigious award, including the darkhorses, defensive prospects to watch, Vegas odds and even a little insight on why some of the favorites might fall short. Overall, it’s going to be a fun time.
As we kick off Heisman week, the only appropriate place to start seems to be with the favorites. Below are all the names you need to go heading into 2012, as well as some relevant stats, and a paragraph or two on each player’s candidacy. Later today we’ll also look at some off the radar players as well.
Before we start though, let’s give out two quick editorial notes before we begin: The first is that all candidates are listed in alphabetical order. That might not seem like a big deal, but to some of you overzealous college football fans, we don’t want you overreacting. Therefore, if you see Tyler Bray listed before Tyler Wilson, don’t think that we like Bray more, or like Wilson less. It just means that Bray’s name comes earlier in the alphabet than Wilson’s does. That’s it. We swear.
As for the second note, it’s that we have limited this list to 14 players. Frankly, given the way the last few years have gone (with two guys in the last two years coming from way off the radar to win the award) we probably could’ve put 50 on this list. But you’ve got better things to do than read about 50 candidates, and I have better things to do tha--- well, like I said, you have better things to do than read about 50 players. So we limited it to the 14 or so guys that everyone can agree are at the top of the list.
So with that, let’s get to the 2012 Heisman Trophy, and an early look at the favorites!
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin: 307 carries, 1923 yards rushing, 33 touchdowns (39 total)
College football’s leading rusher in 2011 surprised many by returning for his senior year at Wisconsin, and should again be in for a monster year in Bret Bielema’s offense.
But with a third new quarterback in three years and defenses keying on Ball because of it, is it possible for him to come anywhere close to the staggering numbers he put up in 2012?
Matt Barkley, QB, USC: 308 of 448 (69.1 percent completion), 3,528 yards, 39 touchdowns, seven INTs
Like Ball, Barkley enters 2012 with huge Heisman buzz, off a monster junior season that saw him throw for a Pac-12 record 39 touchdown passes. Also like Ball, Barkley may suffer from impossible expectations; can he possibly top his 2011 numbers? And if he doesn’t, how will it impact the voters who are expecting the world from him?
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: 298 of 499 (59.7 percent completion), 3,828 yards, 33 touchdowns, 12 INTS
Thanks to a huge early season effort from Boyd, the Tigers jumped out to an 8-0 start that no one saw coming… least of all Clemson fans. Unfortunately though as Boyd fell apart in the second half, so too did the Tigers; the quarterback threw nine interceptions in the Tigers last five games, and his team lost four of those same games.
For Clemson to be consistent over an entire season, they’ll need more consistency from Boyd.
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee: 147 of 247 (59.5 percent completion), 1,983 yards, 17 touchdowns, six INTS
Serious question: Could Tyler Bray be this year’s Matt Barkley?
It sounds crazy, until you start breaking down the similarities. Entering their junior campaigns, both were young quarterbacks coming off slightly disappointing seasons, after monster freshman years. Each had skilled playmakers all over the field to help them out. Each had young but talented defenses that needed a lot of help from the offense to reach their full potential. And both had young coaches that no one was totally sure about.
Now this by no means implies that we think Tennessee will get 10 wins, or that Bray will set conference passing records. But could a big season, in college football’s toughest conference throw Bray right into the thick of the Heisman race?
We think so.
Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas: 204 carries, 1,322 yards rushing, 13 touchdowns (2010 stats)
By now, we all know the story on Knile Davis: Insanely talented running back; took the college football world by storm in the second half of 2010; missed all of 2011 with an injured ankle.
And as we enter 2012, all the questions about Davis surround that ankle. If it’s healthy, he’s got as good a chance as anyone to take home this award. If it it’s anything less than 100 percent though, Davis could struggle. And so too might Arkansas.
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: 355 of 562, (63.2 percent completion), 29 touchdowns, 15 INTS
If you want to know the entire story of Jones’ 2011 season, just know this: In his last four games, Jones threw just one touchdown and six interceptions. Sure part of that was due to injuries (none more important that star receiver Ryan Broyles), but still, doesn’t Jones have a lot to show us before we throw him into the “Heisman favorites” category?
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: 161 of 181 (57 percent completion), 1,918 yards, 13 touchdowns, six INTs; 1,141 yards rushing, 27 touchdowns
Klein is the answer to one of life’s oldest, yet most complicated questions: If a player puts up huge numbers, but nobody tunes into watch, is he really a Heisman candidate? We should find out the answer to that question with Klein back in Manhattan, and poised for another monster year.
Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: 163 yards, 818 yards, 10 touchdowns
Now several months removed from a devastating ACL tear, it’s still hard to entirely put Lattimore’s 2011 season into its proper context. On the one hand, you could make the case that if Lattimore hadn’t hurt the knee, he could’ve taken home the Heisman as a sophomore. At the same time, his injury was also kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy; with the way that Steve Spurrier used and abused his star back, it only seemed like a matter of time before something bad was going to happen.
Entering 2012 though, things are much more optimistic. Lattimore should be healthy, but most importantly, he should get more help from his quarterback than ever before. Stephen Garcia’s wild ride is over, and Connor Shaw is now firmly entrenched under center.
Ironically, better quarterback play could mean even bigger production for Lattimore.
Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU: 76 tackles, 7.5 TFL's, 2 INTs, 9 PBUs 1.5 sacks, four forced fumbles (to returned for touchdowns), two punt return touchdowns, one kickoff return touchdown
Please do us a favor, take a second and look at those stats again. To quote Dick Vitale.... ARE YOU SERIOUS BABY?!?!
Yes we are, and given the fire, tenacity and flair that Mathieu plays with every Saturday, there's no reason to believe that he won't be in the hunt to again go to New York, and this time potentially take home the award.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: 238 of 403 (59 percent completion), 3,149 yards, 35 touchdowns, 14 INTs
When evaluating Murray’s 2012 Heisman candidacy, there’s definitely plenty to like, from his 35 touchdowns, the return of his two top wide receivers, and even, his cool first name (kidding on that last one. It’s actually not cool at all).
But with Georgia in the midst of its usual off-season implosion, it’s hard to know exactly where this program is headed in 2012. And if the Dawgs don’t get back to the 10-win mark they reached a season ago, what does that do for Murray’s Heisman candidacy?
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan: 142 of 258 (55.7 percent completion), 2,173 yards, 20 touchdowns, 15 INT’s; 1,176 yards rushing, 16 touchdowns
One of the great ironies of the 2011 college football season is that while Michigan improved exponentially in year one under Brady Hoke, by every tangible measurement, Denard Robinson became a worse quarterback. In his junior year, Robinson’s completion percentage went down and his interceptions up, despite throwing fewer total passes, while his rushing numbers also dipped, even though he was on the field a greater percentage of the time.
Point being, Robinson is one of the true Heisman enigmas entering the 2012 season. And that opener against Alabama probably won’t help things either.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: 346 for 526 (65.8 percent completion), 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns, seven INTs
Amongst Dana Holgorsen’s many nicknames (most of which aren’t appropriate to be printed here), one has to be “The Quarterback Whisperer.” Simply put, every quarterback Holgorsen touches turns to gold, and Smith is no exception, with his numbers going through the roof in year one under Holgorsen.
Of course entering 2012, it’s a totally different ball-game in Morgantown. The Mountaineers are transitioning out the Big East and into the Big XII, where a whole new set of questions need to be answered. Mostly we need to know if Smith can continue to put up those bigger numbers against better defenses.
If he does, expect to see Smith in New York in mid-December.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: 82 catches, 1,219 yards
Despite entering his sophomore season as the pre-eminent wide receiver in college football, questions still remain about Watkins. The main one (besides his arrest a few weeks ago), comes with his lack of production toward the end of the 2011 season. Watkins had six 90+ yard receiving games in the first nine of his college career, but zero in his last five. Which leads to the question: What happened to Sammy Watkins the second half of last year? Did he hit a freshman wall? Was it more Tajh Boyd’s fault? Injuries? Or some mix of all three?
If Clemson can find an answer to that question, they could again be in the National Championship discussion all season long.
Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: 277 of 438 (63 percent completion): 3,638 yards, six touchdowns
It’s hard to know what was more impressive about Tyler Wilson’s 2011 season: His stats alone, or the way which he compiled them? Given Knile Davis’ injury, and given that he literally might’ve gotten the worst pass protection in all of college football last season, an especially strong case could be made for the latter.
Unfortunately, like everyone else on this list, Wilson again has plenty of questions surrounding his candidacy. Three of the most productive wide receivers in college football history have graduated, the offensive line is still a mess (thanks to the arrest of starting tackle Jason Peacock), and then there’s that whole “Bobby Petrino thing” you’ve probably heard about. Can Wilson still thrive, with his greatest asset- the play-calling genius of his former head coach- no longer there?
It’s just one more question as we enter an exciting 2012 Heisman Trophy race!
For all his articles, opinions and insights into college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.