Top Players of 2012 Preview
Since 1935, the Heisman Trophy has been awarded to a college football player who has done far more throughout a long season than merely put up gaudy stats. It is one of the most prestigious awards in all of sports, so much so that even a certain politician wanted to get in on the action. The trophy has been bestowed annually to the man who meant more to the heart and soul of that player’s respective team than any other in or on the field. The 2012 winner will be presented on Saturday, December 8th. A season ago, Robert Griffin III came out of nowhere to lead his Baylor Bears to a 10-3 record and more importantly, the program’s first bowl win since 1992. He would win the Heisman, over favorite Andrew Luck of Stanford, despite the better overall record of the Cardinal.
With spring practices just wrapping up and not a single official kickoff scheduled for months, a lot can, and will, happen in the race for one of the most prestigious awards in all of sports. However, that should not keep all of us, excited fans that we are, from looking forward to the season ahead and the players that will be dominating the headlines of the game. All of the players introduced here are expected to do big things come fall, and whether or not their efforts are successful will largely determine not only their individual chances at the coveted award, but more importantly, his team’s chances at earning a birth in college football’s new playoff system.
Based on performances over the last few seasons, we here at Gamedayr have comprised a list of four groups of players, some featured to win the award, others darkhorses. There are many quarterbacks, some running backs, and a few wide receivers. There is one exclusively defensive player. All are upperclassmen save for two young gunnin’ sophomores, and all are at schools that currently hold championship aspirations.
The players listed here are grouped, as mentioned, into either a select group of ‘favorites’ or a larger pool of '2nd-tier guys', ‘darkhorses’, and 'young gunners'. Beyond those categorizations, feel free to formulate your own rankings and opinions.Without further ado...
The Favorites: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Southern Cal has produced a record seven Heisman winners, as well as brought on a slew of famous fans. Should Barkley, seen by many as the favorite for the trophy, build on the 39 passing touchdowns and 69% completion rate of a year ago, Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell may be looking forward to their program’s eighth winner come December.
The Favorites: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Ball finished fourth in Heisman voting a season ago, and will be the highest returning vote-getter after deciding to forgo the NFL draft for his senior season. After dropping over thirty pounds in between his sophomore and junior seasons, Ball really got into Heisman form, tying Barry Sanders’ single season touchdown record with a total of 39. If he can manage to crack thirty for a second time, expect him to high-step it all the way to New York once again.
The Favorites: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Jones was named after NFL Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry. Of course, this in no way makes him worthy of Heisman consideration. However, he currently sits at 18th on college football’s all-time passing yardage list with 12,379 heading into his senior season, and that does warrant all the pre-season hype. Jones has been starting since his freshman year and has improved his stats through each successive season. Should his senior campaign result in more of the same, Landry might just make his mark on the Heisman balloting and as his namesake did in the NFL.
The Favorites: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Robinson earned the nickname “Shoelace” because he has been playing football with his shoes untied since he was 10 years old. In 2011, he set the single-season NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback and became the only player in college football history to both rush and pass for over 1,500 yards. He has put up staggering numbers throughout his collegiate career, and he hasn’t even bothered to tie his shoes. Robinson and his Wolverines should have plenty to celebrate in 2012, and should he get the invite to New York, hopefully he’ll choose some nice shoes without laces.
2nd-Tier Guys: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
The Bulldogs are expected to make waves in both the SEC and the nation in 2012, and a lot of that pressure rests squarely on the shoulders of Aaron Murray. Murray has started the last two seasons and thrown for over 3,000 yards in each. Despite the yardage, his team has struggled out of the gate, going 1-4 to start 2010 and 0-2 last season. If Murray can get hot early and ride it through the conference schedule, the entire nation will be talking about the redshirt junior.
2nd-Tier Guys: A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
The SEC is the strongest, most powerful conference in college football, and the Tide are regularly at the top of the heap. ‘Bama is the defending national champion, and McCarron was named Offensive MVP of the 21-0 victory over LSU in the National Championship Game. The team will be without All-American running back Trent Richardson, who will be carrying the rock for the Cleveland Browns next season. Should Alabama find themselves in the hunt for the national title again, however, team leader McCarron must be considered one of the top players in the nation.
2nd-Tier Guys: Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Lattimore entered South Carolina one of the most highly decorated high school players in the history of the state, and did not disappoint as a freshman man-child. In just his second career college game, he broke 42 tackles en route to 182 yards and two touchdowns against an always tough Georgia team. He will be coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered against Mississippi State a season ago. All eyes in South Carolina will be on Lattimore and his knee. Should he return to form, the bright lights of New York may be fixated on him as well.
2nd-Tier Guys: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
Burkhead ranked 19th nationally in 2011 with a 104.4 rushing yards per game average and finished as one of the finalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s best running back each year. Nebraska is one of the most storied programs in college football history, and Burkhead currently sits at #12 on its all-time rushing list. The Academic All-Big Ten Burkhead heads into his senior season looking to make an impression on the football field, in the classroom, and in New York.
2nd-Tier Guys: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd was at the head of Clemson’s return to the national stage a season ago, leading the Tigers to a 10-3 finish and ACC Championship, both through the air and with his legs. In his first full season as the starter, Boyd passed for a spectacular 3828 yards and rushed for 218 more. His 38 combined touchdowns in 2011 set the Clemson record for most total touchdowns in one season. Despite all the success, the Tigers lost the Sugar Bowl in epic fashion, 70-33. If he uses that humiliation as fuel for his fire, he might break 40 touchdowns in 2012 and ride his desire for excellence all the to New York City.
The Young Gunners: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The second year superstar with by far the coolest hair of anyone on this list will have to overcome an offseason that includes an arrest on drug related charges just to make it back on the field. Only seven games into the 2011 season Watkins had already broken 11 freshman school records. He is only the third true freshman ever to be named a first team All-American, along with 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Hershel Walker and 2004 Heisman runner-up Adrian Peterson. If Watkins can sort out his personal affairs, he is going to take the nation by storm as a sophomore.
The Young Gunners: De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Mr. Thomas was born in 1993 and as a true freshman at Oregon amassed a mind-blowing 2,235 all-purpose yards. He also set the school’s freshman record with 18 touchdowns on the season. However, with all those games played on the West Coast, he did not arrive in the national spotlight until his two-touchdown, 314 all-purpose yard performance against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. His 91 yard rush broke the previous Rose Bowl record for longest run from scrimmage and he later ran for a 64 yard score, giving him a 77.5 rush yard average on the day. There is no way he can duplicate those numbers over an entire season, but should he be anywhere close, Thomas will be drinking sparkling grape juice in NYC.
The Darkhorses: Robert Woods, WR, USC
Woods was the No. 1 wide receiver recruit out of high school and has succeeded in every way at the next level. His 111 receptions in 2011 broke the Pac-12 record previously held by Keyshawn Johnson. It will be difficult to calculate his impact nationally with Heisman frontrunner Matt Barkley throwing him the ball. Woods is a fast as anyone in the nation, and if he can use that speed to change games on special teams, he just may punch his ticket to New York City.
The Darkhorses: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
After beginning his career with the Wildcats at wide receiver, Klein led K-State to the program’s first 7-0 start last season from under center. The streak included a victory over RGIII’s Baylor Bears and a 53-50 four-overtime endurance test at Texas A&M. Klein did it with his legs in that one, rushing for five touchdowns. If he can do his best Denard Robinson impression while continuing Kansas State’s return to national prominence, expect to see Klein in the Heisman conversation.
The Darkhorses: Dayne Crist, QB, Kansas
One of the great unknowns of the upcoming college football season. Crist has spent his entire career at Notre Dame but rarely saw the field due to injuries. In 2009, he tore his ACL against Washington and as the full-time starter in 2010 he ruptured his left patella tendon against Tulsa. At the very least, all the time away from the playing field gave him plenty of time to study, and he will be immediately available after transferring to Kansas and new head coach Charlie Weis since he has already completed his undergraduate requirements.
The Darkhorses: Geno Smith, QB, W. Virginia
New head coach Dana Holgersen implemented a more pro-style offensive game plan in 2011, to the great benefit of Smith. After playing admirably as a sophomore full-time starter, Smith’s numbers took off his junior year, and he tied the Big East record for most consecutive games passing for over 300 yards with seven. In 1998, Marc Bulger had set school records for pass completions, attempts and yards until last season when Smith broke all of them. In WVU’s 70-33 Orange Bowl victory over Clemson, Smith tied three bowl records: Most touchdown passes (six), most total touchdowns (seven) and total points (42). If he continues to dominate Big East play, how can he not draw some consideration?
The Darkhorses: James Vandenberg QB, Iowa
Born and raised in the state and holding ten different Iowa high school passing records, the hopes of the Hawkeyes rest entirely on their hometown hero. Vandenberg has big game experience, leading Iowa to its first ever BCS Bowl victory in 2010’s Orange Bowl over Georgia Tech, but will have to minimize the inconsistencies that plagued him and his team in 2011. The Hawkeyes finished last season at merely 7-5 but beat #12 overall Mizzou in the Insight Bowl, a testament to the talents of the team’s quarterback and surrounding talent. Should Vandenberg find a way to utilize that talent week in and week out, the Hawkeyes can make waves in the Big Ten and Vandenberg may turn a few heads nationally.
The Darkhorses: Keith Price, QB, Washington
Obviously an extremely patriotic individual, Price has otherwise enjoyed television’s East Coast bias, saying, “I kind of like flying under the radar.” Of course, that all changed after he threw four touchdown passes and ran for three more scores in the Huskies’ 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss to RGIII’s Bears. He posted a stellar 161.9 QB rating a season ago. If he can maintain that great balance between his arms and his legs, Price and his Huskies will be a serious threat to beat anyone come 2012.
The Darkhorses: E.J. Manuel, QB, FSU
Entering FSU as the second-rated high school quarterback in the nation, Manuel saw extensive playing time his first two seasons as a backup to injury-prone Christian Ponder. Handed the reins prior to his junior season, Manuel finished the 2011 campaign with 2,666 yards passing and a 65% completion rate. The Seminoles on the whole failed to impress, however. Should the team’s comeback victory against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl carry over into 2012, the nation might very well find the ‘Noles leader, Manuel, dressed to impress in New York City.
The Darkhorses: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Nebraska was the only school to offer Martinez a scholarship, and ‘T-Magic’ has rewarded the Cornhuskers in a big way. In 2010 Martinez lead the \'Huskers to a first place finish in the Big-12 North, and was named the Big-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. Despite some growing pains during the program’s first season as a member of the Big Ten in 2011, Martinez managed to lead his men to a 9-4 finish with 2,089 yards passing and 874 yards on the ground. He should be feeling a lot more comfortable his second time through a brutal Big Ten schedule, and that should be good news to ‘Huskers fans, who have been eying a trip to New York for their star.
Get Primed for the 2012 CFB Season >> 2012 Pre-Season College Football Rankings, Top 25 from a Fan’s Perspective
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