Posted by Erin B on
And the 78th Heisman Trophy will go to …
More on the leading contenders in a moment. First, let’s look at the two strongest trends in Heisman history. Trend 1: From 1972 to 1983, 12 consecutive running backs won the award. Trend 2: Starting with Chris Weinke in 2000, 10 of the 12 winners have been quarterbacks.
So a quarterback’s going to win it in 2012 … unless a running back does. Let’s say there’s a 78 percent chance of the former and an 18 percent chance of the latter. Which leaves, what the heck, a 4 percent chance of anything else happening. (The science behind those numbers is so rock-solid it’s scary.)
Here we go now: Seven up, from the bottom to the top, your leading contenders for the Big Stiffarm.
7. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, junior, LSU
Good signs: He’s already a household name among followers of the sport, which means he has won the biggest battle faced by all non-offensive players. And the Tigers are pretty well locked in as national title contenders, so every big Honey Badger play will be magnified.
Bad sign: Mathieu had it all in place last season—the punt returns for touchdowns, the scoops-and-scores on defense, the No. 1 ranking for his team when the Heisman was awarded—and yet he finished fifth in the balloting as the only non-QB/RB in the top 10.
Others like him: If NC State cornerback David Amerson follows up his ACC-record 13 interceptions in 2011 with a similar effort, he’ll steal Mathieu’s honey. Does Georgia junior linebacker Jarvis Jones have a 20-sack explosion in him?
6. Collin Klein, QB, senior, Kansas State
Good signs: Klein carries his offense on his back like a less-talented version of Cam Newton. Or maybe he’s more in the vein of Tim Tebow. This is a big, strong, extraordinarily willful guy whose candidacy will get a real push if K-State again threatens 10 wins. Nice trend: Four of the past six Heismans have gone to dual-threat quarterbacks (Robert Griffin III, Troy Smith and the two mentioned above).
Bad sign: In the past 44 years, only one quarterback (Nebraska’s Eric Crouch) has won the Heisman throwing for less than 2,000 yards, as Klein did in 2011.
Others like him: You wouldn’t call either Michigan’s Denard Robinson or Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez a natural passer. The QB most like Klein may end up being Auburn’s Kiehl Frazier, if Frazier gets the starting nod as a sophomore.
5. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, sophomore, Oregon
Good signs: The sophomore seal was broken by Tebow a year before Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford became the second consecutive sophomore Heisman winner. Especially with LaMichael James gone, Thomas—as a runner, receiver and return man—could blow away his freshman total of 18 touchdowns.
Bad sign: No Oregon player has ever won the Heisman. You know, because of the East Coast media bias and all.
Others like him: Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and USC’s Marqise Lee are fellow super-sophs. West Virginia senior Tavon Austin could sneak into Thomas’ uniform for a game and few would notice.
4. Geno Smith, QB, senior, West Virginia
Good signs: Smith was enormously productive (4,379 yards passing, 31 TDs, 7 INTs) in his first season running Dana Holgorsen’s offense. In Year 2—in the wide-open Big 12—Smith’s a good bet to put up the best numbers of any quarterback in the country. He doesn’t have to win a league title to take the Heisman, either, as Baylor’s Griffin proved.
Bad sign: It’s not like team success doesn’t matter a ton. Eleven of the 14 winners during the BCS era capped their Heisman seasons with BCS appearances. That level of success may be above the Mountaineers’ ceiling in their Big 12 debut.
Others like him: Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Washington’s Keith Price are, like Smith, pocket passers on very strong teams—but also long shots to win conference championships.
3. Montee Ball, RB, senior, Wisconsin
Good signs: Here’s your top returning Heisman candidate from 2011; Ball finished fourth behind Griffin, Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson. The Badgers will ride him again, too, so you know the stats will be there.
Bad sign: For crying out loud, the guy tied Barry Sanders’ all-time record with 39 touchdowns as a junior—for the Big Ten champions—and didn’t come close to winning the Heisman. The lack of flash in Ball’s game hurts him in the perception department.
Others like him: South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and … that may be it.
2. Denard Robinson, QB, senior, Michigan
Good signs: Now this is a dual-threat quarterback in the most exciting sense of the phrase. For oohs and aahs, no doubt Robinson is better than Tebow or Ohio State’s Smith and up there with the Camster and RG3. Robinson should soar over 7,000 career passing yards and, more important, top 4,000 on the ground as he chases his 50th career rushing touchdown.
What’s bad: Alabama in the season opener. Gulp.
Others like him: Nebraska’s Martinez undoubtedly prefers this comparison. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas is a dual-threat guy, but he’s a much better passer than Robinson and not nearly the runner. Here’s a thought: Ohio State’s Braxton Miller? Michigan fans surely disagree.
1. Matt Barkley, QB, senior, USC
Good signs: Quarterbacks own the award now, the Trojans are clear national title contenders, and everyone admires Barkley for returning to school for his senior season. Here’s your far-and-away favorite.
Bad signs: No USC player since Reggie Bush in 2005 has won the award, and Bush’s win was later vacated. More relevant: As Luck did in 2011, Barkley starts the season with the Mr. Perfect chain around his neck—any interception, especially a key one in a loss, will shock voters’ senses and be replayed on television a million times.
Others like him: Are there any other extremely talented passers who could go unbeaten in 2012? Sure. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, maybe even Arkansas’ Wilson if you’re willing to take that leap of faith in John L. Smith. No leap necessary with Barkley.