August 21, 2010

Handicapping the Heisman Trophy race

Want to determine the most likely recipient of this season's Heisman Trophy? The procedure is rather simple: Pore over statistics, identify the most productive players, consider their team's chances for success and make a list of the top, say, half-dozen candidates.

Now, throw it away.

Recent trends show the most attractive preseason Heisman candidates aren't likely to win the coveted trophy.

In each of the past three seasons, the eventual recipient -- Alabama tailback Mark Ingram, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow -- wasn't one of the leading preseason candidates.

Bradford was the only eventual winner listed on the preseason top 10 contenders list compiled by heismanpundit.com, a website devoted to all things Heisman related. He was ninth in the preseason.

"Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford were well-known [before they won], but Ingram completely came out of nowhere," Heismanpundit.com publisher Chris Huston said.

Before Ingram, the last Heisman-winning running back to rush for fewer than 1,700 yards was Ohio State's Archie Griffin in 1975.

"I chalk up a lot of it to the new media age and all the social networking," Huston said. "A big factor in Ingram winning was [Nebraska defensive tackle] Ndamukong Suh's emergence and taking votes away from [Texas quarterback] Colt McCoy. When Suh's candidacy took off, it cost McCoy the Heisman."

McCoy, Bradford and Tebow were preseason front-runners in '09 largely because they were the three finalists in '08.

The preseason front-runners in '08 were Tebow, Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells and Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel. In '07, USC quarterback John David Booty, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and West Virginia running back Steve Slaton were the perceived leading contenders.

Though Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, the eventual recipient, was ranked third on preseason lists in 2006, he still was considered a dark-horse candidate behind Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson.

Thus, while Ingram surely will be considered the best bet to capture another Heisman and join Ohio State's Griffin as the only two-time winner, don't count out anybody.

Especially don't count out sophomores. Each of the past three winners was a second-year player.

This season's 10 leading Heisman candidates, listed alphabetically:

RB John Clay, Wisconsin: If Clay -- who rushed for 1,517 yards last season despite balky ankles -- has a big season, the Badgers will, too.

RB Noel Devine, West Virginia: In each of the past two seasons, Devine has increased his production over the previous season. If he betters last season's 1,465-yard performance, he'll be a major contender.

RB Mark Ingram, Alabama: Things are changing in the Heisman race. The past three recipients have been sophomores. Last season, a defensive tackle was a legitimate candidate. The time for another two-time recipient may be drawing near. A big game against Penn State in September could mean Ingram will join Griffin as a two-time winner.

QB Case Keenum, Houston: Keenum threw for 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns last season, and all his surrounding skill-position talent is back. Talk of a 6,000-yard season isn't that far-fetched.

RB Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh: He closed out a stellar freshman season (1,799 yards, 17 touchdowns) with four consecutive 150-yard games.

QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas: The Razorbacks figure to be better than they were last season, and Mallett should post gaudy stats in his second season in coach Bobby Petrino's quarterback-friendly offense.

QB Kellen Moore, Boise State: He throws a lot of touchdown passes (64) and few interceptions (13), and his team has lost just once in two seasons with him as the starter. He could make a major statement in the opener against Virginia Tech.

QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State: The improving dual-threat quarterback is leading a team with a real shot at going unbeaten.

RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State: Rodgers produces as a runner and receiver. In '09 he rushed for 1,440 yards and added 522 receiving yards.

RB Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: Second-year players are hot. Williams is a highlight waiting to happen. As a redshirt freshman last season, he had 23 runs that covered at least 20 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown gallop against Alabama.

Others to consider
(listed alphabetically)
QB Matt Barkley, USC
WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
QB Ricky Dobbs, Navy
WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
QB Jacory Harris, Miami
RB LaMichael James, Oregon
QB Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M
QB Jake Locker, Washington
QB Christian Ponder, Florida State

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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