Heisman Pundit’s 2010 Preseason Heisman Watch

August is upon us, camp is right around the corner and the games are a month away, which means it’s time for my annual preseason list of the players with the best chance of actually winning the Heisman.

This is not–repeat, not!–how I think the vote will fall.  The players listed here are the ones who I think can win and therefore they are listed in the order of their odds of doing so (if all things, including stats, are equal).  This means that there may be several players not listed here who will indeed finish in the top 10 of the voting but can’t actually win.  Conversely, some of the players listed below may not end up sniffing any Heisman votes, but could win if certain things go right .  

This list takes into account the strengths of the candidates and the traditional power of the teams involved, their level of name recognition entering the season, their statistical past, their statistical potential for 2010, their talent, their schedule and all the intangibles that could possibly come into play.   As the season goes on, we will whittle the list down.

I will say that 2010 does not feature a slam dunk preseason favorite.  There is not a whole lot separating the top 10 or so candidates.  But, if they were all perceived to have the same type of year, this is how it would go:

1. Terrelle Pryor, QB, Jr., Ohio State–Pryor gets the top spot on this list thanks to his superior name recognition, his rapidly blossoming talent and the fact that he is a junior quarterback for a traditional power expected to vie for the national title.  He helped the Buckeyes finish strong last year, culminating in an MVP performance in a win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl [note: always helps to be a bowl MVP].  He threw for 2,087 yards, 18 TDs and 11 interceptions while rushing for 779 yards and another seven scores.      If, as expected, he improves upon those numbers and Ohio State is in the thick of the national title hunt, he’s got a great shot at winning the Heisman.  An early showdown with Miami gives him the platform to launch his campaign.  A trio of games with Penn State, Iowa and Michigan is there at the end for him to seal the deal.  I think he’ll need minimum 2,500 passing yards with 25 TDs and at least 800 additional rushing yards in order to be deemed Heisman worthy.  If the Rose Bowl is any indication of his future potential, then it shouldn’t be a problem.      

2. Jacory Harris, QB, Jr., Miami–This could be the year of the ACC Heisman contender and in my eyes Harris leads the pack.  He’s a junior quarterback on a traditional power that has a chance to contend for the national title.  He’s got decent name recognition and is coming off a sophomore season where he threw for 3,352 yards and 24 touchdowns (plus 17 interceptions).  Obviously, he needs to cut down on his picks, but I think he’ll do that as he now has a full year in Mark Whipple’s system.  The compelling narrative in Harris’ favor is that he could be the guy who leads Miami back to prominence after about half-a-decade of mediocrity or worse.  He’ll have the showdown against Ohio State early to state his case, then tough road games at Pitt and Clemson to punctuate it.  And he’s got Florida State and Virginia Tech at home, which makes things easier.  If he can keep his rather rail-like body intact, he should have a big season and lead Miami to the ACC title.  That could mean a trip to New York.    

3. Christian Ponder, QB, Sr. Florida State–As with Miami’s Harris, Ponder’s appeal is that he could be the quarterback to lead his program back to national relevance.  He’s the senior quarterback for a traditional power that has a chance to have a really good season.  While he doesn’t have a huge amount of name recognition heading into the year, the FSU sports information office has done a masterful job getting the word out about Ponder in the offseason.  Last year, he threw for 2,717 yards, with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing nearly 69 percent of his passes.  However, he missed the last four games due to injury and wasn’t able to put up the kind of numbers you usually see from a Heisman candidate.  If healthy, he should do just that in 2010.  Early games at Oklahoma and versus BYU will help show he is back, while slaying the Gators at the end could be the key to his whole Heisman rationale.

4. Ryan Williams, RB, So., Virginia Tech–Yet another ACC contender.  The last three winners have been sophomores, so maybe Williams will keep the trend alive in 2010.  He was an absolute stud as a freshman, rushing for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards per carry.  He played well against good teams, rushing for 71 yards and two scores on 13 carries against Alabama (in his debut), 107 yards and a score on 21 carries against Nebraska and 117 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl thrashing of Tennessee.  Due to his youth, Williams doesn’t have a whole lot of name recognition, but I expect that to change quickly in 2010.  He starts out with a Monday night prime time matchup against what will be a top three Boise State team, then hits a fairly soft schedule for the next seven games.  By the time the Hokies host Georgia Tech in a Thursday night game in early November, he may well be leading the nation in rushing and perhaps the Heisman race as well.  Late games against a tough North Carolina defense and a very good Miami team will make or break his final Heisman case.  If Virginia Tech is winning the ACC and Williams is racking up the yards, look out.

5. John Clay, RB, Jr., Wisconsin–The more I looked at Clay, the more I liked his viability as a Heisman candidate.  He’s coming off a 1,517-yard, 18-touchdown sophomore season and the Badgers return 10 starters on offense, including all five linemen.  Good yardage is an almost certain guarantee for backs in the Wisconsin system, but Clay has the kind of talent that reminds one more of Ron Dayne than P.J. Hill–he’s a powerful bruiser with a fair bit of nimbleness in his step.  Noteworthy in looking at his stats last year is that he did not pad his numbers against Northern Illinois or Wofford, though his two worst games were against Iowa and Ohio State–both Badger losses.  But he finished strong with 801 yards and 11 scores in his last six, with 121 and a couple scores against Miami in the bowl.  To me, the likely path for Clay to win the Heisman is a 2,000-yard season as I don’t think the Badgers will get out of the Big Ten unscathed.  But considering the history of Badger backs, I don’t think 2,000 is out of the question and it may even be a decent possibility if he can stay healthy. 

6. Ryan Mallett, QB, Jr., Arkansas–As I wrote earlier, there is very little separating the top 10 or so candidates on this list.  Mallett could very easily be in the top three here, but one has to take into account how his team will finish in the SEC.  The Razorbacks could very well make a run at the conference crown [I actually have them in my top 10 preseason list nationally], but that is not a given.  This is where Mr. Mallett comes in, as his play must elevate the Hogs into that upper echelon in order for his Heisman hopes to take sail.  I don’t think we need worry about his numbers.  He is coming off a 3,624 yard season with 30 scores and seven picks.  He’s a major talent with a howitzer for an arm and he plays in one of the best offensive systems in college football.  So, he’s going to have an outstanding season individually.  But how Arkansas does in a four game stretch against Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn will determine the resiliency of his candidacy.  The regular season finale against LSU and a possible SEC title game appearance would help a possible late run at the trophy.  He’s the SEC’s No. 1 Heisman candidate.     

7. John Brantley, QB, Jr., Florida–To understand why a player who has never started a game could be seen to have a shot at the Heisman, you have to look at a few underlying factors.  Namely, Brantley is taking over at quarterback for a college football legend and therefore many eyes will be surveying his progress.  Given the past success of Urban Meyer quarterbacks in their first years starting and the obvious talent that Brantley possesses, it is not far-fetched to assume he will do quite well.  And if Brantley has a very good season, he will be widely perceived as the guy who kept a good thing going, the next in line, etc., and he could emerge as a legitimate Heisman contender.  As a sophomore in mop-up duty for Tim Tebow in 2009, Brantley threw for 410 yards and seven scores with no picks.  Obviously, he’ll blow those numbers away in 2010.  There’s the usual high-profile SEC slate that includes a game at Alabama, which could be a boon…or it could sink him fast. 

8. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Jr., Oregon State–Rodgers is one of the most versatile backs in college football and has been a well-known commodity since the fourth game of his freshman season.  He’s coming off a sophomore season where he rushed for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns, while also catching 78 passes and another score.  He’s on pace to break a slew of school and Pac-10 records.  The key for Rodgers is going to be how his team fares.  If the Beavers can once again challenge for the conference crown and he has another huge season, he’ll be in the Heisman conversation.  An opener against TCU will help make an early case, as will playing at Boise State.  As always, marquee matchups with USC and Oregon later on in the year will be critical.  I think Rodgers needs 1,800-plus yards to really contend.

8. Case Keenum, QB, Sr., Houston–Keenum is on track to become the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards.  He finished eighth in the Heisman vote last year after a brilliant season in which he had 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes.  There will be much well-deserved consternation this year about why Keenum is not in the thick of the race and unfortunately this issue will not be resolved as long as there is a two-tiered system called the BCS in place.  As it stands, it is very difficult for a player from a non-BCS team to win the Heisman.  The last player to do so from a non-power conference was BYU’s Ty Detmer in 1990.  Keenum just won’t get many chance to showcase his abilities against top level teams.  I think Keenum’s best chance to win is for the rest of the contenders to have lackluster years, while he sets the NCAA single-season AND career marks for yards and touchdowns.  I think that’s what it will take and I don’t rule it out, but it’s a longshot.

9. Noel Devine, RB, Sr., West Virginia–Devine has excellent name recognition and is a human highlight reel.  Voters love exciting highlights.  He had a good junior year, rushing for 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he’ll need to light it up as a senior to have a chance at the Heisman.  Unless West Virginia captures the Big East and lands itself in the top 10, that means approaching the 2,000-yard mark in spectacular fashion.  Coming up big at LSU in late September would help, as would production against Cincy and Pitt, but the schedule isn’t highly conducive to a serious Heisman run.  However, this could be overcome by pure numbers and Devine is the kind of back who would do it with style.

10. Jake Locker, QB, Sr., Washington–Locker has come a long way, both as a quarterback and as a potential Heisman candidate.  The last year has seen him transform from a fantastic athlete who happened to be playing behind center into a consensus high NFL draft pick…which in turn has propelled his Heisman talk.  For those Heisman voters who place a high premium on NFL talent, he will be very attractive.  There’s no doubting his value to his team as Washington went from 0-12 when he was hurt in 2008 to 5-7 when he was healthy in 2009.  But for Locker to have a real shot at the Heisman, he’s got to push Washington to heights not seen in a decade.  Last year, he threw for 2,800 yards, with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while rushing for 388 and another seven scores.  He needs to do all that and much more while leading the Huskies to at least nine wins–and hope that other candidates screw up–in order to be in serious consideration for the Heisman.  Early games against BYU, Nebraska and USC will test his campaign.  A late season run will be difficult unless Washington has a chance at the conference crown.  In short, Locker will need to pull off a miracle to take home the trophy. 

The Rest:

11. Kellen Moore, QB, Jr., Boise State

12. Garrett Gilbert, QB, So., Texas-

14. LaMichael James, RB, So., Oregon

14. Andrew Luck, QB, So., Stanford

15. Dion Lewis, RB, So., Pittsburgh

16. Jerrod Johnson, QB, Sr., Texas A&M

Waaaaait a second.  Where’s Mark Ingram?

Nothing personal Tide fans.  Ingram is merely a victim of Heismandment No. 9, which states there will never be another two-time Heisman winner.  Since starting this site, here are the returning Heisman winners who have failed to make my preseason list the following season:  Jason White, Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford.  So Ingram will end up being the latest player to fall prey to the repeat curse.  Can he finish 2nd?  Sure.  But he won’t win and the list above is about who is most likely to win.

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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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36 Responses to Heisman Pundit’s 2010 Preseason Heisman Watch

  1. Bankrupt Bookie August 2, 2010 at 6:41 am #

    Couldn’t agree more on TP. The bad news is that he has a torn pectoral and is out 8-10 weeks. (In my NCAA 2010 dynasty)

    I bet TP wishes he could turn off injuries in real life. That’s always the biggest concern with these types of QBs isn’t it?

  2. Anonymous August 2, 2010 at 7:10 am #

    Christian Ponder at #3? He’s 13-10 as a starter and was 4-5 last year. FSU has a higher winning percentage when Ponder sits on the bench. He has 22 career INTs in only 23 games. Vaulting him to #3 while pointing out his minimal name recognition is absurd. What “masterful” things has FSU done for you or your website?

  3. Mike August 2, 2010 at 8:17 am #

    Why not stretch this into a Top 20 and plug in Miami RB Damien Berry? In all seriousness, list looks good…I wouldn’t have rated Ponder that high (or Jacory for that matter) and would put Dion Lewis in the Top 10.

  4. CloroxingTheGenePool August 2, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    #1 Where’s Tate Forcier?
    #2 Where’s Matt Barkley?

    I predict either Mallett, Locker, or Kellen Moore win the Heisman this year.

  5. Ray August 2, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    It’s interesting that you list four Pac-10 players (one of our every four) on that list, without a single representative from USC.

    So my question is this: which player on the USC squad do you believe has the best shot at landing votes if not making some Heisman noise this season?

  6. jason` August 2, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    do you even watch college football? this list is a joke. please do everyone a favor and stop giving your opinions on college football. you obviously have no idea what you are talking about, only copied parts of what other people are saying, and stamped your name on it. stop.

  7. slippy August 2, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Bankript bookie: actually it’s not a concern. If you look at the statistics, running QBs don’t get injured anymore than pocket QBs.

    Clorox: Forcier isn’t guaranteed to start (he probably will), but he probably won’t have enough snaps to put up the stats. Also, Michigan would have to win 10 games. I think they win 8 this year.

    Jason, why don’t you start your own website and correctly predict the winner (and many times the final finishing order) for almost a decade? Then maybe you can start critiquing.

  8. Glen August 2, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    I can see saying Ingram’s not a favorite, for the reasons you mention. But not even on the list is just ridiculous. He has E-A-R-N-E-D being on every list. I don’t see how anyone can possibly think otherwise. I’d say if you really aspired to be influential in the Heisman voting, you should pay prominent athletes their earned respect instead of totally blowing them off because of some nonexistent “rule” about 2-time winners.

    Terrell Pryor at #1 may not be quite as ridiculous as that, but it’s still running ahead of the ridiculousness pack. Pryor passed for an average of 93 yards per game last year in OSU’s four biggest regular-season wins, against Wisconsin, Penn St., Iowa, & Michigan, and was 8th in the conference in passing rating. (HT to Dr. Saturday)

  9. starkweather August 2, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    This list needs more Ricky Dobbs & Chris Owusu!

    @ Glen: you’re kind of funny with that “aspiring to be influential” line. I could be wrong but I think the aspiration here is to gauge the Heisman campaign more than actually influencing it

  10. HP August 3, 2010 at 1:16 am #

    Where do I begin? Ok.

    First Anon–This list is about projecting a player’s Heisman chances given his potential and the circumstances given to him like who he plays for and the schedule, etc. Ponder plays for a traditional power and he played quite well last year. I project him to have a very good year in 2010. Remember, Carson Palmer going into 2002 had just as many picks as TDs in his career.

    Mike–I think Berry is a year away. He needs one successful season under his belt before challenging.

    Clorox–I don’t think Forcier will put up the numbers he needs and I don’t think Heisman voters are jumping at the chance of giving a Kiffin-coached team a Heisman any time soon.

    Ray–Barkley obviously has a chance to make some noise, but I don’t think he can win this year.

    jason–This list is always original and not influenced by anyone. If anything, this list will do the influencing. To answer your question, I watch far more college football than you do.

    Glen–this list is not about rewarding people or making players feel better for what they did last year. It is about projecting who can actually WIN this year. Just because a guy won the Heisman last year does not make him likely to win this year. History shows quite the opposite. With that in mind, it would be silly to put him on this list of guys who can actually win. Don’t feel alone: Florida fans ripped me for not putting Tebow on there too, as did Oklahoma fans with White and Bradford and USC fans with Leinart.

    stark–you hit the nail on the head. This site is about looking at the Heisman race as it IS, not how it should be. Sometimes there are inconvenient truths when it comes to college football and it’s too bad fans can’t handle it, but there it is.

  11. Good? August 3, 2010 at 7:05 am #

    Boise State’s Kellen Moore, had one loss in two years as a starter. I know he plays in the Wac, but he had a 37-3 TD to Int ratio last year, and a win in a BCS bowl. To say you are biased doesn’t even come close to covering it. Shame on you.

  12. Anonymous August 3, 2010 at 8:17 am #

    HP –

    Your reasoning makes no sense. You use Palmer to justify Ponder as preseason #3. But Palmer was nowhere near the front of the Heisman race before his senior season.

    It doesn’t mean Ponder can’t win… but FSU has to be nearly perfect and Ponder has to nearly equal his career production for him to become a front runner.

  13. william August 3, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    When Kellen Moore plays more than 2 good teams that might happen. Any of the other Qbs in this article could have done that or better. Get real.

  14. Glen August 3, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    Of course Florida fans ripped you for not putting Tebow on the list. He nearly won the Heisman, didn’t he, or is my memory off?

    And the reason he DIDN’T win it was because his TD numbers were way down, not because of some nonexistent voting rule.

    There’s a bias against past winners. That’s a fact. The bias is not very big. That’s another fact.

  15. Anonymous August 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    Actually Tebow was #2 on HP’s preseason list last year… yet another inconsistency that HP can’t explain.

  16. HP August 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Anon–my use of the Palmer example with Ponder is to point out the route that he would likely have to take, not to actually predict it. If FSU wins 10 or 11 games and looks good doing it and he has a big year, then he can win it if Pryor or Harris don’t do the same.

    Glen–Tebow didn’t win the year after he won and in fact he finished third. If Tebow can’t win a second Heisman when given two shots at it, Ingram (who won the closest race ever) is not going to win a second Heisman, especially with a more mature Trent Richardson in the same backfield. You say the bias against past winners isn’t very big, well then why has there been only one two-time winner in 75 years? I’d call that a pretty darn big bias.

    Anon–I had Tebow 2nd last year in recognition of the very unique situation he was in as he was two years removed from his Heisman win and I was more than prepared to accept the possibility of Heismandment No. 9 going down. It was an ‘inconsistency’ I explained quite well at the time, actually. Anyway, he did not win and that makes the 9th Heismandment even stronger.

  17. Glen August 3, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    When you say “one two-time winner in 75 years,” you make it sound like there are frightful odds against a winner repeating. But how many of those 75 winners never played another play in college football? Very large majority, right? Right. So your stat is one of those “lies, damned lies, and statistics” that shed more fog than light.

    Here are the facts (http://decaturdaily.com/detail/65562.html):

    Only 6 Heisman winners have returned to play the following year since Griffin won back-to-back. The ONLY ONE who didn’t make it to New York the next year was Sam Bradford, who of course missed most of the season with injury. The others ALL finished 2nd or 3rd.

    In other words, a returning winner is AUTOMATICALLY a serious candidate, and is and should be treated as such.

    And don’t give me any bullwah about yeah, they can finish 2nd but they can’t win. The difference between winning and finishing 2nd is nothing but points, and points pile up the same way for every candidate. Especially in close votes such as we’ve had frequently as of late, the difference between 2nd & 1st, or even 3rd & 1st, is often not very large.

    If you’ve studied much statistics, you should know that reliable trends can’t be postulated after only 6 samples. Especially when almost all of those 6 samples had results that were very close to the range of successful results.

  18. HP August 3, 2010 at 3:10 pm #

    As I have tirelessly written, my preseason list if not a list intended to shed light on serious candidates. It is intended upon gauging who has the best chance of winning. Of course Ingram is a serious candidate and could very well be in the Heisman conversation. But he won’t win. This blog is about understanding how the voters think and about how the ebb and flow of publicity affects this very prestigious college football award. It is not an emotional appeal, but a position taken entirely upon history, logic and understanding of the voting electorate.

    The more accurate number is that there have been 11 Heisman winners historically who have returned to play again, with Ingram being the 12th. Only ONE of those players finished as high as second upon their return, Billy Sims, who got trounced by Charles White in the voting. None of the returning Heisman winners were basically called upon to share playing time the next year in the way Ingram will with Richardson.

    If this is not enough for you, by all means put your money where your mouth. Name your odds. I will guarantee you that Mark Ingram will not win the Heisman this year.

  19. Glen August 3, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    I’ll take your offer as a serious expression of your belief in what you’re saying – but thanks, I don’t do internet bets. I’ve tried it a couple of times, and it seems to never work out well.

  20. Anonymous August 3, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    HP –

    Now you’re giving guarantees that Ingram won’t win and trying to take bets? Do you have a clue how unethical that is for a Heisman voter?

    Ingram winning is a long shot, but he certainly deserves consideration and I hope you’ll give him his due if he earns it.

  21. Roby August 3, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

    Does HP get an official vote?

    • Heismanpundit August 4, 2010 at 2:11 am #

      If you are asking whether I have a Heisman vote, the answer is yes.

  22. AUman76 August 4, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    you have a vote HP? Who’s ass did you kiss to get that honor? Oh yeah you ran the Heisman campaign at…clear throat….USC. lol Hey….don’t get pissed at me and others that don’t drink the HP flavored Kool-aid. Bet I’ve seen more football and more great players than you ever will. But hey…you got’s the pen and pad and friends in the right places so you’re the expert huh? Did you ever play the game HP? And no…those of us laugh at west coast football do not envy USC. It’s simple y’all ain’t that good. But money talks huh? When the pac11 wins four Crystal balls, not in a row, just four…then you can tell me how damned good it is out west. Not a hater either just into reality and have a very different opinion than yours on many topics. But hey…that’s what makes these blogs so much frickin fun and successful. Without hits like mine your site disappears. Even I don’t wanna see that cause where would I go to piss on someone’s Post Toasties. lol Once apon a time I’ll let you know when I’m serious but till then I’ll continue to mix my opinions and the Devil’s advocate opinion I used to stirr the pot. Cause like you I love to see all the responses, pro or con.
    Someday there will be a repeat Heisman winner but none of us knows who or when that will be.
    Have a good un HP.

  23. Amy August 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    HP — I am sorry you have to answer the same questions and endure the same insults over and over again about how you compile your list. Some of us regular readers get it. Others just stumbled onto your site surfing the net. Thanks for your insight. If one would take the time to follow your site from the beginning to the end of the season, they would understand the point of your website. I know you don’t need my pep talk, but just wanted to let you know that just because we’re silent, doesn’t mean we aren’t here or that we don’t appreciate your site for what it is.

    • Heismanpundit August 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

      Thanks Amy! Much appreciated!

  24. joel mcaliley August 23, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    you are obviously an idiot. jacory harris #2? mallett #6 no ingram? i like miami but your list is just ignorant. maybe you should do something else.

  25. chad bradford September 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    wheres patrick peterson? hes definitely the best return man in the nation and one of the top 3 corners in the nation. wheres he?


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