In just over three weeks, the college football season will kick off. That means, among other things, that the top players will be competing for the 76th annual Heisman Memorial Trophy. The award is the most prestigious individual award in college football and is awarded to the most outstanding college football player that season.
The last three winners of the Heisman trophy have been sophomores. Before Tim Tebow won the award in 2007, no sophomore had ever won the award. Since then, Sam Bradford and Mark Ingram have won the Heisman as sophomores.
When the regular season and conference title games are over, the Heisman trust will hnad out the 76th annual stiff-arm trophy. The 25-pound cast Bronze trophy is chased after every year by the best players around the country.
I’m going to do the impossible in this article. I’m going to give you a list of my top ten favorites to win the prestigious award. I’ll tell you why they can win the award and why nine of them will not win the award leading ultimately to my prediction of who will be lifting up the Heisman trophy at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City this December.
Mark Ingram (RB/Alabama)
Where better to start than with last year’s Heisman winner Mark Ingram? He rushed for 1,658 yards last season and scored 17 touchdowns. He was a huge reason that Alabama won the National Championship last season. After the Iron Bowl last season where he was held to just 30 yards against Auburn, it appeared that all hope was lost for the Crimson Tide to have its first Heisman winner.
Ingram became Alabama's first Heisman winner
But, the very next week Ingram won the award with his great performance in the SEC Championship game against Florida. He rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns against a Florida defense that had only allowed three touchdowns on the ground all season before the game.
Ingram narrowly edged out Stanford RB Toby Gerhart to win the award last season. He will have a tougher time this season trying to win the award for a second straight season.
Why he can win: Mark Ingram was just a sophomore last season and should be an even better overall player in his junior season at the Capstone. He will be just as effective running the ball behind a very good offensive line. Also, Alabama will be able to take some pressure off of Ingram with a very effective passing game behind Greg McElroy at QB. McElroy has most of his receiving weapons back with Julio Jones, Marquis Maze, and Darius Hanks at WR.
That should give Alabama an effective passing attack which will force defenses to not be able to crowd the box to prevent the run. It’s entirely possible that Mark Ingram could join Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner of the Heisman trophy.
Whey he won’t win: Simple. Two words: Trent Richardson. While Trent Richardson got a share of the carries last season, Ingram was still the featured man in the Alabama backfield with Richardson coming in when Ingram needed a rest.
With a year of experience under his belt, expect Richardson to get even carries this season. Ingram’s carries will likely suffer because of it. He carried the ball 271 times last season and you can expect that number to down in 2010 with Richardson getting more looks.
The carries between the two stud runners should be more even this season and I think we will see more of what we saw in the National Title game against Texas. Ingram had 22 carries in the Title game while Richardson carried it 19 times.
Ingram will be a better player in 2010 and could even see his yards per carry increase a little bit, but expect his overall numbers to suffer a bit as Alabama will likely field two 1,000 yard rushers this season.
Kellen Moore (QB/Boise State)
Kellen Moore had the most impressive statistical season of any QB in college football last season. He completed over 64% of his passes for 3,536 yards and 39 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions.
Moore had an incredible season in leading Boise State to an undefeated record and a Fiesta Bowl victory over TCU. What does Moore have in store for an encore to his incredible 2009 season?
Why he can win: Moore is going to have great numbers. He will likely once again put up the best numbers of any QB in the country. Playing in the WAC will allow him to put up better numbers than his competition. He also has the luxury of playing with a bevy of returning starters.
He has most of his offensive line back and all of his skill position players to throw the ball to returning. He is the anchor of the #1 scoring offense in college football and they should put up similar numbers this season.
Why he won’t win: While playing in the WAC will help his numbers, it might also be his downfall among the voters. He put up incredible numbers last season and his team was undefeated. Even then, he only finished 7th in the 2009 Heisman voting.
I can’t really see him putting up better offensive numbers than he did last season and for him to even have a chance at winning the Heisman, Boise State will have to run the table once again. The Broncos will have their toughest regular season challenge with games against Virginia Tech and Oregon State out of conference.
To be honest, I don’t see Boise State running the table again and that will prevent Kellen Moore from taking home the stiff-arm trophy.
John Clay (RB/Wisconsin)
Last year’s Big Ten offensive player of the year, John Clay is a legitimate Heisman contender for Wisconsin this season. Clay was a workhorse last season for the Badgers with 287 carries for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Can Clay's ankles handle the pressure of 300 carries?
He also looked good in the Champs Sports Bowl against Miami where he rushed for 121 yards and he scored two touchdowns leading to him being named the MVP of the bowl game. He will play a big role for Wisconsin this season, being one of the big reasons the Badger faithful believes they could win the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl this season.
Why he can win: Clay will once again be the workhorse back for Wisconsin and should see a similar number of carries and should put up very similar numbers to what he had last season.
If he can put up those same kind of numbers as last season and Wisconsin can become legit contenders in the Big Ten, then Clay should get a legitimate look as a Heisman contender and could be one of the few players invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York City.
Why he won’t win: He’s not an exciting player. It shouldn’t be like that, but it is. He ran for 1500 yards last season and wasn’t even given a serious look as a Heisman contender. He’s a hard-nosed down hill runner that will put up great numbers, but he doesn’t have that wow factor.
It will also be interesting to see if Clay is able to stay healthy after offseason surgery on both of his ankles. Clay will be relied on a lot and will get a ton of carries, but it will be interesting to see if his ankles are able to hold the incredible load that he will be given.
Jerrod Johnson (QB/Texas A&M)
Surprised? Jerrod Johnson really came into his own last season with the Aggies. He put up great numbers with 3,579 yards and 30 touchdowns with just 8 interceptions. His stellar performance against Texas last season convinced me that he was legit.
For him to have a chance at being a Heisman contender, A&M is going to have to be much improved from their six win season last year.
Why he can win: He’s going to put up big numbers and could be the cream of the crop among the QB’s in the Big XII. He will lead an explosive offense in College Station that should light up the scoreboard all season long.
His team should be better in 2010 and that should help his chances at winning the Heisman trophy. They will have to be if he wants to have a shot at becoming the 2nd Aggies player to win the Heisman trophy joining John David Crow in 1957.
Why he won’t win: For Jerrod Johnson to have a chance to win the Heisman Trophy, Texas A&M will have to be much improved and seriously compete in the Big XII if not win the whole conference. A&M is in good shape, because Texas isn’t quite as good as they have been in previous seasons and they could legitimately be Big XII contenders this season.
But, in the end, I don’t expect the Aggies to overtake Texas or Oklahoma in the South division and that will prevent Johnson from being one of the players at the Downtown Athletic Club.
Dion Lewis (RB/Pittsburgh)
As a freshman in 2009, Lewis took the Big East and the country by storm with 1,799 rushing yards on 325 attempts and 17 touchdowns on the ground. His most impressive performance was against Cincinnati in the de facto Big East Championship game where he shouldered the load for Pittsburgh with 47 carries for 194 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.
What does Lewis have in store for an encore to his incredible freshman year?
He’ll get a lot of carries once again this season and will have a chance at putting up big numbers once again for the Panthers.
Why he can win: He’s going to shoulder the load for Pittsburgh again in 2010. That means he could see over 300 carries once again and I believe he will make the most of it. He was the Big East offensive player of the year last season and with a year of experience under his belt; he should be an even better player this season.
Pittsburgh has a deep receiving core highlighted by Jonathan Baldwin and that will prevent teams from stacking the box to shut down Dion Lewis.
Why he won’t win: Lewis certainly has the wow factor, but the conference he plays in does not. While Pittsburgh seems to be the preseason favorite to win the Big East as they should be, even that probably won’t be good enough to yield a Heisman trophy even with great numbers.
The Big East hasn’t had a Heisman winner since Gino Torretta took home the prestigious award for Miami in 1992. The conference isn’t looked upon kindly as one of the elite and that will definitely hurt Dion Lewis’ Heisman hopes.
Case Keenum (QB/Houston)
After Houston pulled early season upsets of Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, Case Keenum was a trendy pick to be a Heisman contender. After a loss to UTEP and another loss to Central Florida later in the season that talk quickly dissolved.
Still, Keenum put up big numbers with 5,671 yards, 44 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. His brilliant statistical season was undone to Heisman voters by his teams struggles in the Conference-USA.
Why he can win: Here’s a scary thought: Case Keenum’s numbers could go UP next season. He has almost all of his offensive weapons back to go along with four returning starters on the offensive line. Houston should be an even better team this season.
The Cougars won 10-games last year, but fell short against East Carolina in the Conference USA title game. With Skip Holtz’s departure to South Florida, Houston has to be thought of as the favorite to win the conference. If they can do that and pull of some big wins in the non-conference schedule against the likes of UCLA, Mississippi State, and Texas Tech, then Keenum could be a finalist for the Heisman.
Why he won’t win: Playing in a small conference will likely do him in, even if he puts up big numbers again in 2010. The last player from a non-BCS conference to win the Heisman trophy was Ty Detmer in 1990.
For Keenum to have a shot at winning the Heisman trophy, Houston is going to have to have an incredible season that sees them bust into a BCS bowl game. Not likely.
Ryan Mallett (QB/Arkansas)
Under Bobby Petrino, Ryan Mallett had an incredible season for Arkansas in 2009. He completed 56% of his passes throwing for 3,627 yards and 30 touchdowns with 7 interceptions. Mallett could have turned pro after last season and likely would have been one of the top picks in the 2010 NFL draft, but he decided to return to school.
Arkansas' 2010 hopes weigh on Mallett's shoulders
His return makes him an instant Heisman contender coming into the season.
Why he can win: In Petrino’s pass heavy offense, Mallett will get an opportunity to possibly even top last season’s numbers and he will lead a very explosive Razorback offense in Fayetteville this season. Arkansas will need to improve on the 8-win season from last year and I believe they will.
Mallett has all of his receiving threats returning and that will be another boost for the former Michigan QB. I expect another big year numbers-wise for Mallet and if Arkansas can make a move in the standings, then he has a legit shot at winning the Heisman trophy.
Why he won’t win: I don’t see Arkansas making a huge move in the SEC standings for Mallett to be able to win the award. I think Arkansas will need to win the SEC West if not win the entire conference for him to win the Heisman. That is unless he has a Tim Tebow-esque kind of season that he enjoyed in 2007.
I think Arkansas will contend in the SEC West, but I don’t expect this team to overtake Alabama in the SEC West.
Jacquizz Rodgers (RB/Oregon State)
Quizz is a very explosive player at the RB position and he will put big numbers and he plays for a team that will showcase him better than others. He rushed for 1,440 yards on 273 carries for 21 touchdowns this season.
He’s the top running back in the Pac 10 and he will be right in the thick of the Heisman race this season.
Why he can win: Quizz will get the opportunity to put up big numbers once again in this Oregon State offense. He is the Beavers main offensive weapon and they will find ways to get the ball in his hands.
He also has that wow factor and he can do things that will get the voters attention. If Oregon State can win the Pac 10 like I predicted, then expect Quizz to be one of the finalists at the Downtown Athletic Club in December.
Why he won’t win: It’s tough to find reasons why Quizz won’t win the Heisman. Especially since I believe they can win the Pac 10. The only real reason would be because playing in Corvallis isn’t as prestigious as playing at a big named school like Alabama, Ohio State, or even USC.
Again, that shouldn’t effect the voting, but it will.
Andrew Luck (QB/Stanford)
Last season, Stanford nearly grasped their 2nd Heisman trophy in school history (Jim Plunkett/1970). Toby Gerhart finished 2nd to Mark Ingram on last season’s Heisman ballot.
With Gerhart gone, Luck will be asked to pass more
I’ve made it known before that I think Andrew Luck is the best QB in the Pac 10 and he gives the Cardinal hope to have another Heisman finalist.
Why he can win: With Toby Gerhart gone, Stanford will have to rely on the passing attack to experience the same kind of success they had last season. Luck will get a better opportunity to showcase his talent this season with more chances to throw the ball.
I believe Luck has a real opportunity to be the 4th straight sophomore to take home the Heisman trophy. For that to happen, he will either need an incredible Toby Gerhart-esque season or a great season and the Cardinal contend for the Pac 10 title.
Why he won’t win: He’s not going to have that Gerhart kind of season. I expect that he has a great year that could possibly lead to him being first team All Pac 10. I just don’t believe Stanford will win the Pac 10 or finish in the top 3.
I don’t think finishing 4th in the Pac 10 will be enough to deliver a Heisman to Palo Alto.
So let’s see. That’s nine guys that won’t win the Heisman trophy. So, that means that this one would be the winner, right? Absolutely. I believe the 2010 Heisman winner will be…
Terrelle Pryor (QB/Ohio State)
Terrelle Pryor was finally let loose by Jim Tressel last season in the Rose Bowl and he showed his immense potential. He threw for 266 yards on a career high 37 attempts with two touchdowns. He also rushed for 72 yards.
His performance lifted the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl victory over Oregon.
Why he will win: Jim Tressel should have seen in the Rose Bowl that it is time to stop being conservative with Pryor and let him loose. When he finally did so, Ohio State played their best game of the season and beat a really good Oregon team.
If Tressel lets him loose, Pryor will shine in 2010
Ohio State has a lot of returning talent that should be good enough to once again win the Big Ten and compete for a National Championship. If Ohio State is playing in the National Championship game, then Pryor would have been let loose by Tressel.
If Pryor plays this season like he did in the Rose Bowl then he could be entering the National Championship game with a 25-pound bronze trophy in his possession.
It will be interesting to see who is this season’s Mark Ingram. There will be a player this year that isn’t on the radar right now that will jump up and have a big season putting his name in the thick of the Heisman race.
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