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The Heismanpundit Heisman Poll, Week 7

 We have a new leader…

Total Points (with first place votes in parentheses)

1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn – 33 (8)

 2. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State – 23 (4)

3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon — 17 (1)

4. DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma – 2

5. (tie) Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford — 1

5. (tie) Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State — 1

5. (tie) Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State — 1

About the poll
The HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll is made up of 13 Heisman voters from across the country. They vote for three players each week. Tabulations are made on a 3-2-1 basis, with three points awarded for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote.  The last two years the Heismanpundit poll was the most accurate in the country, picking five of the top six finishers in the Heisman vote in 2008 and the top four in 2009.

Members of the panel include: Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, Teddy Greenstein and Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune, Olin Buchanan and Tom Dienhart of Rivals.com, Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman, Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com, J.B. Morris of ESPN the Magazine, Austin Murphy, B.J. Schecter and Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated, plus Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News.

Chris Huston, owner of Heismanpundit.com, coordinates and also votes in the weekly poll.

HP’s Thoughts
Voters are in love with multi-threat quarterbacks these days and why shouldn’t they be?  First it was Denard Robinson running and throwing for big yardage to the delight of the Heisman electorate and now it’s Cameron Newton doing it.  The big difference is that Newton is big, strong and durable, whereas Robinson is not.  Also, Auburn is undefeated and in the hunt for a national title.  And so Newton is our new leader in the poll.  Kellen Moore maintains his position as a solid No. 2 and LaMichael James is lurking at No. 3, with a chance to make a move with a Thursday night game coming up.

From a Voter
“Some people watch Cam Newton and think: “Wow, this is the future of football.” Auburn fans don’t have to wait until we all have 3D televisions in our home to enjoy him. Newton is huge, runs like a tailback and is so tough to bring down, some opposing linebackers probably wish they’d chosen to play soccer over football.  Kellen Moore is like that rare political candidate who never screws up a soundbite, even if he’s just jumped off a red-eye flight and has to talk about health-care reform before a roomful of doctors. He has had a flawless season (OK, one interception) and props go to the Boise State coaches for refusing to let him pile up big passing numbers.  Sure, it would be easy to dump on Terrelle Pryor after his Buckeyes got dropped by Wisconsin. But I covered that game, and Pryor was not the problem. He did make several poor throws, but don’t blame him for Ohio State getting beat in the trenches and allowing the opening kickoff to be returned for a score.” — Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune.

Heisman Game of the Week
No. 6 LSU at No. 4 Auburn
 — This is Newton’s first game as one of the Heisman favorites, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.  So far, he seems to be unaffected by it all.  LSU has a stout defense and will no doubt try to key on stopping Newton.  If Auburn gets by LSU–and I think it will–then Newton should solidify his hold on the race for the time being.

Player to Watch
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State — It’s pretty rare for a wide receiver to get much traction in the Heisman race, but the buzz around Blackmon is just starting to get going.  He’s putting up numbers unlike any we’ve seen since Michael Crabtree was roaming the Big 12.  This week, the Cowboys host Nebraska, so we’ll get a chance to see just how good Blackmon really is.  He’s on pace for 114 catches for 1,910 yards and 24 touchdowns.  If he gets there, he’ll be on his way to New York, too.

This Week in Heisman History
Carson Palmer threw for a USC school-record 448 yards and five touchdowns on 31 of 42 passing as the Trojans defeated Oregon, 44-33, in 2002.  USC came back from a 19-14 halftime deficit with 20 third-quarter points and snapped a four-game losing streak to the Ducks.  Palmer would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that year, beating out Brad Banks of Iowa and Larry Johnson of Penn State.

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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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Vince Young Redux?

While Vince Young didn’t win the Heisman Trophy in 2005, he did finish second–and by all accounts was the popular revisionist choice following his incredible performance against USC in that year’s BCS title game. 

But Young’s ’05 campaign was kicked off by his heroics against Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl following the 2004 season.  His deadly run-pass combination against the Wolverines signaled what was to come in ’05 and showed that he had matured as a player and leader.

While his stats weren’t quite as impressive, we might be seeing the same transformation happening with Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor

Like Young, he led his team to a Rose Bowl win as a sophomore (albeit a second-year one–Young had the benfit of a redshirt season), crushing the will of his opponent through the air and on the ground.  Pryor threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns on 23 of 37 passing and he added another 72 yards rushing, with many of those yards of the back-breaking variety.  And he did it all on a partially torn knee ligament.

Bowl season often serves as a harbinger of things to come.   Without a doubt, Pryor’s Rose Bowl MVP performance puts him on the short list of 2010 Heisman contenders.

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The 2009 HP Preseason Heisman Watch

Here is my list of the players with the best chance of actually winning the Heisman.  It is not a predicted order of finish, so some players NOT on this list are still going to receive votes and finish somewhere in the top 10, but will in reality have no chance of actually taking home the trophy.

1. Colt McCoy, Texas–Last year’s Heisman runner up has accomplished the impressive feat of keeping up with Tim Tebow’s publicity machine in the offseason.  For instance, while Tebow is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, McCoy is on the cover of ESPN The Magazine.  McCoy is the senior quarterback of a traditional Heisman power and will help his team compete for a national title.  The perception out there is that perhaps he should’ve won the award last year and, as a result, voters will look to him first in 2009.  He had fantastic numbers in 2008, but they weren’t so amazing that they can’t be duplicated or surpassed.  He will have big games on TV against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M (on Thanksgiving) to impress the voters (and also the possibility of the Big 12 title game).  He’s got most of his offensive line returning, plus plenty of weapons at receiver, so his stats should not suffer.  Last year, he finished second to Sam Bradford in the Southwest and Far West regions, so much of Bradford’s support in those areas could go his way in 2009.  He is a likeable guy and so far has not been oversaturated in the media.  All other things being equal, McCoy has the best chance of winning the 2009 Heisman Trophy.

2. Tim Tebow, Florida–In previous years I would not put a player on this list who had already won a Heisman, mainly because I believe there will never be another two-time Heisman winner.  However, Tebow is one of those unique figures in college football history for whom an exception must be made.  He was the first sophomore to win the Heisman, so if anyone can win it a second time, it’s him.  He is helped by the fact that the glow of his Heisman season is two years in the past.  If he wins, he would be the Grover Cleveland of the Heisman (Cleveland being the only U.S. president to win non-consecutive terms).  I think winning two Heismans non-consecutively is a far more likely possibility than back-to-back Heismans.  The advantages Tebow has in this race are legion.  He is of course the quarterback for the No. 1 team and defending national champ.  He is the most famous player in college football right now and his name recognition is off the charts.  He is universally recognized as a great player and many see this season as his chance to establish himself as perhaps the greatest player in college football history.  He will once again put up excellent numbers in his inimitable style.     He’ll have marquee matchups against LSU, Georgia and Florida State (plus the SEC title game) to make his case.  So why isn’t he at the top of this list?  Mainly because History is a tough thing to overcome.  Heisman voters are fickle and will not give out a second trophy very willingly.  The burden of proof for Tebow to win again will be tremendous and it will only happen if there is not a viable alternative.  Plus, Tebow Fatigue will play a real factor (we saw it in last year’s vote as well).  So don’t believe those who think this race is Tebow’s to lose.  It isn’t.   

3. Jahvid Best, California–In an era dominated by spread quarterbacks, there is still room for a flashy running back.  There has been only one running back Heisman winner in this decade (Reggie Bush) and Best’s style is very similar to that winner.  He is coming off a fantastic sophomore year (1,580 yards, 15 TDs, 8.1 ypc) and has a chance to better those numbers if he stays healthy.  His big advantage is that he could be seen as the top running back alternative to all the quarterbacks in the race.  He also is a dazzling breakaway back who will be a staple of the highlight shows.  His big disadvantage is that he plays for a non-traditional Heisman power.  This means his Heisman run is at the mercy of his team’s success.  It will all boil down to how he does against USC.  If Cal beats the Trojans and he does well, then he becomes a serious Heisman contender.  The other issue is his durability.  A healthy Best likely approaches 2,000 yards and you don’t need accounting college to know he’ll require every one of those yards to have a shot at the Heisman.   

4. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State–The last two Heisman winners have been sophomores, so maybe the trend continues here.  In order for a sophomore to win, he’s got to play for a traditional power and put up some crazy numbers at the same time.  Pryor has the chance to do just that, but it will depend on how well his passing has improved in the offseason.  Obviously, he’s a brilliant talent and if he comes into his own in 2009, he can make a serious Heisman run.  He’s got a big game in week two against USC in which to establish his Heisman candidacy.  If he leads a Buckeye win over the Trojans, he’ll be in the Heisman race all year.  If Ohio State loses, he’ll crawl his way back into it as the season progresses–big games against Penn State and Michigan could help–but he will not be a serious factor and will actually be setting himself up nicely for a run in 2010. 

5. Daryll Clark, Penn State–Clark had an excellent season as a first-year starter in 2008 and he should improve upon his numbers in 2009.  The Nittany Lions have a chance to run the table and if they do, Clark will get most of the credit.  His schedule isn’t exceptionally conducive to a Heisman run, but he does play Ohio State.  If some of the other candidates mess up or get injured, he could be seen as a viable alternative as long as the Lions are undefeated.

6. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame–You can never count out a Notre Dame quarterback.  Clausen has name recognition and should put up pretty good numbers in 2009.  The Irish play an easy schedule, so Clausen has a shot at leading his team to a BCS bowl.  Of course, his big chance to make a Heisman statement will come against USC (do you see a trend here?).  If Notre Dame beats the Trojans and the Irish go on to win, say, 10 games, then Clausen will get some Heisman buzz.  His best chance of winning is for the main candidates to screw up and for Clausen to be seen as the reason behind the resurgence of Notre Dame football.  He’s got the receivers to have a huge year, but will he actually do it?  There’s the rub.

7. Max Hall, BYU–Only one school from a non-BCS conference has won the Heisman in the modern era and that’s Brigham Young.  The great tradition of Cougar quarterbacks gives Hall an outside chance at making a Heisman run.  Above all, he’s got the schedule to prove his mettle as BYU plays Oklahoma and Florida State in the early going.  If the Cougars come out of that unscathed, then Hall will be a legitimate candidate.  Whether he’d be able to overcome the McCoys and Tebows is another question, but he’d be seen as a viable alternative if they falter. 

8. Jevan Snead, Mississippi–Ole Miss is the hip choice as this year’s dark horse title contender.  If the Rebels live up to their billing, it will be because of the play of Snead, who is a potential first round pick.  He had a pretty good year in 2008 and if he can improve upon his numbers and keep Ole Miss in the title hunt, he’ll be a Heisman candidate.  But if the Rebels lose a game or two, his Heisman hopes will be finished.

9. Noel Devine, West Virginia–Devine has pretty good name recognition and a solid sophomore season to build upon.  He’d have to shatter the 2,000-yard mark in spectacular fashion to be a real factor in the race.

10. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State–Bryant is the only multi-purpose athlete in the race.  He is already recognized as a fantastic receiver and return man.  If he can duplicate what he did last year as a sophomore and maybe drive a stake or two in the hearts of some of the elite Big 12 teams (like OU and Texas), then he can pick up a lot of Heisman votes.  Nothing thrills Heisman voters like timely, deadly punt returns and Bryant will have the chance to do just that.

If the vote were held right now

1. Colt McCoy

2. Tim Tebow

3. Sam Bradford

4. Jahvid Best

5. Dez Bryant

6. Eric Berry

7. Daryll Clark

8. Jeremiah Masoli

9. Max Hall

10.Taylor Mays

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