Heisman Hopefuls

Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith ran away with last year's Heisman Trophy race by over 1,600 points. This was before the disastrous performance against a swarming Florida defense in the national championship contest. Smith is gone to the professional ranks and that means there will be a new winner of the award.

Speaking of winning, it's becoming one of the major factors in taking home the trophy. Eight of the last 11 winners of the Heisman have played for a shot at the national championship in a bowl game. Only Carson Palmer of USC in 2002, Ron Dayne of Wisconsin in 1999 and Ricky Williams of Texas in 1998 have been the exceptions. Still, these three were on teams that had above average seasons. The performance of the player and the team are vitally important to winning the Heisman Trophy. Here are some of the contenders in 2007 (in no particular order).

***DARREN MCFADDEN: The Arkansas RB was dynamite in 2006 and finished runner-up to Smith last season in the Heisman Trophy race. McFadden ran for 1,647 yards and 14 TD's. The 6-2, 205-pound back also threw three touchdowns, caught another score and returned a kickoff 92 yards to the end zone. McFadden's multi-dimensional talents make him a must on any preseason Heisman list.

There will be a few roadblocks for McFadden. The Razorbacks went through a rough off-season that saw three players leave the program and the offensive coordinator depart for Tulsa. What is the mood of the team after these distractions? Also, three starters must be replaced from an offensive line that helped pave the way for the nation's 4th best ground attack. Couple this with QB Casey Dick's inefficient play and teams will be stacking the box every single down against McFadden. The schedule has three high profile road dates at Alabama on September 15th, at Tennessee on November 11th and at LSU on November 23rd. If anyone has the versatility to overcome these hurdles, it's McFadden.

***JOHN DAVID BOOTY: The last two winners of the Heisman Trophy have had huge bowl game performances the season before. Booty meets this criteria after tossing four touchdowns in the rout over Michigan in the 2007 Rose Bowl. In his first year as starting quarterback, Booty threw for over 3,300 yards and 29 touchdowns to nine interceptions while completing 61 percent of his passes.

Booty would join a recent line of Trojan signal callers to win the award. In 2004, Matt Leinart won while in 2002 Carson Palmer took home the honor. The 6-3, 210-pound quarterback will not have his two main targets from last year to throw to in Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. But USC doesn't rebuild. The Trojans reload. Junior Patrick Turner and sophomore Vidal Hazelton will look to help Booty in the passing game. A lot of preseason magazines have USC as the team to beat in 2007. If the Trojans can survive road games at Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon and California, a trip to the Sugar Bowl might in the order, as well as Booty's name atop the Heisman list.

***BRIAN BROHM: The Louisville slinger had an impressive junior season after throwing for over 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns to only five interceptions. Brohm also completed 63 percent of his passes en route to leading the Cardinals to a 12-1 mark, including a BCS win over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl. The only hiccup was a last second loss at Rutgers.

Brohm has the benefit of playing in the Big East. Louisville has a monster showdown November 8th at West Virginia but could possibly be 9-0 heading into the contest. The Cardinals end the year at home versus Rutgers and a perfect season could lead to a trip to New York City for Brohm. The signal caller's top three receivers are back from last season, including Harry Douglas. The 5-11, 170-pound wideout caught 70 balls for 1,265 yards and six touchdowns in 2005. WR Mario Urrutia added 58 grabs for 973 yards and six scores while TE Gary Barnidge chipped in with 31 catches for 511 yards and four TD's. It'll be interesting to see how the team responds to new head coach Steve Kragthorpe, who took over when Bobby Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons. But with the pieces in play on offense and a favorable Big East schedule, Brohm should get plenty of chances to stake his claim to the Heisman Trophy.

***COLT BRENNAN: Hawaii must have threw a huge party in the islands when the state found out Brennan was withdrawing his name from the NFL Draft and heading back to school for his senior season. Seriously, what can this guy do for an encore? Brennan tossed a Division 1A record 58 touchdowns and threw for over 5,500 yards. That adds up to 396 yards and four TD's a contest.

The Warriors went 11-3 in 2006, including a 41-24 victory over Arizona State in the Hawaii Bowl. No matter the numbers, though, Hawaii might have to run the table to give Brennan a realistic shot at winning the Heisman Trophy. The Warriors two toughest games, Washington and Boise State, are both in Honolulu. Another factor that helps Brennan are the returning players back on offense. Davone Bess and Jason Rivers both had 1,000-yard seasons and combined for 25 TD's. Throw in Ryan Grice-Mullen's 11 scores and Brennan should have plenty of targets to light up the scoreboard with and compete with last year's record season.

***RAY RICE: The Rutgers running back was a big part of the Scarlet Knights' 11-2 year, including a 37-10 whipping of Kansas State in the Texas Bowl. Rice ran for 1,794 yards and 20 touchdowns in his sophomore season. The 5-9, 200-pound back averaged 138 yards per contest, which was third in the nation.

Can Rice do it again in 2007? The bigger question might be can Rutgers put together another double-digit win total. Home games against Maryland, South Florida and West Virginia should help. If the Scarlet Knights have another spectacular year, it sets up for a huge season-ending game at Louisville on November 29th. Seven starters are back on offense for Rutgers but QB Mike Teel will have to be better than 12 TD's to 13 INT's to keep defenses honest. Along the offensive line, three starters return from a group that helped make the Scarlet Knights 15th in the country in rushing offense. Rice is a no-nonsense runner that should help Rutgers contend again in the Big East.

***COLT MCCOY: The big question last season in Austin was who's going to replace all-world Vince Young at quarterback. After an early season loss at home to Ohio State, McCoy was able to distance himself from the competition and turn in a stellar redshirt freshman campaign. The 6-3, 205-pound signal caller tossed 29 touchdowns to only seven interceptions while completing 68 percent of his passes.

McCoy will have his favorite target to aim touchdown passes towards. WR Limas Sweed was the beneficiary of 12 scoring receptions in 2006 and the 6-5, 220-pound wideout gives McCoy a huge lift in the passing game. Also, the second and third top pass catchers from 2006 return. Texas doesn't always have to rely on the air attack. Jamaal Charles gives the Longhorns a viable threat at running back to give the team balance on offense. A tough non-conference home date with TCU on September 8th should give McCoy some national publicity to perform. As always with Texas, the biggie is the Red River Shootout on October 6th against Oklahoma in Dallas. If the Longhorns leave there undefeated and McCoy has put up big numbers, Texas will a shot at another Heisman Trophy winner.

***STEVE SLATON: The West Virginia back rushed for a school-record 1,744 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2006 to help the Mountaineers to a 11-2 year. The only blemishes on Slaton's season was a few costly fumbles in the loss at Louisville and an injury that cost him to sit out the come-from-behind 38-35 victory over Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Slaton also caught 27 balls for 360 yards and two scores to add to his multiple talents.

Eight starters are back in Morgantown in 2007 and West Virginia is a contender for the national title. What helps Slaton is that QB Pat White returns to the team after throwing for 1,655 yards and 13 touchdowns and running for another 1,219 yards and 18 touchdowns. The spread read offense gives opponents fits because either Slaton or White can take a simple carry and turn it into huge chunks of yardage. White might also hurt Slaton's candidacy because of his huge statistical numbers. White was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2006. Three starters return on the offensive line from a group that paved the way for the nation's second best ground attack. Slaton and White should pile up more big rushing totals in Morgantown.

***MIKE HART: The Michigan back returned to his freshmen season form while running for 1,562 yards and 14 touchdowns. Hart was able to start every contest after enduring an injury-plagued sophomore year. The Wolverines were in the national title chase until losing their final two contests of the season to Ohio State and USC.

Hart must have had a huge smile on his face after hearing the news that All-American LT Jake Long was returning for his senior season. Three starters return up front to block for Hart. Last year, Michigan was 21st nationally in rushing offense. The Wolverine offense has good balance. QB Chad Henne and WR Mario Manningham should connect on numerous touchdown connections. This will create running room for Hart, who stands at 5-9, 196 pounds but hits the hole at 100 MPH. Hart's candidacy, like all the others in this list, depends upon the success of the team. Non-conference contests against Oregon and Notre Dame are both in Ann Arbor at the Big House. Ohio State comes to town on November 17th but it's the two weekends before, at Michigan State and at Wisconsin, that could make or break Hart's chances.

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