South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore
It's only August, but it's never too early to start talking about the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
The SEC is home to two of the last three Heisman Trophy winners and boasts the kind of talent that can send multiple players to New York as finalists for the award.
Arkansas running back Knile Davis and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray make the cut. But one name is noticeably missing—South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.
I know, I know...he's coming off of an ACL tear and those take time to recover from. I get that, but Lattimore absolutely deserves to be in the top 10 despite the injury.
South Carolina is going to rely on the running game early, and even at 80 or 90 percent, Lattimore still figures to be a big factor in that.
He proved that he has what it takes to be a workhorse in 2010, when he put the Gamecocks on his back and led them to their first-ever SEC East title...as a true freshman.
After that sizzling 1,197-yard, 17-touchdown performance in 2010, Lattimore was well on his way to repeating the feat in 2011, with 818 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games before the knee injury.
That was all accomplished with Alshon Jeffery keeping defenses honest at wide receiver. Now that Jeffery is gone to the NFL, the Gamecocks will rely on the running game even more in 2012—especially early on.
But it's not just the game plan that plays into Lattimore's favor—it's the exposure.
South Carolina was picked to finish second in the SEC East in 2012 at SEC Media Days, but that's more due to the fact that Georgia misses Alabama, LSU and Arkansas out of the SEC West rather than an indictment on the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks are probably the most talented team in the division, but games at LSU and vs. Arkansas may come back to haunt them.
No matter how you handicap the division, there's little doubt that the Gamecocks are one of the top 10 teams in the country. South Carolina's ability to hang around the top 10 will certainly help Lattimore's chances.
It's early, and there's still plenty of time for Lattimore to prove his doubters wrong, but his proven track record of success coupled with the possibility for his team to hang around in the top 10 should mean that he doesn't have to.