Spring practice is starting to heat up, and you know what that means: It is time for every school in the nation to talk about its "Heisman candidate." Well, guess what? Not every school has one, and just because you are in a big conference doesn't mean your guy has the best chance.
This isn't a ranked list like most of my posts; it is the 11 guys that have the hype, talent or a combination of the two to earn the trophy. The only position not up for debate is OL. David DeCastro and Matt Kalil were great players, but nobody even thought about them, so neither will this post.
Sit back and enjoy.
Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Most impressive stat: 145.8 career QB rating
Don't kid yourself—the Heisman is a QB award, and the more lofty the numbers the better.
No one likes to run up the score more than the Trojans, and no one likes the eyes on his team like Lane Kiffin. The former Volunteer coach will look to get his candidate in the spotlight early and often with deep balls flying left and right.
Barkley is the "Golden Boy" right now. He left money on the table to come back and play for the Trojans for another year. He has a great arm and a pair of great WRs to throw it to.
With key pieces leaving on offense and defense (two key defenders and Matt Kalil), there will definitely be more weight on his shoulders to win games. Heisman deciders need to watch Barkley and see how well he handles the pressure.
Also, his team has been very fortunate to not lose any key players to injuries. God forbid that this happens, but if it does it will be interesting to see if Barkley can rally the team and show true leadership, one of the most important qualities looked for in a Heisman candidate.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Most impressive stat: 1,900-plus yards and 33 TDs in 2011
1997. That is the last year that a non-QB/RB has won the Heisman. It would be tough to change that with such playmakers in the last few years like Eric Berry, Patrick Peterson and Ndamukong Suh all being dismissed for offensive positions.
Ball was a star runner behind the impressive offensive line of Wisconsin. With two of its key interior offensive linemen deserving of a top-40 pick in this year's draft, the big question is can he reproduce his 2011 numbers?
If Ball can live up to that standard even though he is missing Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler, he will have truly shown he is worth of a strong consideration from the voters. If not, he will likely be judged harshly by NFL teams. They will either think he was the product of good blocking or that he folded under the pressure.
Both are serious issues, so you can assume that Ball will be running for his life.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Most impressive stat: 141.2 passer rating in 2011
Boyd isn't the most accurate QB in the country, and he can't pull away with his speed, but he showed tremendous improvement last year. He boosted his passer rating by almost 35 points, making WR Sammy Watkins look like a stud in the process.
Boyd needs to continue to show improvement, and another year with his young WR should really help them find a chemistry and rhythm. With that go-to target and his former star TE gone (Dwayne Allen), Boyd-to-Watkins is going to be a formidable tandem this year.
Don't forget with all eyes on Watkins and a spy on Boyd to keep him from using his legs, other WRs will draw easy matchups. The key is whether or not Boyd can throw an accurate ball consistently enough to make himself look like a true Heisman candidate.
Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Most impressive stat: 2,609 career receiving and rushing yards through just 20 games
Lattimore is an interesting case. While he isn't the only player who suffered a season-ending injury last year, he may be the one with the biggest chance to make a case for himself. His offensive line didn't lose any pieces that can't be replaced, and he could be very productive next year.
In fact, the change at QB from Stephen Garcia to Connor Shaw actually benefits Lattimore's chance to produce. With Alshon Jeffery gone and his replacement nowhere to be found, teams will be forced to load up the box on Shaw and Lattimore. At first glance this sounds like a bad thing, but Lattimore is a shifty back that can make one cut and explode on the inside.
More importantly, his receiving skills make him a huge threat in the screen game, and the offense could get exotic with him trying to get him an easy matchup.
If Lattimore can return to his old form and get past the first level of defenses, his explosion will take over and his production will go through the roof.
Exactly what Heisman voters love.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Most impressive stat: one TD for every 3.7 receptions
Hunter is a 6'4" wide receiver with a potential star at QB.
Hunter displays tools similar to A.J. Green, and if he can rebound from his knee injury he has a chance to be a 1,000-plus-yard WR. He not only knows how to stretch a field with his speed, but he also puts himself in great position to make every catch using his body as a shield or plucking the ball out of the air.
On a team with two other major WR threats, opponents can't afford to double Hunter every play. Soon they will find out that they can't afford to not double-cover him either. He is too good, and he will make you pay.
He was on pace for 1,200 yards last year before the injury, and there is no doubt that the Tennessee offense will look to make him the focal point of this offense. The only question is can it get the Heisman voters to consider a WR?
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia
Most impressive stat: 850 rushing yards in his freshman year
Crowell went toe-to-toe with some of the best defenders in the league in his freshman year. The good news for Georgia fans is that he not only held his own, but he thrived. While he did lose Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn (center and left tackle, respectively), don't expect a drop-off in production from Crowell this year.
In fact, when I saw that he only had six total touchdowns I did a double-take. His impact on the field is far greater than just six TDs. In time (maybe next year) the Bulldogs will make him the focal point of the offense, and Aaron Murray will play-action off him to raise his completion percentage and efficiency numbers.
I love Crowell's style, and I am excited to see him play in 2012. He will make voters notice and consider whether or not it is time to crown another sophomore Heisman winner.
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Most impressive stat: 75 career TDs
Robinson is a dual-threat QB if I have ever seen one. While his passing game is neither polished nor especially accurate, the legs underneath him allow him to manipulate defenses until someone is open. That is a skill we have seen in many QBs, especially the ones without dangerous weapons.
Robinson will be a senior this year, and with that comes responsibility. This is his team now, and he needs to take control and lead it to a successful year if he is going to have a shot at competing for the Heisman.
If Robinson can bring Michigan back to relevant status in the football world, fans will love him and the media will adore him. In fact, it is just the type of storyline Heisman voters love.
Robert Woods, WR, USC
Most impressive stat: 2,084 career receiving yards as a sophomore
While some WRs were projected to clear 1,200 yards (Justin Hunter), Woods went out and did it. A dominant WR, Woods had two career games with more than 200 yards receiving. He is also consistent, with nine games topping 100 receiving yards.
With Matt Barkley returning and improving every year, Woods can look forward to easy passes and a lackluster defensive group in the Pac-12. With Barkley leading the ship and Kiffin wanting as much attention as he can possibly get, Woods can also look forward to his fair share of highlight clips.
While RBs and QBs are the typical Heisman winners, I would not be surprised if this year the voters put one of the two WRs in the final five candidates because of the importance on the passing game now. Who better exemplifies a dominant WR than Robert Woods?
Tyler Bray QB Tennessee
Most impressive stat: Broke Peyton Manning's record for most consecutive career games with multiple TD passes—And he did it as a sophomore.
Few have heard of him, but his Heisman fate walks hand in hand with Justin Hunter's knee. When his cohort Hunter tore his ACL, Bray looked lost and really had no good answer to the question, "What now?" Eventually he hurt his hand and was out for several games of the 2011 season.
Well, now he is back, and so is his favorite target. With Bray throwing to Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers, Cordarrelle Patterson and Drae Bowles, he has a strong chance at seeing the 4,000-plus-yard mark this year. His WRs are dominant, and with a shaky defense they could be needed for all four quarters.
While Bray is a dark-horse candidate, it would be unwise to disregard him. If he explodes and you aren't ready for it, don't say I didn't warn you.
Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU
Most impressive stat: No overwhelming stats, but his play speaks for itself.
Although I said Mathieu has no outstanding stat, you could say the fact that he is listed at 5'9" (though I doubt he is that tall) is impressive considering how tall he plays. When he lines up against opposing WRs he uses his aggression and athleticism to get the best of opponents.
Also, don't call him small. This is the best example of a "Napoleon Complex" that I have seen since Cortland Finnegan. He is mean, and he takes it out on whoever has the ball. He throws his body around with reckless abandon like Troy Polamalu.
Every year a defensive back makes it into the talk for Heisman candidate, so I thought why not Mathieu? Plus it is only fair that I list him here considering he was in the final consideration last year.
David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State
Most impressive stat: 13 INTs in 2011
Boom! I shocked you, didn't I?
David Amerson is a 6'3" monster of a corner that has developed top-flight instincts and hands. Compiling 13 INTs in one year is almost unheard of, and if he can repeat this year he will be mentioned in comparison to Charles Woodson, mark my words.
A freak athlete, Amerson has flown under the radar now for too long. It is now or never for him. If he has a bad year he will have to pray his production evens out and that he looks good to NFL draft scouts. However, if he wins, Amerson could be a top-three pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and the rest of his career would be completely changed.
I'll put it like this: If he has another year with 13 INTs and he doesn't get the Heisman, someone better have set an NCAA record or two or I will tear them a new one personally.