CFN's 2012 Heisman Early Look

CollegeFootballNews looks at the early 2012 Heisman race ... where do you think Denard is?

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2012 Heisman Early Look
The Likely Top Candidates

- 2011 - Robert Griffin III Brings It Home For Baylor
- 2010 - The Cam Coronation
- 2009 - Mark Ingram Wins Bama's First Heisman
- 2008 - Sam Bradford Wins A Nailbiter
- 2007 - Tim Tebow Becomes 1st Sophomore To Win
- 2006 - Troy Smith Wins In A Landslide

What If The Heisman Voting Was Done After The Bowls?
- 2000 to 2010 | 1990 to 1999 | 1980 to 1989 | 1970 to 1979

Ranking the All-Time Winners

- The 25 Greatest Heisman Winners | No. 26 to 50 | No. 51 to 77

Heisman Winners - Top 5 Races, Player to Not Win, and More
- 2010 & 2011 | 2000 to 2009 | 1990 to 1999 | 1980 to 1989 | 1970 to 1979
- 1960 to 1969 | 1950 to 1959 | 1940 to 1949 | 1930 to 1935

They’d Be The Front-Runners, But …
They’re going to have to settle for NFL riches. These are the players who'd be the Heisman stars going into next year, but they’re all but certain to leave early for the next level. If any of these stars do return, though, they’ll be at or near the top of the list.

1. QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
2. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
3. RB Trent Richardson, Alabama
4. RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin
5. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
6. RB LaMichael James, Oregon
7. WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma St
8. RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech

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Case Keenum had one of the greatest passing seasons in college football history and didn’t get a sniff of New York.

Justin Blackmon is a two-time Biletnikoff winner and he wasn’t even close.

It’s hard to be in the Heisman race. RGIII and Montee Ball weren’t on top of the list of candidates coming into the season, and no one saw Cam Newton coming in 2010 or Mark Ingram and Toby Gerhart in 2009, so the 2012 Heisman winner might come from out of left field.

The Heisman race almost always comes down to the most productive quarterbacks and running backs from the hottest BCS programs, so defensive players need not apply and receivers have no realistic shot unless they’re also a star returner.

So with that in mind, and with a few projections, the most likely front-runners for next year’s Heisman chase – because Superman socks with capes are so December 10th – will probably come from these 16 players.

16. QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
There’s an outside chance he could bolt early for the NFL as a third-year sophomore, but he’s more likely to stick around and build up his stock before taking off in 2013. He didn’t have a slew of weapons around him after A.J. Green bolted early for the NFL, but he still led the SEC with 33 touchdown passes and threw for an effective 2,861 yards. Next year he’ll have rising star Malcolm Mitchell to throw to and running back Isaiah Crowell to take the heat off.

15. RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Next. Back in 2009 it was pretentiously hip to suggest that Trent Richardson was going to be better than Mark Ingram. At the very least, Richardson became the better pro prospect, and while Lacy might not be better than either of those two, he has the size and speed to be the next Tide back in the Heisman chase if he can stay healthy and put together a full season. This year he was electric every time he touched the ball, averaging 7.5 yards per carry with seven scores on just 84 attempts.

The Tide offensive line will be fantastic, quarterback AJ McCarron will know what he’s doing, and if Richardson leaves for the NFL as expected, Lacy should be the new star.

14. RB James White, Wisconsin
Wisconsin running backs are a little like Texas Tech quarterbacks; they don’t get as much credit as they should because of the system they’re in. Like Red Raider passers, the Badger runners don’t produce at the next level, only feeding the idea that it’s just plug ‘n’ chug when it comes to talent. Even so, if Montee Ball leaves a year early and White is the next one to step in, the numbers could be too great to ignore.

Three starters return up front, Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen are solid targets to help the passing game be more than just along for the ride, and it’s not like White doesn’t know what he’s doing. As a true freshman he ran for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns, and this year, despite seeing a limited role behind Ball, he ran for 683 yards and six scores.

13. RB Knile Davis, Arkansas
Davis was the best running back in college football over the second half of the 2010 season, finishing with a bruising 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. An ankle injury this summer knocked him out for the season, but everything appears to be on track for a 100% return next fall. The Hogs proved two years ago that a high-octane passing game doesn’t take away from the ground attack, and with three starters returning to next year’s line, and great prospects ready to fill the holes, a healthy Davis could be a threat for 2,000 yards.

12. QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
The Hogs had one of the best receiving corps in the nation in 2011, but Joe Adams, Greg Childs, and Jarius Wright are all leaving. However, head coach Bobby Petrino had to deal with even more adversity and more turnover this year, and Arkansas still battled for the SEC title late into the year. The team will be fine, and the offense will be terrific again.

Wilson led the SEC in passing completing 63% of his throws for 3,422 yards and 22 touchdowns with six picks, and even without the star receivers returning he should be more than fine working behind a line that gets most of the starters back. The numbers might not be astronomical, but if Wilson can lead the team to a few key SEC wins, the respect will be there to potentially be in the chase.

11. QB Blake Bell, Oklahoma
Assuming Landry Jones is off to the NFL early, it’ll be a battle for one of college football’s premier gigs. Drew Allen could be the one for this spot if he beats out Bell, who became a bigger Tim Tebow down the stretch. The 6-5, 245-pounder barreled for ten touchdowns in the final five games including four against Baylor. Not necessarily a runner, he’s a pro-style passer who happens to know how to find the end zone on the ground. Allen isn’t going to be shoved aside, though. He’s very big, very strong, has a huge arm, and brings a little mobility, too.

10. QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Let’s see if the grand experiment works. It’s Urban Meyer’s offense in the Big Ten, and Miller getting to run it. While the air attack might not be there – remember, Alex Smith and Tim Tebow put up huge, efficient passing stats under Meyer – Miller should be able to run wild.

He was already special this season in the win over Wisconsin – creating his own Heisman-like moment with the game-winning throw – and he threw for 235 yards and two scores in the near-miss against Michigan. Ready to blossom as a true sophomore, his Heisman campaign will probably roar in 2013. But if Meyer works his magic early on, Miller could be one of the stories of next year.

9. DB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
In just his second year, he’s not eligible to turn pro until next season. As a Heisman finalist this year he’ll be on the radar from the start next season, and while he’ll be on everyone’s All-America list and he should be just as dynamic an all-around performer, it’s asking the world of any player, no matter how great he is, to come up with play after play in key situations. Defensive players don’t win Heismans, and while Mathieu could be deserving if he has another year like this one, he’ll have to blow up again as a punt returner to be back in the mix.

8. RB Michael Dyer, Auburn
The hero of the 2011 BCS Championship didn’t get enough credit for carrying a lousy team as far as it could go this season - at least until the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With no passing game to help the cause and a shaky offensive line struggling to pave the way, Dyer still showed just how talented he is with a grinding 1,242-yard, ten touchdown season. The entire interior of the line will be back, and Onterio McCalebb will return to take some of the heat off, so if the quarterback situation can be settled early on, Dyer should be able to put up huge numbers.

7. QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Almost the entire offensive line has to be replaced; Dwayne Allen, the best tight end in America, is almost certainly leaving for the NFL; and the Tiger defense has to replace a slew of key player. But Tajh has Sammy.

Sammy Watkins is one of college football’s most dynamic playmakers, and Tajh Boyd knows how to work with him, Jaron Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and the rest of the tremendous Clemson receiving corps. The step back on D might mean Boyd will have to throw even more, and that’s a good thing. He might not be build like an NFL quarterback, but he can get the ball down the field and he should put on a tremendous show next year.

6. RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon
Ready for the scary part of the Oregon offense? It’s going to be even better next year. LaMichael James is a near-lock to go early to the NFL, and losing tight end David Paulson and two starting linemen hurts, but everything else is in place to go nuclear in 2012 with quarterback Darron Thomas at the helm and Barner ready to blow up. James led the nation in rushing yards per game, but Barner proved he could be every bit as devastating when called upon tearing off 133 yards and a touchdown against Oregon State and rocking for 147 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries in the opener against New Mexico.

5. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State
You want the hot player of the offseason? It’ll take the next nine months for the rest of the college football world to catch up on what it missed: A case could be made that RGIII wasn’t the best quarterback in the Big 12 this season.

Klein ran for 1,099 yards and 26 touchdowns and threw for 1,745 yards and 12 scores with five picks. Robert Griffin might have lit up Kansas State, but Klein ran for 113 yards and a score, threw for two touchdowns, and got the win as he carried the offense time and again on the way to a 10-2 season. The spotlight will be on next year in a wide open Big 12 race, and this time around, he won’t be ignored.

4. RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
This is assuming the Gamecock star can come back 100% healthy from an awful knee injury late in the season. When he was right, he was the one of the nation’s best backs, carrying a team that couldn’t get anything going through the air and relied on the running game to get by. Before the injury he was on pace for at least 1,600 yards and close to 20 touchdowns, and whenever he’s ready he’ll be the centerpiece of the attack working behind an experienced offensive line. He's an easy player and personality to root for, and if he can carry the Gamecocks to a second SEC East title in three years, he should be in New York next December.

3. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
It doesn’t matter where West Virginia plays; the offense is going to go bonkers now that everyone knows what they’re doing under second-year head coach Dana Holgorsen.

The Mountaineers will only to have to replace two key starters from an offense that lit defenses up like a Christmas tree averaging 460 yards and 35 points per game. Smith? He only threw for 463 yards and two scores against the LSU defense, and he gets all his top weapons back.

He’ll blow past the 4,000-yard mark in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, but next year it’ll be all about wins and big moments. Why did Robert Griffin III win the Heisman? He put up huge numbers and was clutch in the stunner against Oklahoma. No one was better at bombing away late in games than Smith and West Virginia. The heroics will come.

2. QB Denard Robinson, Michigan
Robinson won the September Heisman in each of the last two seasons. In 2012, if he can cut down on his interceptions, run for another 1,000 yards, and take Michigan to the Big Ten title, he might be able to win it in December, too.

Interceptions have been the killer for Robinson in the Heisman chase, not looking the part of a polished passer when he needs to. However, he didn’t throw more than one pick in any game over the final six games of the year, and he was flawless against Ohio State completing 14-of-17 passes for 2,056 yards and three scores, to go along with 170 rushing yards and two scores.

He’ll always be one of the most electrifying players in college football, and after starting for two years, he needs to be more consistent. However, it he has a big game against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and leads the way to the program’s first BCS game victory in a decade, he’ll be the face of the resurgence of Michigan football into its spot among the leaders and best. Assuming Robinson’s not ready to jump ship to the NFL as a receiver prospect, he could be the front-runner in the Heisman if all the top underclassmen who are supposed to turn pro end up taking off, like …

1. QB Matt Barkley, USC
It’s one of the rumors going around Los Angeles sports circles; a top NFL prospect from USC is planning on sticking around for one more year. If it’s not offensive tackle Matt Kalil – who might be the No. 2 pick behind Andrew Luck – then it could only be one player.

Call it wishful thinking from the desperate fan base waiting for the program to return to glory, or call it just another piece of unsubstantiated gossip in a town that lives off of it, but there’s smoke around the idea that Barkley – who might be the No. 2 quarterback taken in the 2012 NFL Draft after Luck – will want to stick around to finally enjoy the fun after a rough three years under the NCAA’s cloud.

Barkley has been the consummate leader and the star for a program that needed something positive to rebuild around. Polite to a fault, he has the right personality to help USC change its image as it turns the corner from the Pete Carroll era. That will win him the hearts and minds – a.k.a., those who voted for Luck for the 2011 Heisman – but it’s his play on the field that could make him the coast-to-coast Heisman favorite, even if Robert Griffin, Montee Ball, and other top candidates are back.

Again, it isn’t a sure thing in any way that Barkley is returning, but if he is – and assuming that Kalil is off taking a treasure bath – USC will be a preseason top five team, if not No. 1.

The Trojans will have the best 1-2 receiving punch in the nation in Robert Woods and Marquise Lee; running back Curtis McNeal is a potential star; and in all, ten offensive starters might return along with nine on defense and both kickers.

But it all hinges on Barkley, the front-runner for the 2012 Heisman Trophy.

Unless he’s the Cleveland Browns’ 2012 starting quarterback.

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