Spring Football 2008: Heisman Candidates

David WilliamsSenior Analyst IMay 15, 2008

BTB Spring Football Part One: Emerging Stars

Part Two: Emerging Teams

It's never too early to start previewing the 2008 college football season.

After a brief hiatus due to the college final exam period, Beyond the Bleachers is back with its third installment of a five-part series that is previewing the 2008 college football season.

This week, Beyond the Bleachers examines the potential Heisman candidates in the Football Bowl Subdivision.  From previous Heisman finalists to budding stars, here you'll find a list of the nation’s elite, game-breaking, college football athletes for the upcoming season.

As spring practices have come to a conclusion across the country and the dreaded Quiet and Evaluation Periods are upon us, watch out for these athletes

who may very well be hoisting the 74th Heisman Memorial Trophy in December 2008…

Tim Tebow, junior QB, Florida 

The reigning Heisman Trophy and Davey O’Brien Award winner is back for his second year as a full-time starter for the Gators.  Next year, he could be even better.

Fresh off of circumcising poor, indigenous Filipino children, Tebow comes back supported by experienced skill players Percy Harvin, Cornelius Ingram, and Louis Murphy, along with talented newcomers Emmanuel Moody, Chris Rainey, and Mon Williams.

With a much-improved supporting cast, it is unlikely that Tebow will put up numbers as high as last year's (172.47 QB rating, 3286 yards, 66.9 completion percentage, 32 TDs, and six INTs).

Nevertheless, the best player on one of the most talented teams in 2008 will have plenty of opportunities to make his push for a second Heisman award—something which has not been accomplished since Archie Griffin in 1974 and ’75.

Pat White, senior QB, West Virginia

As a junior, the Daphne, Alabama native had an excellent season, both passing (66.7 completion percentage, 1,724 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions) and rushing (1,335 yards, four touchdowns, 6.8 yards per carry). But his most glaring setback has been with injuries.

In last year’s Backyard Brawl—arguably the biggest game in the history of West Virginia Football with a BCS Championship bid on the line—White sat out for much of the game as the Pittsburgh Panthers pulled off a 13-9 upset.  In that game, White amassed a mere 91 total yards.

This year, White will be back without the aid of 1,000-yard rusher Steve Slaton and star receiver Darius Reynaud, so head coach Bill Stewart might need to utilize him even more.  Stewart mentioned the possibility of utilizing White at slot receiver and Jarrett Brown at quarterback in some situations, so we may be seeing White all over the field next year.

Chase Daniel, senior QB, Missouri

The outstanding quarterback from the storied Southlake Carroll High School is back for his third season as a starter after placing fourth in the Heisman Trophy standings last year.

Although Daniel may not have prototype size for the NFL (he is 6’0”, 225 pounds), he possesses a strong arm and pinpoint accuracy.  Daniel is also mobile enough to provide a dual threat against defenses.

Much of Daniel’s candidacy will be based upon how the Tigers perform against the best of the Big 12.  Last year it was Oklahoma, this year Mizzou will have to face Texas in Austin.  2008 will be the best chance in years for Mizzou to win the Big 12 and earn a BCS bid, so Daniel and Co. must take advantage of this opportunity.

Graham Harrell, senior QB, Texas Tech

Another talented quarterback from the Big 12, Harrell is the record-setting gunslinger under offensive architect Mike Leach.

Harrell threw for an astonishing 5,705 yards and 48 touchdowns in his junior campaign.  Despite his gaudy numbers, Tech’s defense disappointed in a blowout loss against Missouri as well as shootouts against Oklahoma State, Colorado, and Texas.

Like Daniel, Harrell’s Heisman candidacy will depend on how well the team does.  With a new defensive coordinator, Texas Tech should be even more dangerous than last year.

Mark Sanchez, junior QB, USC 

Although he has dealt with some off-the-field problems and sat behind John David Booty for the past few years, Mark Sanchez is finally the regular starting quarterback at the University of Southern Cal.

While Sanchez has only started a few games in his career, he has shown the potential to be the next star of the program.  Following Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Booty, Sanchez will continue the long line of star USC quarterbacks.

Ian Johnson, senior RB, Boise State

After a storybook sophomore season in which Johnson scored the game-winning touchdown on a Statue of Liberty play in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Johnson had a relatively quiet injury-plagued junior season with only 1,041 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns (compared to 1,714 yards and 25 TDs in 2006).

With fewer spotlights on Johnson in 2008, he may fly under the radar to make it to Radio City Music hall in December.

Knowshon Moreno, sophomore RB, Georgia

Moreno had an outstanding freshman year in which he rushed for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns and was named a Freshman All-American.

The limelight will be on this New Jersey native as he attempts to carry the load for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2008.  Moreno has been compared by some to Georgia legend Herschel Walker as well as former Auburn great, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams.  Moreno possesses both the powerful drive of Walker as well as the incredible agility of Williams.

The only thing holding Moreno back at this point is getting enough touches with backup Caleb King pushing him for carries.

Chris “Beanie” Wells, junior RB, Ohio State

Beanie Wells has solidified himself as the best running back in college football (for now) after his dominating performance in the National Championship game against LSU.

Wells has the strength and speed to one day become a dominant force in the NFL.  And if healthy, he should stomp through Big 10 competition this year.

The issue with Wells as a Heisman candidate is that he doesn’t have too many highlight reel plays.  But as the best running back on one of the best teams in the country, a healthy Beanie might run for over 2,000 yards—a feat certainly worthy of Heisman consideration.

Michael Crabtree, sophomore WR, Texas Tech

One might say that Biletnikoff Award-winner Michael Crabtree is a product of Mike Leach’s pass-happy system.  But the 6’3”, 208-pound wide receiver is also a physical specimen with great hands and play-making ability.

After making 134 catches for 1,962 yards receiving, Crabtree might have a hard time duplicating those numbers as defenses scheme around him, but he’ll get a second chance to play big against big competition.

While a wide receiver has not won the Trophy since Desmond Howard did in 1991, Crabtree may be that impact player to break the mold of just quarterbacks and running backs winning.

Percy Harvin, junior WR, Florida

The success of Florida’s offense will rest on the heel and back of Harvin, who needed surgery this offseason and missed all of spring practices.

Florida head coach Urban Meyer has regarded Harvin as possibly the fastest player on Florida—which is saying something considering the fact that freshman Chris Rainey ran a 4.24 40-yard dash back in April.  Harvin has been the most reliable skill position player for the Gators for the past two years.

With 2,477 yards and 15 touchdowns combined rushing and receiving over the past two years, Harvin will have plenty of touches next year.  He may even get a chance to beat out his teammate and the reigning Heisman winner Tim Tebow—similar to Reggie Bush over Matt Leinart a few years ago.

Michael Oher, senior OT, Ole Miss

Michael Oher’s life has already been highly documented in Michael Lewis’s book, Blind Side, the story of the evolution of the offensive tackle.  All of his coverage has not gone unwarranted.

Since high school, Oher has been regarded as one of the most talented linemen in terms of potential.  Several comparisons have been made between Oher and Orlando Pace.

While it’s highly unlikely that an offensive lineman will ever win the Heisman Trophy, Pace was a finalist, so there might be room for this talented tackle.


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