Now presenting the 2006 HP Preseason Heisman List.
Unlike a lot of Heisman watches, my preseason list is intended to determine which players have the best chance of actually winning the trophy at season’s end. So, the following list is NOT a prediction of the eventual order of the voting, but a gauge of the strengths of each of the top candidates. I will put out top 10 updates from time to time, but this is not one of them.
I can say with extreme confidence that the Heisman winner will come from the following group of players:
1. Brady Quinn, Sr., QB, Notre Dame
I’ve had my eye on Quinn as a potential candidate since October of 2004. Last year, he finished fourth in the voting and is the leading returning vote getter.
He became the Heisman front runner for 2006 when he nearly led his Irish to an upset of USC last October. It certainly didn’t hurt that he had a fantastic junior season, with 3,919 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, a 65 per cent completion percentage and just seven interceptions.
Quinn is the perfect Heisman candidate. He is a senior quarterback playing for the quintessential traditional power. That team also happens to be considered a legitimate national title contender. He has very high name recognition, but has not yet become oversaturated the way Matt Leinart was last year. He is in an offense that will get him a ton of yards and touchdowns and he will do it on TV every week with the eyes of the college football world upon him. He plays a position that is as glamorous and storied as it gets. What’s more, he is likeable guy.
The Heisman Trophy is his to lose. He is the default candidate, meaning that if no other player blows the field away and he does what he is supposed to do (and the Irish don’t suffer an unforeseen collapse), he will win going away.
2. Adrian Peterson, Jr., RB, Oklahoma
The only other player who can rival Quinn in name recognition and Heisman cache is Peterson, who was the runner up for the trophy as a true freshman.
He followed up that 1,925-yard debut effort with an injury-riddled 1,104-yard effort as a sophomore.
Peterson is a junior running back on a traditional power. As noted before, he has outstanding name recognition and it seems like he has been around forever. One of the strengths of his candidacy is that there are a lot of Heisman voters out there who have cast ballots for him in the past. The Heisman electorate, like the GOP primary base, is big on rewarding candidates when it is their ‘turn’.
There are a couple things that could hurt his candidacy, though. Obviously, Oklahoma’s instability at quarterback could affect how defenses key on Peterson. And if the Sooners have a hard time sticking around the Top 10, then his chance for the trophy could be doomed.
But if he stays healthy–not a given, considering his upright, attacking running style–he’ll have a huge year and be right on Quinn’s heels.
3. Troy Smith, Sr., QB, Ohio State
Smith is an intriguing candidate and the strongest of the darkhorse possibilities. He passed for 2,282 yards and 16 TDs with just four picks and rushed for another 611 yards and 11 TDs as a junior last year.
He is this year’s Vince Young in that he is a dynamic, multi-threat quarterback who is the undisputed leader and engine of his national title-contending team. Since the Buckeye’s are the preseason No. 1 and he plays for a traditional power, Smith has a nice starting point in this Heisman race. Any other year, he might be the front runner.
Smith could be both helped and hurt by Young’s amazing performance last season. On the one hand, he could benefit from those voters who now feel that Young was the deserving winner over Reggie Bush and that Smith is now the next best thing. Or, he could ultimately pale in comparison when voters put the two side by side in their minds.
Whatever the case, Smith is pretty much a lock to make the top five. As a result, a trip to New York could very well be in the offing.
4. Chris Leak, Sr., QB, Florida
Leak does not play for a traditional Heisman power, but he does play for a team that gets a lot of publicity thanks to its coach and the reputation of its system.
By the way, have you noticed that Leak has quietly put together a nice little career in Gainesville? Despite the disruption of coaching changes and new offensive schemes–not to mention being coached by Ron Zook–he has over 8,200 passing yards and 65 passing TDs in his three years. With a strong season, he has a chance to finish among the all-time SEC passing greats in terms of yards and touchdowns.
Florida’s win-loss record will ultimately determine Leak’s Heisman fate. He is a senior with good name recognition who plays for a highly-ranked team and could put up a lot of yards, but the Gators need to win the SEC for him to be in the Heisman conversation in early December.
Oh, and the other two Florida Heisman winners also won in years ending in the number 6.
Food for thought.
5. Kyle Wright, Jr., QB, Miami
Why is Kyle Wright here? Well, he is a junior quarterback on a traditional Heisman power. He had 2,400 passing yards and 18 TDs last year, but he has the talent to produce much bigger numbers. He may also have the right offensive coordinator in Rich Olson to help get him there.
Miami’s new offensive scheme is a departure from the system Wright ran his previous two seasons. It is more like the one-back/three wide-outs scheme made popular by Dennis Erickson, who Olson coached under during his first stint at Miami in the early 1990s.
In other words, while the previous Miami offense featured a power running game, this one should see more footballs in the air to take advantage of the great athletes Miami has at wide receiver. Old-style ‘Canes football–with all the swagger, gold teeth and combat fatigues that it entails–could be on its way back.
Since most quarterbacks make their biggest jump in progress between their second and third seasons of play (see: Brady Quinn, for example) I could see Wright emerging with a huge statistical season.
Having that Monday night game with Florida State all to himself doesn’t hurt either. There could be a perfect storm brewing in Coral Gables.
And did I mention that this is the 20th anniversary of Vinny Testaverde’s Heisman?
6. Marshawn Lynch, Jr., RB, California
Lynch is a talented junior who had 1,246 yards last year despite missing three games due to injury. For his career, he is averaging an astounding 7 yards per carry.
Lynch plays in a system that gets him numbers and, if he can stay healthy all year, he could approach the 2,000-yard mark. Since he will open the season with a marquee opponent in Tennessee, he has a chance to strike first blood among the darkhorses in the Heisman race. He also has the potential to be the first running back taken in next year’s NFL draft, so he could get a lot of attention as that opinion coalesces.
However, if Cal loses more than one game, he will be an also ran.
7. Kenny Irons, Sr., RB, Auburn
There is a precedent for an Auburn running back winning the Heisman, as Bo Jackson won it in 1985. Irons isn’t Jackson, but he’s pretty good. He rushed for 1,293 yards and 13 TDs last year (most of it coming the last 8 or 9 games) and led the SEC in rushing. Auburn’s lofty ranking will get him some attention, but he would need to approach 2,000 yards to have a real shot.
8. Chad Henne, Jr., QB, Michigan
Henne is in this spot by virtue of playing for Michigan and being a junior with a solid resume to this point in his career.
Nonetheless, he is a true long shot who will have to have a great season and lead Michigan to the Big Ten title and a win over Ohio State to really have a chance.
9. Brian Brohm, Jr., QB, Louisville
It’s a hard thing for a player from a school like Louisville to win a Heisman. And this is coming from a guy who really admires what Bobby Petrino has done with the program. But, unless Brohm can lead Louisville on a run to the national title game, he’s going to be an also-ran in this race.
If he has another great season like last year (when he completed 69 per cent and threw for 2,883 yards and 19 TDs), he could earn a trip to New York.
The long shot
10. Drew Tate, Sr., QB, Iowa
Tate is sort of the forgotten man on the national scene. He had a great sophomore season and then followed that up with a good junior season that didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Brad Banks showed that an Iowa quarterback could make waves in the Heisman race. Like Banks, Tate will need to lead the Hawkeyes to at least a share of the Big Ten title to be considered a legit Heisman candidate.
Lorenzo Booker, FSU–Carson Palmer proved that sometimes it takes a while for a special talent to put it all together. If Booker makes a splash against Miami in week one, he could be on his way.
Ted Ginn, Ohio State–He would have to be involved in his offense in a way heretofore not seen to have a real shot. Don’t think Tressel is willing to do it.
Michael Bush, Louisville–A touchdown machine, but Brohm will get most of the hype.