Heisman Race: How Dark-Horse Heisman Candidates Could Kill Matt Barkley's Glory

Joye PruittSenior Analyst ISeptember 1, 2012

EAST LANSING, MI - AUGUST 31:  Le'Veon Bell #24 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates celebrates a 17-13 victory over the Boise State Broncos with RJ Williamson #26 at Spartan Stadium on August, 2010 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Andrew Luck sat in the front row of the Heisman ceremony two years in a row and walked away empty-handed.

The first time, the best quarterback in college football was dethroned by the evolution of dual-threat Auburn QB legend, Cam Newton. Luck was an amazing gradually developed quarterback, but Newton was explosive and exciting.

Fans and Heisman voters remembered every time Newton stepped on the field despite any mental lapses that may have occurred on his behalf.

The second time, Luck, the projected No.1 overall pick in the NFL Draft for the second consecutive year sat beside Robert Griffin III (RGIII). Luck had not diminished in value nor stamina. He had even come off of a USC-Stanford contest that went to triple OT and an eventual Cardinal victory.

But, RGIII was explosive and exciting.

Things seemed to repeat themselves as Griffin’s name was called, despite the presence of a stud at QB like Luck. Luck was forced to give a round of applause as the runner-up for the second year in a row.

Matt Barkley faces a tough situation, similar to that which Luck faced the last two seasons in college football.

Barkley is likely the most complete player at his position. There is almost zero doubt that coming off of a two-year ban that was imposed at USC, Barkley will have a renewed dedication to his football program and to getting them into the BCS championship game.

That is nice and all, but there are some candidates that wait in the wings, relishing the idea of turning the Heisman race on its head. What may have killed Luck’s chances at the Heisman over the past two years may be the same things that stand in Barkley’s way and those are strength of schedule and more exciting, and memorable, football players.


Le’Veon Bell

Bell is one of those dark-horse Heisman candidates.

Indeed, it may have been Boise State, but what he did against the Broncos was remarkably brilliant. There were zero flaws in his game Friday night where he was the primary target out of Michigan State’s backfield. That was the most galvanizing factor of his performance in this game.

Bell was able to pull off 265 all-purpose yards even though he was established early on as the Spartans’ main facilitator on the offensive end. There was no one to distract the attention from the breakout RB, yet he continued to pound the ball, twice into the end zone, accumulating 57.5 percent of MSU’s total yardage and both of the Spartans’ TDs.

Barkley won’t have a chance to impress as much as Bell did early on because the Trojans are not as diminished in their offensive attack as Michigan State was. Barkley has a pretty loaded offense to revel in.

While the spotlight will be on him, it is the receiving corps that may be viewed as the primary reason why Barkley is such an admirable quarterback.

Receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are two of the best receiving prospects in the country and a lot of times elite players draw attention from one another. Heisman standouts are born from football players who are willing to separate themselves from the bunch.

Barkley may be the best quarterback in the country, but he is surrounded by equally exclusive talent.

Bell is in a league of his own.

Besides, no one expects USC to have much of a problem against teams like Hawaii, Syracuse or UCLA. Their strength of schedule is sort of a double-edged sword.

If they struggle, Barkley will be immediately admonished for being overrated. If they blow out each opponent, their schedule will be criticized as having zero true competition, therefore not providing a platform for any true excellence.

In the Big Ten, Bell doesn’t have that problem whatsoever.


Robert Woods

How much of a killjoy would it be if one of Barkley’s star targets were the man to overshadow him in USC’s offense?

The probability of this happening may appear a bit far-fetched due to the fact that Woods’ influence is generally controlled by Barkley’s arm. Still, Woods is a perfect candidate to dethrone Barkley as the more explosive faction of USC’s air attack.

The receiver position has not been adequately spotlighted in the Heisman race ever since Randy Moss was listed as a finalist next to Heisman-winning corner, Charles Woodson. This year is the ideal time for Woods to make a name for himself as a finalist and maybe even as the eventual winner of the award.

Once again, it may appear as if Woods could be overshadowed by the hype that Barkley has coming into the season, but all it takes is production after the catch to shift the attention in Woods’ favor.

While it may not be his ultimate goal to overthrow his teammate’s chances at winning the Heisman, Woods’ involvement in the conversation automatically diminishes Barkley’s chances at winning the trophy.

Over the last couple of seasons, the quarterbacks who have won the Heisman trophy have been the obvious standout on their roster.

In 2010 when Cam Newton secured the coveted award, there was no question that another Auburn football player could even touch his aristocratic standing in the program. The success of the Tigers rose and fell by Newton’s accord therefore making him the clear No.1 candidate while occupying the most important position on the field, at least according to the general perception of football.

Last year when RGIII walked away with the Heisman trophy, he was working with a receiving corps that occasionally let him down and Baylor’s defense was not exactly holding offenses to third-and-outs.

Griffin was the engine of that train and it was made clear during every contest. If Woods even enters the Heisman conversation this season, it will immediately abbreviate the approach to Barkley’s importance to the USC football offense.

It would not mean that he was not who fans praised towards the end of last season. However, it would put an asterisk next to his candidacy.

As previously stated, Heisman candidates separate themselves from the bunch and if Barkley is not able to then he may be quickly overshadowed.

These are two examples of players who could throw a wrench in Matt Barkley’s plans to take the college football world by storm in 2012 and handle some unfinished business that an early out to the NFL Draft would have alleviated.

As the sport has proven time and time again, while talent is the general precursor for nomination, there are factors that play into every ounce of determining each player’s true candidacy.

Barkley deserves to be named as one of the top contenders for the Heisman, but NCAA football is not short of dark-horse candidates looking to breakout and change the entire conversation.