It’s time to take a more comprehensive view of the Heisman race and that means breaking things down by conference.
First up, the players from the SEC with the best chance of winning the Heisman:
1. Aaron Murray, Georgia – Murray is on pace to break a lot of SEC passing records if he ends up staying all four years in Athens. Last season, he threw a school-record 35 touchdown passes and led the Bulldogs to the SEC title game. This year, more will be expected and the Dawgs should be a preseason top 10 team. One thing I like about Murray is that he has the kind of intangibles to his game that can potentially excite Heisman voters. His ability to scramble and make plays when the pocket breaks down is an example of that. The big drawback to his Heisman hopes is the Georgia offensive system itself, which is generally not conducive to producing the kind of numbers needed for a Heisman run. However, Murray seems to have the talent and moxie to overcome it all, as shown by his numbers last year. If he improves and leads Georgia to another SEC title run, he’ll be in the Heisman mix.
2. Tyler Bray, Tennessee – If the spindly Bray can stay healthy for an entire season, he could put up huge numbers for the Vols. He has the second-best receiving corps in the country to throw to and he has shown to be a tough competitor with a live arm and very good accuracy. The problem is that the Volunteers may continue to struggle under third-year coach Derek Dooley and without the record to back him up, Bray may be a forgotten man in the Heisman race. Still, quarterbacks tend to improve the most between their second and third year as a starter, so this could be Bray’s time to shine.
3. Knile Davis, Arkansas – People forget that Davis was the best running back in the conference in 2010, rushing for most of his 1,322 yards in the second half of the season. A broken ankle held him out of action in 2011, but he appears to be back as he ran a 4.33 40 in winter testing and squatted 570 pounds. If he’s fully healthy, he’s hands down the league’s best back and he could again put up excellent numbers in Bobby Petrino’s system. I expect the Hogs to again be a top 10 team as the schedule sets up quite favorably. The result could be a run at the Heisman for Davis.
The Dark Horses
4. James Franklin, Missouri – Franklin had a fantastic sophomore season, nearly hitting the 3,000/1,000 mark in his first year as a starter. He will undergo offseason shoulder surgery so it’s possible he won’t be quite the same passer, but if he is back healthy as expected, he’ll be the most effective dual-threat quarterback in the league. The question of whether he is ready to face SEC defenses can just as easily be bounced back the other way: Are the defenses ready to face him?
5. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas – Heading into last season, we thought Tyler Wilson would have no problem replacing Ryan Mallett and, as it turned out, Wilson led the SEC in passing yards and pass efficiency in what turned out to be a very down year for quarterbacks in the league (only two threw for more than 20 touchdowns). He’ll again be among the SEC’s best signal callers, but his numbers may not be as stellar due to the graduation of most of the league’s finest receiving corps.
6. Eddie Lacy, Alabama – As we discussed last week, Lacy’s numbers should jump considerably this year as he’s the top candidate to get the bulk of the departed Trent Richardson’s carries. If Lacy can hold up as an every-down back, he’ll put up great numbers for what should be a top 10 team. And that usually means Heisman consideration.
7. Christine Michael, Texas A&M – Like Lacy, Michael will see his numbers jump as the graduation of Cyrus Gray means he will become the focus of the Aggie rushing attack. Michael had 899 yards last season, so a huge season is definitely within reach. If he can hold up and perform well against SEC competition, Heisman voters will take notice.
8. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina – The oft-injured Lattimore has to show he can make it through a season, but his running style isn’t exactly conducive to that prospect. He rushed for 818 yards last season before injuring his knee. Already a lumbering power back, he’s likely to struggle this year trying to get back to where he was. However, he’s a physical runner with tremendous vision, so if he stays healthy, he’ll have a big year.
The Long Shots
9. Kiehl Frazier, Auburn – Let’s face it: Sometimes players come out of nowhere to make a run at the Heisman. Who would’ve guessed that Cam Newton would one day be a Heisman candidate? Besides HP, I mean. So listen up. I think Frazier has the talent to be a great quarterback. If he is used properly in the Auburn system, I see no reason why he shouldn’t make a big jump as soon as this season. Will it happen? Who knows? But that’s why I call him a long shot.
10. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia – Crowell was a highly-touted recruit for the Dawgs last season and he showed flashes of ability in rushing for a team-best 850 yards and five touchdowns. I’m not sure Crowell has the raw talent to hold off some of Georgia’s incoming running backs, including Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. Both have better speed and measurables than Crowell. However, never count out the value of experience and it could be that Crowell gets the bulk of the carries and has a fine season.