Here is my list of the players with the best chance of actually winning the Heisman. It is not a predicted order of finish, so some players NOT on this list are still going to receive votes and finish somewhere in the top 10, but will in reality have no chance of actually taking home the trophy.
1. Colt McCoy, Texas–Last year’s Heisman runner up has accomplished the impressive feat of keeping up with Tim Tebow’s publicity machine in the offseason. For instance, while Tebow is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, McCoy is on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. McCoy is the senior quarterback of a traditional Heisman power and will help his team compete for a national title. The perception out there is that perhaps he should’ve won the award last year and, as a result, voters will look to him first in 2009. He had fantastic numbers in 2008, but they weren’t so amazing that they can’t be duplicated or surpassed. He will have big games on TV against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M (on Thanksgiving) to impress the voters (and also the possibility of the Big 12 title game). He’s got most of his offensive line returning, plus plenty of weapons at receiver, so his stats should not suffer. Last year, he finished second to Sam Bradford in the Southwest and Far West regions, so much of Bradford’s support in those areas could go his way in 2009. He is a likeable guy and so far has not been oversaturated in the media. All other things being equal, McCoy has the best chance of winning the 2009 Heisman Trophy.
2. Tim Tebow, Florida–In previous years I would not put a player on this list who had already won a Heisman, mainly because I believe there will never be another two-time Heisman winner. However, Tebow is one of those unique figures in college football history for whom an exception must be made. He was the first sophomore to win the Heisman, so if anyone can win it a second time, it’s him. He is helped by the fact that the glow of his Heisman season is two years in the past. If he wins, he would be the Grover Cleveland of the Heisman (Cleveland being the only U.S. president to win non-consecutive terms). I think winning two Heismans non-consecutively is a far more likely possibility than back-to-back Heismans. The advantages Tebow has in this race are legion. He is of course the quarterback for the No. 1 team and defending national champ. He is the most famous player in college football right now and his name recognition is off the charts. He is universally recognized as a great player and many see this season as his chance to establish himself as perhaps the greatest player in college football history. He will once again put up excellent numbers in his inimitable style. He’ll have marquee matchups against LSU, Georgia and Florida State (plus the SEC title game) to make his case. So why isn’t he at the top of this list? Mainly because History is a tough thing to overcome. Heisman voters are fickle and will not give out a second trophy very willingly. The burden of proof for Tebow to win again will be tremendous and it will only happen if there is not a viable alternative. Plus, Tebow Fatigue will play a real factor (we saw it in last year’s vote as well). So don’t believe those who think this race is Tebow’s to lose. It isn’t.
3. Jahvid Best, California–In an era dominated by spread quarterbacks, there is still room for a flashy running back. There has been only one running back Heisman winner in this decade (Reggie Bush) and Best’s style is very similar to that winner. He is coming off a fantastic sophomore year (1,580 yards, 15 TDs, 8.1 ypc) and has a chance to better those numbers if he stays healthy. His big advantage is that he could be seen as the top running back alternative to all the quarterbacks in the race. He also is a dazzling breakaway back who will be a staple of the highlight shows. His big disadvantage is that he plays for a non-traditional Heisman power. This means his Heisman run is at the mercy of his team’s success. It will all boil down to how he does against USC. If Cal beats the Trojans and he does well, then he becomes a serious Heisman contender. The other issue is his durability. A healthy Best likely approaches 2,000 yards and you don’t need accounting college to know he’ll require every one of those yards to have a shot at the Heisman.
4. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State–The last two Heisman winners have been sophomores, so maybe the trend continues here. In order for a sophomore to win, he’s got to play for a traditional power and put up some crazy numbers at the same time. Pryor has the chance to do just that, but it will depend on how well his passing has improved in the offseason. Obviously, he’s a brilliant talent and if he comes into his own in 2009, he can make a serious Heisman run. He’s got a big game in week two against USC in which to establish his Heisman candidacy. If he leads a Buckeye win over the Trojans, he’ll be in the Heisman race all year. If Ohio State loses, he’ll crawl his way back into it as the season progresses–big games against Penn State and Michigan could help–but he will not be a serious factor and will actually be setting himself up nicely for a run in 2010.
5. Daryll Clark, Penn State–Clark had an excellent season as a first-year starter in 2008 and he should improve upon his numbers in 2009. The Nittany Lions have a chance to run the table and if they do, Clark will get most of the credit. His schedule isn’t exceptionally conducive to a Heisman run, but he does play Ohio State. If some of the other candidates mess up or get injured, he could be seen as a viable alternative as long as the Lions are undefeated.
6. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame–You can never count out a Notre Dame quarterback. Clausen has name recognition and should put up pretty good numbers in 2009. The Irish play an easy schedule, so Clausen has a shot at leading his team to a BCS bowl. Of course, his big chance to make a Heisman statement will come against USC (do you see a trend here?). If Notre Dame beats the Trojans and the Irish go on to win, say, 10 games, then Clausen will get some Heisman buzz. His best chance of winning is for the main candidates to screw up and for Clausen to be seen as the reason behind the resurgence of Notre Dame football. He’s got the receivers to have a huge year, but will he actually do it? There’s the rub.
7. Max Hall, BYU–Only one school from a non-BCS conference has won the Heisman in the modern era and that’s Brigham Young. The great tradition of Cougar quarterbacks gives Hall an outside chance at making a Heisman run. Above all, he’s got the schedule to prove his mettle as BYU plays Oklahoma and Florida State in the early going. If the Cougars come out of that unscathed, then Hall will be a legitimate candidate. Whether he’d be able to overcome the McCoys and Tebows is another question, but he’d be seen as a viable alternative if they falter.
8. Jevan Snead, Mississippi–Ole Miss is the hip choice as this year’s dark horse title contender. If the Rebels live up to their billing, it will be because of the play of Snead, who is a potential first round pick. He had a pretty good year in 2008 and if he can improve upon his numbers and keep Ole Miss in the title hunt, he’ll be a Heisman candidate. But if the Rebels lose a game or two, his Heisman hopes will be finished.
9. Noel Devine, West Virginia–Devine has pretty good name recognition and a solid sophomore season to build upon. He’d have to shatter the 2,000-yard mark in spectacular fashion to be a real factor in the race.
10. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State–Bryant is the only multi-purpose athlete in the race. He is already recognized as a fantastic receiver and return man. If he can duplicate what he did last year as a sophomore and maybe drive a stake or two in the hearts of some of the elite Big 12 teams (like OU and Texas), then he can pick up a lot of Heisman votes. Nothing thrills Heisman voters like timely, deadly punt returns and Bryant will have the chance to do just that.
If the vote were held right now
1. Colt McCoy
2. Tim Tebow
3. Sam Bradford
4. Jahvid Best
5. Dez Bryant
6. Eric Berry
7. Daryll Clark
8. Jeremiah Masoli
9. Max Hall