Having one Heisman Trophy contender is rare, but Michigan could have two this season in quarterback Devin Gardner and left tackle Taylor Lewan.
Both appear on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, given annually to the nation’s “outstanding” college player. Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard, Michigan legends, were Maxwell hopefuls before their Heisman-winning seasons.
Woodson won it in 1997. Howard took it home in 1991.
The Maxwell watch list is a great launching pad for a player looking to capture the game’s top individual honor.
In January, ESPN blogger Brian Bennett tagged Gardner as the Big Ten’s third-best stiff-arm candidate behind quarterbacks Braxton Miller of Ohio State and Taylor Martinez of Nebraska.
Are Lewan and Gardner legitimate Heisman contenders?
Given Gardner’s progress and potential, it’s possible that the redshirt junior will climb up that list this fall. In 2012, he finished 3-2 as a starter, kept his team in the hunt for a conference title and performed well in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina.
Although he’s entering his first season as the full-time starter, Gardner has proven worthy of the hype.
“I like how he’s handled himself,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke recently told the Toledo Blade. “I like how he’s matured in his seriousness about being a quarterback at Michigan.”
If Gardner lives up to expectations, he’ll likely have a resume worthy of Heisman consideration.
Lewan, on the other hand, has an uphill climb.
Even as one of the best linemen in college, Lewan, an Outland Trophy contender, has to overcome the fact that an interior lineman has never won the Heisman. Traditionally, offensive players who put up measurable stats are favorites. Touchdowns scored and yards gained are paramount. For a defensive player, sacks and tackles are the standard.
Other than pancake blocks, Lewan doesn’t accumulate stats. He helps others do that. Because of his position, Lewan is of the utmost importance. He protects Gardner and opens holes for running backs. The success of the offense will largely hinge on Lewan’s efficiency.
Historically, quarterbacks and running backs garner most of the praise. But it seems that voters are paying closer attention to non-traditional candidates these days. In recent years, defensive standouts such as former Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o have been in the conversation.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is considered a favorite this fall.
This past season, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman. But he couldn’t have done it without left tackle Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 pick of the 2013 NFL draft. Regardless of position, Joeckel was one of the game’s elite.
Will Lewan-Gardner be this year’s Joeckel-Johnny Football? It’s possible.
In 1996, Ohio State left tackle Orlando Pace finished fourth in the voting. It would take a historical season, but Lewan could impress pundits in a similar fashion.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81