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Heismanpundit’s Pre-Spring 2012 Heisman Watch

We now know who’s leaving early for the NFL, so it’s time to cobble together our list of the players who currently have the best shot of winning the 2012 Heisman Trophy.

Too early? Too bad. We’ve got another seven-and-a-half months to go until the season starts and we know you all can’t get by on recruiting and spring football alone.

This is just the first rollout of a series of lists. We’ll have revisions after spring ball and then a final Watch List heading into the season.

1. Matt Barkley, USC — Barkley returns for his senior year as the front runner for the 2012 Heisman. He’s got perhaps the best receiving corps in the history of college football catching his passes, so you know his numbers will be stellar. However, he must beat the expectations game or voters could eventually turn on him like they did Andrew Luck.

2. Denard Robinson, Michigan — Four of the last six Heisman winners have been dual-threat quarterbacks and it is this style that has the most potential to wow the voters. The story with Robinson will be how he turned around a storied program. If the Wolverines challenge for national honors, he’ll be a strong Heisman candidate.

3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin — Ball is the leading returning vote getter from last season, when he took fourth in the Heisman balloting. Because of this, it is very tempting to just make him the front runner, but one has to take into account the tremendous standard he set for himself last season by scoring 39 touchdowns. He’s bound to have a drop off of sorts and just how much he drops off will determine his eventual standing in the race.

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The HP Heisman Watch

Now for the 14th–and penultimate–HP Heisman Watch of the 2009 season.

With one week of games remaining, we finally have clarity in this race.  One player is now the overwhelming favorite to capture this year’s Heisman Trophy, though he’s been the leader in this watch for 12 of the past 13 weeks. 

1. Colt McCoy, Texas–HP’s preseason favorite is thisclose to capturing the Heisman going away.  Putting together a Heisman-winning season takes a lot of talent, grit, fortitude, timing…and some luck.  It just so happens that McCoy had his best game of the season on Thanksgiving night, just a week after ballots had gone out to voters.  So, many voters who were paying extra-close attention to things for the first time saw him pass for 304 yards and rush for 173 while totaling five touchdowns in a rather entertaining, but crucial win over Texas A&M. 

Whereas McCoy struggled early in the season, he is now on a roll and his numbers after 12 games read:

3,328 passing yards
72% completion percentage
27 touchdown passes
9 interceptions
368 rushing yards
2 rushing touchdowns  

He has one more game to go to add to these totals.  His numbers are definitely Heisman-worthy, meaning that they are in the same realm as the numbers of previous winners and also quite good in the context of the current race.   While his slow start to the season opened up the trophy to other candidates, he was always in a strong position to catch fire with the Heisman electorate so long as he produced in the end.  After all, as the returning Heisman runner up and a quarterback for a traditional power challenging for the national title, he was as well-known and compelling as any candidate in the field when the campaign started.   By producing a Heisman-worthy season statistically, he has given voters who were predisposed to him in the first place the proper cover to mark him at the top of their ballots.

There are some who will say that McCoy has produced these numbers against inferior competition.  They will cite the Texas strength of schedule and the relative decline of the Big 12 as proof.  However, this will not be an issue when it comes to the Heisman.  Why?  Because voters already know McCoy is a great player.  That was made clear in 2008, when he had a dominant season against a very tough schedule.  The 2009 season wasn’t about McCoy proving himself to be a great player, but rather about whether he could maintain his level of play while leading Texas to the national title game–something he couldn’t do in 2008.  He is one win away from accomplishing that feat and voters will reward him accordingly. 

So what could stop McCoy from winning the Heisman at this point?  I think nothing less than a disastrous performance in a loss to Nebraska in the Big 12 Title game would bring that about.  If Texas beats the Cornhuskers, his level of play in that game will determine his margin of victory in the Heisman vote.

2. Mark Ingram, Alabama–Just a week ago, Ingram looked like he could win the Heisman if he finished the season strong.  But a 16-carry, 30-yard performance against Auburn when many Heisman voters were watching him closely for the first time was about the worst thing–next to a  ‘Bama loss–that could’ve happened to his candidacy. 

Ingram has 1,429 rushing yards (a 6.5 average) and 12 touchdowns on the season, plus another 28 receptions and three touchdowns through the air.  He was dinged up against Auburn and his status for the Florida game is uncertain.  I think it will take a Willis Reed-like performance against the Gators coupled with a McCoy disaster against Nebraska for Ingram to win the Heisman.

Equally bad for Ingram’s candidacy are the late surges by Toby Gerhart and Tim Tebow.  Gerhart’s rushing numbers on the year are markedly superior to Ingram’s, while Tebow also plays for an undefeated SEC team.  Both players therefore serve to erode a bit of the rationale for Ingram’s candidacy.  For instance, a voter inclined to support a running back might be attracted to Gerhart based on his superior stats, while another voter might think Tebow is the most deserving SEC player on an undefeated team.  Now, if Alabama beats Florida, then the Tebow issue is moot as far as Ingram goes, but he will still need to prove he is the top running back in the race.  That means a monster game against Florida.  Given his health issues and the stoutness of the Gator defense, this seems to be a highly unlikely proposition.  

3. Toby Gerhart, Stanford–It is necessary to insert Gerhart on this Heisman Watch primarily because of the following scenario:  

What if McCoy plays poorly and Nebraska beats Texas while Alabama beats Florida without any significant help from Ingram?  Who wins the Heisman?

I think in that scenario, we’d see a severely fractured race and possibly Gerhart eking it out. 

Gerhart is fresh off a huge game against Notre Dame–something that always helps when it comes to the Heisman.  He rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns and also threw a touchdown pass to help Stanford beat the Irish.  On the year, he leads the nation with 1,736 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns.  Of the four serious candidates for the trophy, he has produced the best season statistically.

As it stands, Gerhart is practically a lock to win the West Region.  But in the end-of-season cataclysm I just depicted, I think he would also do well in the Midwest (thanks to his game against Notre Dame) and in the Northeast due to his alluring status as a blue-collar running back from an elite academic school (the kind of combination that propelled Cornell’s Ed Marinaro to a second-place Heisman finish in 1971). 

What about Tebow?  What if McCoy does poorly in a loss and the Gators beat Alabama behind the 2007 Heisman winner?  Obviously, this would push Tebow up in the race, but I don’t think he’ll have enough gas in the tank to top the rest of the field.  Ingram would still eat into his support in various regions, while others would see McCoy and Gerhart as still being superior statistically.  Meanwhile, players like C.J. Spiller, Kellen Moore, Ndamukong Suh and Case Keenum would grab some extra votes here and there.  And then there are those who just don’t think Tebow deserves a second Heisman, no matter how great a player he is.  In this scenario, Gerhart or McCoy still might eke it out.

If the vote were held today

1. Colt McCoy

2. Toby Gerhart

3. Tim Tebow

4. Mark Ingram

5. C. J. Spiller

6. Kellen Moore

7. Case Keenum

8. Golden Tate

9. Ndamukong Suh

10. Jacquizz Rodgers

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The Latest HP Heisman Poll

The Heismanpundit Heisman Poll, Sept. 22

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida–55 (7)
2. Jahvid Best, RB, California–53 (5)
3. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas–43 (1)
4. Jacory Harris, QB, Miami–17
5. Case Keenum, QB, Houston–8
6. Eric Berry, DB, Tennessee–5
7. Daryll Clark, QB, Penn State–4
Jake Locker, QB, Washington–4
Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State–4
10. Jevan Snead, QB, Mississippi–2
About the Poll
The HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll is made up of 13 Heisman voters from across the country. They vote for five players each week. Tabulations are made on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis, with five points awarded for a first-place vote, four points for a second-place vote and so on.  Last year’s final Heismanpundit poll was the most accurate in the country, picking five of the top six finishers in the Heisman vote.

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
Cal running back Jahvid Best is surging in this race now and it’s no wonder after scoring five touchdowns against Minnesota.  While Tebow and McCoy are obviously great players, Best provides a lot of the razzle dazzle that the voters crave and that has perhaps been lacking from the venerable quarterback duo in the early going.  If Best can keep it up these next two weeks against Oregon and USC, he might take over this race.  Keep an eye on Miami’s Jacory Harris, the latest dark horse to emerge.

From a Voter

“For me, this was the week preseason preconceptions gave way to what’s actually happening on the field. In the wake of an inspiring but workmanlike afternoon from Tebow; and another halting first half from McCoy, it was a no-brainer  to elevate the sensational Jahvid Best to the top of my ballot after his five-TD performance on the road against much-improved Minnesota.”– Austin Murphy, Sports Illustrated
Heisman Game of the Week
No. 6 Cal at Oregon.  This game would have a higher profile if the Ducks hadn’t flopped against Boise State in week one, but it is a possible trap game for the Bears, who could be looking ahead to USC the following week.  The good news for Best: No rain in the forecast and a chance to fly on field turf against a suspect defense.  Fun note: Best has scored more touchdowns this season than 40 teams in the FBS.
Player to Watch

Jacory Harris, Miami.  Harris and the Hurricanes head to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech this Saturday.  He’s one of the hottest players in the country right now, but playing in this venue will be a challenge.  Voters will be keeping a close eye on this game and Harris has a chance to make a big impression by leading Miami to a win.  If that happens, he’ll have no time to rest on his laurels as Oklahoma is up next.
This Week in Heisman History

Eddie George rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries to lead No. 7 Ohio State to a 45-26 win over Notre Dame in 1995.  “All I know is I played a game against Notre Dame to the best of my ability,” said George afterward.  “If I’m up for Heisman consideration, that’s great.”  He went on to win the trophy that year, beating out Nebraska’s Tommy Frazier and Florida’s Danny Wuerffel.

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The Latest Heismanpundit.com Heisman Poll

This Week’s Poll Results, 9/15
 (first place votes in parantheses)

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida–59 (9)

2. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas–52 (3)

3. Jahvid Best, RB, Cal–41 (1)

4. Max Hall, QB, BYU–19

5. Case Keenum, QB, Houston–8

6. Daryll Clark, QB, Penn State–7

7. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State–3

8. Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State–2

     Jevan Snead, QB, Mississsippi–2

10. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame–1

       Joe McKnight, RB, USC–1

About the Poll
The HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll is made up of 13 Heisman voters from across the country. They vote for five players each week. Tabulations are made on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis, with five points awarded for a first-place vote, four points for a second-place vote and so on.  Last year’s Heismanpundit poll was the most accurate in the country, picking five of the top six finishers in the Heisman vote.

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.

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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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