August 29, 2011

Heisman history isn't on Luck's side

Nearly three decades have passed since a Heisman runner-up came back to eventually win college football's most prestigious individual award.

That was Georgia's Herschel Walker in 1982,who was runner-up to USC's Marcus Allen in 1981. To find another player who won the Heisman the year after finishing second requires a longer look back, to 1968, when USC's O.J. Simpson won it after finishing as the runner-up in 1967.

Indeed, the only other players to win the Heisman the year after they finished as runners-up were Army's Glenn Davis in 1946 and Michigan's Tom Harmon in 1940.

That could be a source of concern for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, last year's runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton. That is, if Luck was concerned about the Heisman at all. Although Luck is considered the leading candidate to win the trophy, he's tried to avoid all conversation about the subject.

"When you're the quarterback of one of the top teams in the country, that's going to come with the territory," Luck told reporters over the summer. "There are so many great players out there. It's not something I'm going to give a lot of thought to."

He's trying to join Jim Plunkett (1970) as a Stanford Heisman winner. And while Luck has history going against him this year, he has a lot more going for him. He's intelligent, strong-armed and mobile, and he has great leadership skills. What else does one want from a quarterback? Oh, yeah, production and wins. Luck has provided that, too.

Stanford had endured seven consecutive losing seasons until Luck took over as the starting quarterback two years ago. Stanford has gone 20-5 in the past two seasons with Luck as the starter.

Last season, he passed for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions in leading Stanford to a 12-1 record and a No. 4 national ranking, the Cardinal's highest finish since 1940.

Should Luck play as well this season as he did in 2010, the Cardinal could finish higher in the polls. And Luck could finish higher in the Heisman voting.

THE TOP HEISMAN CONTENDERS
The buzz: Some have predicted a Stanford decline because of the departure of coach Jim Harbaugh, but the Cardinal has gone from consistent loser to championship contender with Luck at quarterback. If Luck continues to be effective and the Cardinal continue to win, the trophy likely will be his.
The buzz: The Ducks' speedster has rushed for more than 1,500 yards in each of his two seasons. Last season, he led the nation with 1,731 rushing yards despite missing a game. This season, he could make a run at 2,000 yards.
The buzz: There are Alabama fans who have been saying that Richardson was better than former Tide tailback Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman recipient. Sure, fans can be prone to hyperbole -- especially those in the SEC -- but in this case, they may be right. Richardson has power and explosive speed. He's rushed for 1,451 yards and 14 TDs in two seasons as a backup. Imagine what he can do now that he's the starter.
The buzz: Last season, his first as a starter, Robinson averaged 328.6 yards of total offense per game -- the second-highest in the country. A capable passer and a big-play threat as a rusher, can Robinson put up the same type of numbers for new coach Brady Hoke, who has scrapped the Wolverines' spread offense?
The buzz: OU is the preseason No. 1 team, so Jones is a top contender based on that alone. Five of the past seven Heisman recipients were quarterbacks whose teams played in the national championship game. Yet, Jones has "real" credentials, too. He passed for 4,718 yards and 38 TDs in '10.
The buzz: No wide receiver has won the Heisman without also returning kicks, which Blackmon does not do. But times are changing. Until '09, no Alabama player had won it. Until '07, no sophomore had won it -- and there have been three sophomore winners. Blackmon could be another first. Last season, he had 111 receptions for a national-leading 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns despite missing one game.
The buzz: No player from outside the Big Six conferences has won the Heisman since BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990. But Moore has a shot. Last season, he led the nation in passing efficiency. He has passed for more than 3,400 yards in three consecutive seasons. The Broncos are 38-2 with him as their starting quarterback, and he should become the winningest career starting quarterback in FBS history this season.
The buzz: So what does he do for an encore? As a true freshman last season Lattimore rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 TDs despite missing one game and getting only one carry in another. In fact, he had fewer than 20 carries in eight games. The bet here is he gets more opportunities this season.
The buzz: In 2010, Smith passed for 2,763 yards and 24 TDs as a first-year starter. Now, he's directing new coach Dana Holgorsen's high-powered offense. In each of Holgorsen's four seasons as an offensive coordinator, his quarterback has passed for more than 4,000 yards.
The buzz: He is one of Holgorsen's former pupils. Keenum finished eighth in the 2009 Heisman voting after passing for 5,671 yards. This season, he's returning from an injury that ruined his 2010 campaign. But Keenum could be first player to pass for 6,000 yards in a season.
ANOTHER DANDY DOZEN TO WATCH
Wisconsin RB Montee Ball
Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles
USC QB Matt Barkley
Auburn TB Mike Dyer
Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd
South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery
Florida State QB E.J. Manuel
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
Oregon QB Darron Thomas
Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas
Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden
Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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