Here’s a look at who we think has the best shot of actually winning the Heisman this season. This is NOT the predicted order of the voting at season’s end. Some players may go to New York or get significant amounts of votes who never appear on this list. We will provide quick blurbs on each player here, but go into greater detail on their Heisman chances later.
THE BIG THREE: The first three on this list are, in our opinion, head and shoulders ahead of the rest in terms of all that is required to win the Heisman.
1. Reggie Bush, All-Purpose Tailback, USC
Advantages: He’s a junior tailback on the No. 1 team in the country, which happens to be a traditional power. The USC tailback position carries a lot of weight in Heisman voting–the last Trojan tailback to win was Marcus Allen in 1981, so voters may feel it’s time to bring back the old-time mystique. Bush has incredible name recognition, has been on the covers of several magazines this past summer (including Sports Illustrated) and was considered by many to be the best player in the country last year. He is the only returning Heisman finalist from last season whose candidacy can’t potentially be derailed by a Heismandment–unlike Adrian Peterson, he is an upperclassman; unlike Matt Leinart, he’s not going for a second award. He will get plenty of chances to put up big numbers in big games on TV and is a likeable young man to boot. He excels at several positions, so the understanding is that he is an all-purpose player, thus absolving him of some statistical benchmarks. Of all the candidates out there, he has the best chance to make the highlight shows, since he gets the ball in so many ways. Lastly, quarterbacks have won the last five trophies–is it a running back’s turn?
Disadvantages: He is not a full-time player at tailback and so may not get as many opportunities as he needs. He shares the limelight with Matt Leinart and may share some votes. Will the voters get USC fatigue? Can they give it to three Trojans in four years? History suggests it’s not likely to happen.
2. Chris Leak, Quarterback, Florida
Advantages: He’s a junior quarterback on a high-profile team that could very well be in national title contention. He’ll get plenty of chances to put up big numbers in big games on TV. He has excellent name recognition and has put up impressive numbers to date. He will be playing in a system that produced last year’s top NFL draft pick, so it could very well make for a very successful season for him. If the Gators win the SEC and go undefeated (which we expect), then he will be considered the prime reason for it. He is also very likeable and will do well with the media.
Disadvantages: His Heisman hopes are especially captive to how well his team performs. If the Gators disappoint, he has no shot. But if they look impressive while he puts up big numbers, he will be right in there at the end. It all depends on how soon the Gators digest Urban Meyer’s system.
3. Vince Young, Quarterback, Texas
Advantages: He’s a junior quarterback on a traditional power that is considered a national title contender. He’ll have a couple huge games early to establish his Heisman credentials. There’s even a chance that he can wrap up the trophy early with big games in wins over Ohio State and Oklahoma. He’s coming off a huge Rose Bowl game last season and so his name recognition has really skyrocketed over the summer. He appears to be a likeable guy and his recent story in Sports Illustrated shed a lot of light on his personal history. He’ll get 1,000 yards both rushing and passing. He is not perceived as a great passer, so any improvement there will be overmagnified and be to his benefit.
Disadvantages: If the Longhorns don’t beat both Ohio State and Oklahoma, Young will get the blame. That means that while he could conceivably clinch the Heisman early, he could also be out of the race very early as well. Will the voters be reticent about voting for another Big 12 quarterback after getting burned by Eric Crouch and Jason White?
We feel that the Heisman is very likely to go to one of the above three. Nonetheless, there is another group of players who will, should all of the Big Three falter, get serious consideration. They are:
4. Reggie McNeal, Quarterback, Texas A&M
5. Drew Tate, Quarterback, Iowa
6. Brady Quinn, Quarterback, Notre Dame
7. Maurice Drew, Running Back, UCLA
8. Lawrence Maroney, Running Back, Minnesota
It would take something magical and amazing for someone from the above group to break into serious consideration for the top spot. There is another group–an elite group, if you will–that has its own shot. We’re talking about two players who may well have a rendezvous with destiny. They are:
THOSE AIMING TO MAKE HISTORY
9. Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Oklahoma
10. Matt Leinart, Quarterback, USC
Just to be clear, both of these great players have Heismandments that apply to them. In Peterson’s case, he is an underclassman. Heismandment No. 2 states very clearly that the winner must be a junior or senior. Certainly, there is still that chance that History can be made, which is why we go against our own rules and put Peterson here. The same applies to Leinart. Heismandment No. 9 says there will be no more two-time Heisman winners. Granted, many are calling him the preseason favorite, but we think he’s more likely to finish in the top 3 or so and not actually win it. Nonetheless, we put him here because we do not deny the possibility that History may intrude and call for a realignment of the Heismandments.
We’ll go into greater detail on all of these great players in the next week or so.
In the meantime, stap on your seatbelts. Once again, it should be an amazing race for the most prestigious award in sports.