Six of us here at College Football Zealots put our heads together and via super secret ballot (which I will reveal in this very piece) came up with a list of players we thought had the best shot to take the Heisman this year. After our secret ballots were tallied using a highly complex point system we ended up with a 3-way tie for our pre-season Heisman prediction. What that tells me is that it's going to be a wide-open race. The Heisman process has it's voters pick the Top 3 but we go went with a different approach and chose a Top 5. Here are our top 12 candidates (in order of votes received) and some honorable mentions.
#1 (tie) Mark Ingram, Alabama, RB, Jr
30 points; 2 1st place votes (Alex, Brandon), 1 2nd place (Jason), 1 5th place (Chris)
Alex: I see the Heisman race as not having a clear favorite. Last year we knew who the top three were, however Ingram bulldozed his way into the picture taking the award from the QB favorites. I am picking him at #1 to pull off what only one other player has done. If Ingram can win two in a row he will become a true legend in Tuscaloosa.
Chris: Most would see a player returning from a Heisman season as the prohibitive favorite, but I see differently. A year removed from starting his first game, Greg McElroy will play a larger role in the offense, and a rebuilt defense will mean less time on the field. But the real reason he will not win it again over everything else is his competition. He is the second best back on his team. I know it sounds funny to say that about a Heisman winner, but it is the absolute truth. Trent Richardson is going to make somebody VERY happy in the NFL, and while I'm not saying he becomes Alabama's feature back, Nick Saban sees exactly what I do and will maximize the opportunity to get the ball in Richardson's hands. Plus, is this the year Julio Jones finally takes off!?
30 points; 2 1st place votes (Jason, Ross), 1 3rd place (Brandon), 1 4th place (Alex)
Ross: He's the preeminent offensive player on one of the top-ranked teams.
Kevin: I didn't list Pryor in my Top 5 (or Ingram) but I could easily see Pryor winning the Heisman if Ohio State can put together an undefeated season going into Bowl Season.
#5 Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh, RB, Soph
Kevin: Lewis burst on the scene as a freshman last year with 1,799 yards and 17 TD. If he can get the same production (or near that) with people already knowing who he is then he is going to be hard to beat this year. I think the key is how good can Pittsburgh be? If they finish Top 15 then I think he's got a legitimate chance but if they can't keep up with the competitive Big East then Dion's Heisman chances will be very slim.
Chris: Lewis is a guy who flourished as a freshman against inferior competition, and I'd expect to see him do the same against about the same competition again this year. I think Lewis is vastly overrated compared to his freshman counterparts of a season ago in LaMichael James and Ryan Williams because he didn't face many great or even good defenses, but I will cut him a little slack. With an inexperienced QB at the helm I'd expect Lewis to get even more of the workload.
Ross: At least one of these much-hyped quarterbacks (Jake Locker, Washington/Landry Jones, Oklahoma/Garrett Gilbert, Texas/John Brantley, Florida) is going to put up a boatload of stats and force his way into the conversation. I just don't know who it will be.
Ross: If Oregon is good again this year and James has a strong year, he could sneak into consideration.
Chris: No more sharing carries with every Boise State fan's favorite guy LaGarrette Blount, and no more Jeremiah Massoli at quarterback means James is the onus of the offense this year. Oregon will drop off considerably from a year ago, but James will at least keep them competitive, and he is likely to produce a stellar stat-line along the way. Should Oregon have a .500 or worse record though, James' name won't be announced in NY.
#8 (tie) John Clay, Wisconsin, RB, Jr
8 points; 1 2nd place vote (Ross)
Ross: If Wisco has a strong year, it's going to be on the back of John Clay and he's capable of putting up monster numbers.
#8 (tie) Noel Devine, West Virginia, RB, Sr
8 points; 1 2nd place vote (Kevin)
Kevin: Last year Devine rushed for over 1400 yards and did so at 6 yards per carry. He is also a threat catching the ball out of the backfield although he has not put up huge numbers in that regard, yet. West Virginia will be breaking in a new QB this year (see also: Alabama last year) and that means that Devine will be more of a focal point for the offense this year and he will likely get the ball in a variety of ways. There is just a gut feeling that I have that West Virginia could be better than people think this year and that Noel Devine is going to put up some big stats.
#10 Andrew Luck, Stanford, QB, Soph
6 points; 1 3rd place vote (Alex)
#11 (tie) Ricky Dobbs, Navy, QB, Sr
4 points; 1 4th place vote (Brandon)
Brandon: Sentimental pick and I think it isn't out of the realm of possibility for him to get a lot of votes if Navy play well this season
#11 (tie) Joshua Nesbitt, Georgia Tech, QB, Sr
4 points; 1 4th place vote (Kevin)
Kevin: As a Georgia fan it's hard for me to list a Georgia Tech guy but I just feel that he's going to have a big season. Paul Johnson has a commitment to the run game and because of that Nesbitt is going to get a huge amount of touches. Last year, as a QB, Nesbitt rushed for 1037 yards and 18 TD. He also passed for 1700 yards and 10 TD. Nesbitt is the most valuable player on his team and I think a good argument could be made that he's the most valuable player (to his team) in the Nation. Although Nesbitt doesn't throw the ball much he did put up a 148.7 QB rating which was good enough to place in the Top 15 (higher than Colt McCoy, Andrew Luck, Jacory Harris, Landry Jones, Jake Locker, Jeremiah Masoli, and Jerrod Johnson among others).
Others Receiving Consideration:
Ryan Mallet, QB, Arkansas
Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
Evan Royster, RB, Penn State
Jacory Harris, QB, Miami
Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Garrett Gilbert, QB, Texas
John Brantley, QB, Florida