This Year’s Recruiting Class And The Heisman

My latest column is the lead at CSTV.com and it’s on this year’s signing class and which of the players in it have the best shot at the Heisman in the coming years.

National signing day is upon us and, once again, college football’s rich programs are about to get even richer.

By most accounts, Florida is set to follow up its BCS crown with the top recruiting class in the country. Likely 2007 preseason No. 1 USC isn’t far behind, with Texas, Tennessee and LSU also boasting outstanding hauls. While talent doesn’t always assure teams of success – coaching obviously plays a huge part – it’s safe to assume these schools will be challenging for national titles in the next three or four years.

It’s also likely that one of the youngsters inking his name to a letter of intent tomorrow will be giving a Heisman acceptance speech in 2009 or 2010.

With that in mind, I decided to look at the top high school players in the country to try to determine which ones had the best shots at being viable Heisman candidates in the near future.

First off, I narrowed my list to quarterbacks, running backs and multi-purpose athletes. No matter what anyone says, you can forget about tight ends, linebackers or linemen winning the trophy.

Second, I focused mainly on recruits heading to the elite, traditional powers. Like it or not, the following schools–Notre Dame, USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida State, Miami and Nebraska–have built-in advantages when it comes to the Heisman. If you play for those nine programs, you are more likely to win. However, that doesn’t mean that other schools won’t field viable candidates either, so I included a few names from some of the non-traditional powers as well.

Last, I looked at the players’ abilities. I asked: Do their skills translate to the next level? How quickly will they make an impact? Do they have the physical measurables and the intangibles needed to succeed?

Just based on video footage and my own research, here is the list I have come up with:

The Cream of the Crop

Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame - So much has already been written about Clausen, it’s difficult to add anything new here. He’s the consensus best prep player in the country and is already enrolled at Notre Dame for the spring semester. He has tremendous physical tools – though he’s not the biggest quarterback around – and could start right away, but his career could get off to a rough start as the Irish seem headed for a rebuilding season in 2007. If he comes anywhere close to living up to his hype, though, he should win a Heisman for Notre Dame at some point.

Ryan Mallett, Michigan – He’s a huge kid (6-foot-7, 250) with a big arm and he’ll be playing for one of the elite programs in Michigan. He was particularly impressive at the U.S. Army All-American game this past January. Not the most mobile of quarterbacks, but he is physically developed and because of that could step in as soon as Chad Henne departs. I had the chance to be around Mallett at the Elite 11 quarterback camp last summer and found him to be pretty impressive. However, word on the street was that he wasn’t the most mature kid around. If he can fix that, it looks like he’ll be a Heisman contender in the years to come.

John Chiles, Texas - Chiles should have an instant impact for the Longhorns next season. The only question is: At what position? He played quarterback in high school, but he has the skills to play running back or receiver, too. With Texas’ loss of former quarterback commit John Brantley to Florida, it looks like he will get a shot to be the next Vince Young, though he doesn’t quite possess the same stature, checking in at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds. Still, he’s like a bolt of lightning in the open field and he could be a nightmare for opposing defenses as a read-option quarterback. He may be the best athlete in the country and unless he gets hurt or misused, he seems like a sure-fire Heisman candidate down the road.

Marc Tyler, USC – Playing running back for USC is always a boon to a Heisman candidacy. Being the son of a former NFL great doesn’t hurt either. Tyler is one of the more refined ball carriers in the country. Like his father, Wendell, he has the size, vision and receiving ability to be an excellent all-around back. He has good, but not great, speed. He broke his leg during his senior year of high school so it is likely that he will redshirt his first season for the Trojans. By 2009, though, he’ll be coming into his own and he could be a Heisman candidate in 2010.

Cameron Newton, Florida - Newton is an amazing athlete at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds. He is the perfect fit for Urban Meyer’s spread offense and I think he’ll be the back up to Tim Tebow next season and, once he becomes the starter in a couple years, he’ll put up huge numbers for the Gators. He has the arm to make all the throws and the running ability to make defenses pay. Florida fans should be excited, because players like him don’t come around very often. Expect for him to make a run at the Heisman in 2010.

Chris Rainey, Florida – Florida has been lacking in running back talent the last few seasons but that’s all about to change with the arrival of Rainey in Gainesville. He’s only 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, but Rainey is a phenomenal runner with rare vision and change of direction. He is a true breakaway back who should go crazy in Florida’s spread offense, probably as early as next season. He should eventually develop into one of the best backs in the SEC and a potential Heisman candidate.

Brandon Saine, Ohio State - Saine is a speedster who should be a nice change-of-pace back for the Buckeyes as a freshman. He is a lot flashier than current Buckeye Chris Wells, but he also has decent size at 6-foot, 200 pounds, so he has a chance to be an every-down back. Being an Ohio State running back makes for instant Heisman credibility, so once Saine holds down the starting job, he’ll be a contender.

Joe McKnight, Uncommitted – McKnight is expected to choose between USC and LSU and his choice could help determine his future Heisman chances. While LSU isn’t chopped liver, it doesn’t quite compare to USC when it comes to Heisman tradition. Many see McKnight as a Reggie Bush-type player, but I think that’s being a bit generous. He doesn’t have the angle-breaking acceleration that Bush had in college (though few do). Instead, he uses guile and an array of moves to break runs rather than relying on pure speed. He is a great receiver and return man, so he has the chance to be an all-around threat wherever he plays. Many think he is the top player in the country and in a few years, he just might be.

Noel Devine, Uncommitted - No player in this year’s class is as exciting as Devine. Simply put, his highlight film is a pure joy to watch. He is one of the most amazing backs I have ever seen, with rare breakaway speed and vision. He is so fast that it seems like he is playing on a 50-yard field while everyone else is on the standard 100-yarder. He is undersized at 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, but he is stronger than he looks and should shine in the right system. As long as he doesn’t bulk up too much and become top heavy, he’ll be a big college football star. The only issue right now is where he’ll play. At this point, it looks like he will not qualify and he could be headed for prep school this coming fall.

The Dark Horses

Willy Korn, Clemson – A Steve Young-style quarterback who could lead the Tigers to national prominence.

Jahvid Best, California – Cal is getting the fastest back in the country with a 10.39 100-meter dash to his credit.

Robert Marve, Miami - Not your typical Miami quarterback at just 6-foot-1, but he could be the guy to help the `Canes revive things under new coach Randy Shannon.

Keith Nichol, Oklahoma – Bob Stoops has coached a Heisman winner and a Heisman runner-up and neither were big recruits. Could Nichol be next?

John Clay, Wisconsin - Clay could be the next great Badger back once P.J. Hill leaves.

Well, that’s my list of future Heisman candidates. Be sure to check back in three or four years and let me know if I came anywhere close to being right.

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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