The HP Winter Top 20

We are in the embryonic stages of the race for the 2007 Heisman, but it’s not too early to start cobbling together a list of the players out there who will at least get a whiff of legitimate consideration.

As seen first at CSTV.com, here are the top 20 candidates (as of this writing) for the 2007 Heisman:

20. Sam Keller, Sr., QB, Nebraska: Keller is under the radar after sitting out last season following his transfer from Arizona State. He’s an NFL talent who should have no problem adjusting to Bill Callahan’s pro-style system. Nebraska is a school with Heisman tradition, so if Keller takes the Big 12 by storm, he could make a legitimate run.

19. Andre Woodson, Sr., QB, Kentucky: While Chris Leak and JaMarcus Russell got all the pub, it was Woodson who led the SEC in passing while leading Kentucky to its first bowl win in 22 years. He threw for over 3,500 yards and had 31 touchdown passes. He’s a long shot, but stranger things have happened.

18. P.J. Hill, So., RB, Wisconsin: Hill is a sophomore, so his chances of winning the Heisman are very slim, but one can’t completely ignore his fabulous freshman season in which he rushed for 1,569 yards and 15 touchdowns. If he improves on those numbers and others fall by the wayside, he may earn a trip to New York for his efforts.

17. C.J. Spiller, So. RB, Clemson: Like Hill, Spiller is a sophomore and therefore all but excluded from serious Heisman consideration. However, he’s such a super talent that it wouldn’t be a shock to see him make some noise in the race. Last season he had 938 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns and averaged over seven yards per carry while splitting time with James Davis. Look for him to improve on those numbers this year.

16. Colt McCoy, So. QB, Texas: McCoy had a fabulous freshman season, throwing for nearly 2,600 yards while tying the NCAA freshman record with 29 touchdown passes. It will be a tough act for him to follow as expectations for his second year will be through the roof. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll once again be surrounded by some of the best talent in the country.

15. Jonathan Stewart, Jr., RB, Oregon: Stewart, who rushed for 981 yards and 10 touchdowns during an injury-riddled sophomore season, has as much talent as any back in the nation. If he can stay healthy and focused, he could put up huge numbers as the focal point of the Duck offense.

14. Chase Daniel, Jr., QB, Missouri: Daniel is one of the more exciting players in the country and he had Tiger fans asking “Brad Smith Who?” after his first season as a starter. He threw for 3,527 yards, 28 TDs and 10 interceptions and added another 379 yards rushing. If he can top those numbers, he could be a serious candidate.

13. Ray Rice, Jr., RB, Rutgers: Rice isn’t the flashiest of backs, but his production is phenomenal. Last year he had 1,794 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns as the Scarlet Knights had a dream season. Things might be a bit tougher this year without fullback Brian Leonard to lead block, but if he can approach 2,000 yards, he might be in the mix at year’s end.

12. Ian Johnson, Jr., RB, Boise State: Johnson keyed Boise State’s undefeated season by rushing for 1,714 yards and a nation-best 25 touchdowns. The best thing for his 2007 candidacy was Boise’s improbable win over Oklahoma, followed by his proposal to his cheerleader girlfriend on national television. Hey, this is the Heisman – every little bit of publicity helps.

11. Erik Ainge, Sr., QB, Tennessee: Ainge was one of the feel-good stories of last season as he rebounded from a wretched sophomore year by passing for 2,989 yards and 19 TDs while completing 67 per cent of his throws. He’s got good name recognition and if he can lead Tennessee to an SEC title, he’ll get his share of Heisman consideration.

10. Brian Brohm, Sr., QB, Louisville: Brohm threw for 3,049 yards and 16 touchdowns last year as Louisville finished 12-1. He’s got to stay healthy, but he has the talent and the name recognition to mount a serious run for the Heisman. One unknown factor is how the Cardinals’ offensive system will change with the loss of head coach Bobby Petrino to the NFL.

9. Chad Henne, Sr., QB, Michigan: If you watched the Rose Bowl, you saw what Henne could do when given a chance to air it out. He threw for 309 yards against a very good USC defense, part of a 2,508-yard, 22-TD season. He’ll have a great receiving corps to work with and, being a Michigan quarterback, he shouldn’t be counted out just yet.

8. DeSean Jackson, Jr., WR, Cal: Simply put, Jackson is the most exciting player in the country. As a sophomore, he had 59 catches for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns and he led the nation in punt returns with an average of 18.2 per return (with four scores). He has ability to score from any point on the field and, if he can catch fire, a Desmond Howard-like run at the Heisman is within reach.

7. Jamaal Charles, Jr., RB, Texas: Charles had just 831 yards and seven touchdowns last year, but with the graduation of Selvin Young, he should be the man in Austin next season. He is hands-down the fastest running back in the country, with several sub-10.2-second 100-meter times to his credit. A big junior year will make him a legit Heisman contender.

6. Patrick White, Jr., QB, West Virginia: White is an amazing weapon in the open field and an improving passer. While Steve Slaton gets most of the hype, he is the heart and soul of the West Virginia offense. Last year, he had 1,219 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns and added another 1,655 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air. He’ll have to share attention with Slaton, though, and that could hurt his Heisman chances.

5. Mike Hart, Sr., RB, Michigan: It seems like he has been around for 10 years, doesn’t it? He’s coming off a fantastic season in which he rushed for 1,562 yards and 14 touchdowns and finished fifth in the Heisman voting. He’s as steady as they come and one of the more-recognized names in college football – all good attributes to have in a Heisman race.

4. Colt Brennan, Sr., QB, Hawai’i: Brennan is coming off one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in NCAA history with 5,549 yards and 58 touchdowns. Ironically, those numbers will be his biggest obstacle to his Heisman campaign – simply put, how do you top that? Maybe Brennan can. If he does, the Heisman could be his.

3. Steve Slaton, Jr., RB, West Virginia: Slaton has built an almost-perfect Heisman resume, as he followed up an impressive freshman year with an outstanding sophomore season that included a fourth-place Heisman finish. He rushed for 1,744 yards and 16 touchdowns and seemed to break long runs on a weekly basis. He’ll have to compete with White for some of the pub, but he’s got great name recognition at this point and with a big season he could take home the trophy.

2. Darren McFadden, Jr., RB, Arkansas: No candidate rose up the ranks in the Heisman field faster than McFadden did toward the end of last season. Thanks to his running skills and versatility, he came out of nowhere to finish second in the Heisman voting. On the year, he rushed for 1,647 yards and 14 TDs, but it was his oft-reprised role as a passer that captured the college football world’s imagination. Without a doubt he is a leading candidate to win the Heisman in 2007, assuming Arkansas can challenge for the SEC title again.

1. John David Booty, Sr., QB, USC: The USC quarterback has become a glamour position in college football and Booty stands to benefit from that in 2007. When you also take into account the likelihood that the Trojans will be the preseason No. 1 in all the polls, Booty has more advantages in this race than any other player out there. It doesn’t hurt that he is coming off a great junior year in which he threw for 3,347 yards and 29 touchdowns either. There’s a long way to go, but right now Booty is the front runner for the 2007 Heisman.

As you can see, this is a very inclusive list, especially as it pertains to the Heismandments. Most of the players on this list have very little shot at winning the Heisman, but if there is a chance–however infinitesimal–they are included.

The closer we get to the season, the more this list will narrow, until only the players who can actually win remain.

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About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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