Last years winner of the Heisman trophy, Mark Ingram of Alabama, came out of nowhere to take the title as his team also took the National Championship. Prior to 2007 no sophomore had ever won the Heisman trophy. The interesting trend now is that the last three winners have all been sophomores (Ingram, Sam Bradford in 2008 and Tim Tebow in 2007). The trend has also been against repeat winners. Not since Archie Griffin in 1975 has a player won back-to-back Heisman trophies, and he's the only one to ever win the trophy twice.
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!?
#1 (tie) Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State, QB, Jr
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.
#1 (tie) Kellen Moore, Boise State, QB, Jr
30 points; 1 1st place vote (Kevin), 1 2nd place vote (Alex), 1 3rd place vote (Ross), 1 4th place vote (Chris), 1 5th place vote (Jason)
Chris: Moore has just as much of a right as anybody to be mentioned in this group, and perhaps even more so as he is the nation's most efficient QB. He will be leading a Boise State team that is as good as any, but like Case Keenum, he is facing an uphill battle as a little bit of a system QB along with the small-school stigma that will surely play a part. But, if Boise should go undefeated again, especially if they make a NC game appearance, expect Moore to finish in the top-2. Again, I don't know how he projects to the next level (some say he may be the next Chad Pennington for his lack of a deep ball), but if he is the best college player, it should be his.
Ross: His competition (or lack thereof) is going to be a problem, but if he looks good against Virginia Tech in Week 1, he'll have a shot. He's going to be a heavily hyped guy on a top-ranked team -- and that never hurts for the Heisman.
Kevin: The two tests in the first three games (Virginia Tech and Oregon State) for Boise State will be Moore's chance to make a statement. Even if Boise State losses to VT, which I am leaning towards, if Moore has a good showing against a top tier defense like the Hokies he will have a legitimate shot. In order for Moore to win this award the Broncos have to be a top 5 team at the end of the year and I think win or lose to VT that is a real possibility. Last year Moore threw 39 TD and only 3 INT, he's 26-1 as a starting QB. As Phil Steele said in his preview "if he put up those stats in a BCS league, he would likely already be a two-time Heisman winner." Another reason I like Moore is that Boise returns 10 offensive starters so they should pick up right where they left off last year. Right now I like Moore as much as anybody for the Heisman and I see his winning as Boise's consolation to not playing in the National Championship this year.
#4 Case Keenum, Houston, QB, Sr
22 points; 1 1st place vote (Chris), 1 2nd place vote (Brandon), 1 5th place vote (Kevin)
Chris: If Keenum doesn't win it, it won't be because he's not the most deserving. The trend is to shy away from system QB's like those at Texas Tech or now Keenum in Houston because previous system QB Heisman winners (like Ty Detmer and former Houston Cougar Andre Ware) were unsuccessful in the pros. Keenum is likely to put up the best stat-line in the nation, and now it can't be argued that he is being overlooked (though I don't think that was a legitimate argument last year anyway). If he even matches last year's phenomenal production, including his 70% completion percentage, I think you HAVE to give it to the guy. He may not play on the best team or play in the hardest conference, and in my personal opinion, he may be a pro bust. But, at the end of the day, the Heisman Trophy is supposed to be awarded to the BEST player in college football, right!? And next year, Case Keenum is that guy.
#5 Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh, RB, Soph
18 points; 1 2nd place vote (Chris), 1 3rd place vote (Kevin), 1 4th place vote (Jason)
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.
#6 (tie) Jake Locker, Washington, QB, Sr
10 points; 1 3rd place vote (Jason), 2 5th place votes (Alex, Ross)
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.
#6 (tie) LaMichael James, Oregon, RB, Soph
10 points; 1 3rd place vote (Chris), 1 4th place vote (Ross)
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