The start of college football is right around the corner. The countdown to kickoff begins with the SEC's media days in Hoover, Alabama.
It is time to start discussing players to watch for the Heisman Trophy.
For the third straight year and the fifth time since 2000 the reigning winner returns with a chance to win the award for second time.
Alabama’s Mark Ingram is the returning winner and the only player with a chance to join Archie Griffin as the only two winners. While Ingram is trying to win his second award, USC’s Reggie Bush might be losing his.
Here is a look at five players from each BCS conference who could be a Heisman contender. Along with a look at five players from non-BCS conferences that could be in the running for the award.
One quick note I did not include any defensive players or offensive linemen. The reason is that most of the winners of the Heisman and contenders come from the skill players on offense.
(Note: To cut down on the length of this article I am splitting it up into two articles. The first part will cover the ACC and the Big-12. )
Heisman Contenders To Watch
5. Christian Pounder, QB, Florida State Seminoles
Jimbo Fisher’s first season at FSU will be decided by how well Ponder plays this season. The news around the Seminoles program early in the season will be life beyond Bobby Bowden.
Last season the junior from Colleyville, Texas threw for 2,717 yards with 14 touchdowns. Pounder also had seven interceptions for a 4-5 team before a shoulder injury ended his season.
From his sophomore to junior season, Pounder made a nice leap in completion percentage going from 55.7 percent to 68.8 percent. One thing that the FSU quarterback must work on is avoiding sacks after getting sacked 34 times the last two seasons.
4. Russell Wilson, QB, North Carolina State Wolfpack
This could be the season were Wilson breaks out on to the national scene. What could derail that is if North Carolina goes 5-7 again this year.
Wilson passed for 3,027 yards and 31 touchdowns to go along with 260 rushing yards, plus with only 11 interceptions. The sophomore also set an NCAA record with 389 pass attempts without an interception.
There are two things to worry about ruining Wilson’s Heisman chances as a player. The first is the fact he has been sacked 55 times in two seasons and his completion percentage has only slight improved over the last two years.
3. Jacory Harris, QB, Miami Hurricanes
If the Hurricanes are going to complete their comeback as one of the top programs in college football it begins with the play of Harris. Last season the Hurricanes navigated a tough opening schedule to start the season 3-1.
Miami went on to finish the season 9-3 before they failed to show up at the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin. Harris passed for 3,342 yards and 24 touchdowns with 17 interceptions.
Again wear and tear could become a problem and Harris was sacked 34 times last season. A return to a BCS game for Miami would make Jacory a big time Heisman contender.
2. Joshua Nesbitt, QB, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Now that Jonathan Dwyer has left for the NFL the Yellow Jackets success depends on Nesbitt. Georgia Tech’s triple option attack will feast or famine on the play of the quarterback who helped this team to an ACC Championship and an Orange Bowl berth.
Last season Nesbitt passed for 1,701 yards, rushed for 1,037 yards and 28 touchdowns combined rushing and passing. Nesbitt could wrap up the award if he could improve on his 46.3 completion percentage.
Nesbitt had ten touchdowns but also had five interceptions and to be a contender for the Heisman he must improve in the passing game. He has made steady improvement each season with his completion percentage and 2010 should be no exception.
1. Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech Hokies
Williams enters this season as the ACC leading candidate for the Heisman. As a freshman, he rushed for 1,655 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns and 22 overall touchdowns.
Setting ACC and freshman records for touchdowns and yards, Williams became the first in ACC history to lead the league in scoring and rushing. The only thing that could hurt Williams Heisman chances is the return of Darren Evans from injury and quarterback Tyrod Taylor, both of whom will get plenty of attention.
Other ACC Players To Watch
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech Hokies
Darren Evans, RB, Virginia Tech Hokies
Anthony Allen, RB, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Montel Harris, RB, Boston College Eagles
Jarrett Boykin, WR, Virginia Tech Hokies
Big-12 Heisman Contenders To Watch
5. Garrett Gilbert, QB, Texas Longhorns
There is not much in the way of stats to point to a Heisman run for Gilbert but with Colt McCoy’s departure, he will have a chance to shine. Coming off the bench in the BCS National Championship game after McCoy was injured, Gilbert kept the Longhorns in the game.
Gilbert will have a chance put up big numbers as the starter at Texas. Another run at a national title and he will be in the mix for the Heisman.
4. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma Sooners
Last season Jones was not expected to play since Sam Bradford was returning. That was until Bradford was injured in the first half against BYU in the first game of the season.
What Jones did do once he was pressed into service was pass for 3,198 yards along with 26 touchdowns, but he had 14 interceptions as well. The Sooners could have seen the wheels come off their season but Jones did lead this team to a bowl victory over Stanford.
A run at the Heisman might be out of the question for Jones with all the holes the Sooners have had to replace over the last two seasons. Still, Oklahoma has had top ranked recruiting classes and the talent is there for Jones to put up good numbers.
3. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri Tigers
Gabbert had big shoes to fill last season taking over for Chase Daniels. Things were rolling along fine for the Tigers and Gabbert until they meet up with Ndamukong Suh who dominated and disrupted Missouri’s offense all night.
Still, even after replacing Daniels, Gabbert was able to pass for 3,593 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Gabbert completed nearly 60 percent of his passes and was only sacked 19 times.
2. Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last season was supposed to be break out season for Dez Bryant, Zac Robinson, Hunter and Oklahoma State. That was until Hunter got hurt and Bryant got suspended for having dinner with Deion Sanders.
Fast forward a year later and Bryant and Robinson are gone but Hunter is healthy and back. Last season Hunter only rushed for 328 yards but the year before that he rushed 1,555 yards.
Oklahoma State will have to lean heavily on Hunter as they break in a new quarterback. A healthy Hunter will get plenty of chances to carry the load for the Cowboys.
1. Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor Bears
Baylor was hoping that Griffin would lead them to a bowl game last season until he was lost for the season with an injury. Before his injury Griffin was completing 65 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
If the Bears want to make a bowl game this year they will need a healthy Griffin to lead this team. While Baylor will not make the national championship game, an eight to nine win season would push him to near the top of the Heisman list.
The full season Griffin played before he was injured he threw for 2,091 yards, 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Baylor’s Griffin gets in the Heisman race if he can improve on his last full season and lead the Bears to a bowl game.
Other Big-12 Players To Watch
Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M Aggies
Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State Wildcats
Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma Sooners
DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma Sooners
Alexander Robinson, RB, Iowa State Cyclones
Stay tuned for part two featuring the Big East and Big Ten Heisman contenders to watch. Finally, concluding with part three featuring the Pac-10 and SEC along with Non-BCS conference Heisman contenders to keep tabs on.
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