As the season gets closer, we’re taking an in-depth look at each candidate and asking: What does that player have to do to win the Heisman?
Last week, we looked at Andrew Luck. This week, it’s LaMichael James’ turn.
James enters the season on the short list of 2011 Heisman Trophy candidates. Let’s list his attributes:
–He’s on a team that will begin the year in the top 10 and is considered a national title contender.
–His team’s schedule is perfectly-suited for a Heisman run, with an opening matchup versus LSU giving him a chance to put an early stamp on the race and late-season games against Stanford and USC to potentially seal the deal.
–He plays for a hot program and coach that, for good or ill, everyone is talking about. And in the Heisman realm, Oregon is rising, with three top-five finishes in the last 10 seasons.
–He’s coming off a third-place finish in the Heisman race and is a known quantity with the voters and in the media. Incidentally, eight previous players finished third before going on to win the Heisman.
–He had an excellent, but not phenomenal, season in 2010. So there is reasonable room for improvement despite the fact that he led the nation with 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore.
–He plays in a system in which he is likely to produce lots of yardage and highlight reel plays.
Because Oregon went undefeated last year, there is probably little room for error when it comes to how his team’s performance will affect his Heisman chances in 2011. In other words, the expectation level for his team is to the point where I do not think James can win the Heisman with more than one loss unless he tops the 2,000-yard mark and his production is well out in front of his competitors. He can’t expect to rush for 1,700 yards and win the Heisman if Oregon goes just 11-2, unless the rest of the field has collapsed.
He will need to show he can be consistent the whole way through. Last year, he tailed off quite a bit after October. He was the Heisman front runner and on pace for over 2,000 yards following a 239-yard performance against USC on October 30, but he averaged just 104 yards and 4.2 yards per carry in his final five (remember, he missed the opener). An undisclosed injury seems to be the cause of that dropoff.
There is also a danger that the deep Oregon backfield that also features Kenjon Barner, Lache Seastrunk and incoming frosh DeAnthony Thomas (who didn’t move to Eugene to redshirt) will eat into his numbers.
But James has an opportunity to do, or be a part of, some huge things in 2011. Playing well in wins over LSU and Stanford would serve him very well in the Heisman race. Get past the Tigers and the Cardinal and you have to like the Ducks’ chances of making it to New Orleans. But James could, with another fine season, push himself into second place on the all-time Pac-12 career rushing list. He’s 1,767 yards away from having only Heisman winner Charles White ahead of him. Furthermore, he’s likely to set the conference record for career touchdowns as well this year. Those kinds of achievements would be a real boon to his Heisman hopes.
So if James can duplicate what he did last year and his team returns to the BCS title game, he’d likely be the odds-on favorite to win. If his team loses, or falls out of title contention, he’ll have to improve his production considerably to make up for it.
In the end, James is in a good position to challenge for the Heisman, but he is a bit more wedded to his team’s success than the current front runner, Andrew Luck.