Ranking the top 10 Heisman candidates by conference: The Big Ten

More breaking down of the Heisman race by conference with a look at the Big Ten today. The conference has only had one Heisman winner in the last 12 seasons so maybe it’s time. If so, he’ll likely come from this group:

The Contenders

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan — It’s the last go-around for the electric Robinson, whose development has come hand-in-hand with Michigan’s return to prominence. His numbers weren’t as good in 2011 as they were in 2010 (when he finished sixth in the Heisman race), but his team was much better and that gives him immense credibility in this year’s race. Another year of comfort with the Al Borges offense should also help. His name recognition plus his position as quarterback for a traditional power on the rise makes him a serious Heisman candidate.

2. Montee Ball, Wisconsin — How can a guy who rushed for 1,923 yards and scored 39 touchdowns as a junior not be at the top of this list? Because he rushed for 1,923 yards and 39 touchdowns, that’s why. It will be very hard for Ball to duplicate last season’s production and any major dropoff will be seen by voters as a disappointment. However, if the Badgers can find a way to adequately replace the most efficient single-season passer in NCAA history in Russell Wilson–perhaps with Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien?–I can see Ball having another huge year and making it back to New York. Attention Wisky: This time, give the man a campaign.

The Dark Horses

3. Fitzgerald Toussant, Michigan — Toussant had a strong finish to last season, when he rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns. He should improve his numbers considerably and have the best season by a Michigan back since Chris Perry, who was a Heisman finalist in 2003.

4. Braxton Miller, Ohio State — When you take a clear talent from a bad system and then put him in a system that is known for maximizing talent, you can expect a corresponding jump in production. Therefore, I expect Miller to have a good season for the Buckeyes. The question is: How good? He wouldn’t be the first Urban Meyer sophomore to out-perform expectations. And playing for a traditional Heisman power like Ohio State certainly helps. In any case, a Heisman run in 2013 seems more realistic.

5. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State — As mentioned in an earlier post here at HP, Bell is one of several players around the country whose numbers stand to improve considerably in 2012. While Michigan State isn’t a known haven for Heisman candidates, Bell has several high-profile games to establish his credentials and a dark horse run isn’t out of the question.

6. Silas Redd, Penn State — Redd rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore last season and he’ll once again be the workhorse for the Nittany Lions. I think Bill O’Brien will lean on Redd considerably, which should mean upwards of 300 carries and over 1,500 rushing yards. That could put him within reach of a dark horse run at the Heisman, the first by a Penn State player since Larry Johnson in 2002.

7. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska — It seems so long ago since Martinez burst onto the scene as a freshman. He’s taken his lumps since then and he definitely fell off the map a bit as a sophomore. If he can recapture that first-year magic and lead the Huskers to a Big Ten title, he could jump back on the Heisman radar.

The Long Shots

8. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois — Scheelhaase is an exciting player on a bad team, but we’ve seen that script before (hello, Baylor). Turning a bad team into a good team is always cause for Heisman attention, especially if Scheelhaase can take down a few of the big boys in the Big Ten along the way.

9. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska — Burkhead is coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns and he could certainly improve upon those stats if he again carries the ball nearly 300 times. A Nebraska running back hasn’t made noise in the Heisman race since 1994, but Burkhead has a shot.

10. Bri’onte Dunn, Ohio State — If a Big Ten freshman somehow ends up making noise in the Heisman race, I think it’ll be this guy, who landed at No. 3 on HP’s running back recruit list. New coaches tend to go with their own players, so I can see the powerfully-built Dunn possibly getting some carries in the fall if he can quickly pick up Urban Meyer’s system. If he does, I think he’ll do well. This is obviously a huge reach of a pick, but that’s why they call it a ‘long shot’ and, besides, Ohio State is the kind of school where a freshman can make a quick name for himself (see Clarett, Maurice).

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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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