Preseason logic hasn’t applied much to the Heisman race in recent seasons.
Robert Griffin III? Yeah, everyone knew he was a talent, but he played for Baylor. Guys from Baylor don’t win the Heisman, right?
Cam Newton? There was no preseason Heisman buzz for a junior college transfer taking over a team that was second-best in its own state.
Mark Ingram? He was just a time-share running back at Alabama in the previous season.
So it is with these warnings that we take a look at who appears to have the best shot at the Heisman as the college football season begins this week:
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC. Everybody’s favorite. He has the talent, the name brand, the No. 1 team in the AP poll, and more toys to play with on offense than any quarterback in the country.
2. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan. Just think if he’s the guy who delivers Michigan to its first Rose Bowl since the 2004 season. He’s not a “classic” quarterback, but he’ll get Heisman bonus points if he puts that crazy athleticism to use in the right spots in the right games.
3. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. There will be a bigger spotlight on Smith this season as West Virginia moves to the Big 12, building on a season in which he passed for 4,385 yards. He has a chance to impress voters in his new conference, while voters in the Eastern regions will be nodding their heads at Smith’s familiar success.
4. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin. He reached 1,923 yards last season and rushed for 33 touchdowns … and he still was a distant fourth in the Heisman voting. He’s a good bet to be on the short list of candidates, but he’s probably going to have to top 2,000 yards and have Wisconsin win the Big 12 to win it all. Could happen.
5. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma. Forget about the Geno Smith kid. Jones is the reigning gunslinger in this part of the country … assuming he learns how to complete passes without Ryan Broyles around. He’ll be more in sync with his targets than he was late last season, ready to atone for a “down” season with 4,463 passing yards.
The next five need to put together the right blend of opportunity and team success, but it’s doable:
6. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
7. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
8. Marcus Lattimore, RB South Carolina
9. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
10. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
KEEP AN EYE ON
1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
2. Keith Price, QB, Washington
3. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
4. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
(Note: We love USC receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, but their success is largely dependent on Barkley … and good luck prying votes away from a healthy, productive Barkley.)
WEEK 1 GAMES TO WATCH
1. Michigan vs. Alabama (Arlington), Saturday. The showcase comes early for Denard Robinson. The winner of the game should be No. 1 in the country in everybody’s poll after this week.
2. Clemson vs. Auburn (Atlanta), Saturday. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd threw for 3,828 yards last season as a sophomore, and he has a standout group of wideouts (although Sammy Watkins is suspended for the opener). Meanwhile, Auburn’s touted QB, Kiehl Frazier jumps on the “Keep an eye on” list with a big game here.
3. South Carolina at Vanderbilt, Thursday. It’s the return of Marcus Lattimore, and a conference game to boot. He rushed for 77 yards on 20 carries vs. the Commodores last season. He’ll need to be better this time for the Gamecocks to pull out a road victory.