The start of college football is right around the corner. The countdown to kickoff begins with the SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama.
Day one of SEC media days saw Alabama’s Nick Saban call agents “pimps” and Florida’s Urban Meyer call them “predators.”
With day two done and over with, it's time for part two of our Heisman players to watch.
For the third straight year and the fifth time since 2000, the reigning winner returns with a chance to win the award for a second time.
Alabama’s Mark Ingram is the returning winner.
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 who 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 are the skill players on offense.
Click here to read part one of this series featuring players from the ACC and Big 12.
(Note: To cut down on the length of this article I am splitting it up into three articles. The part will cover the Big East and the Big Ten.)
Big East Heisman Contenders
5. Tom Savage, QB, Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Greg Schiano has built a solid program at Rutgers, but with the graduation of Mike Teel, the biggest question was who would be the replacement. Schiano and the rest of the Scarlet Knight fans found out the answer quickly.
As a freshman, Savage took command of the offense and threw for 2,211 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. More importantly, he was 8-3 as a starter and led Rutgers to their fifth consecutive bowl game.
Savage should be even better in with another year of playing time and spring practice. If the rebuilt line can protect him, his numbers and 52 percent completion rate should improve.
4. B. J. Daniels, QB, South Florida Bulls
After a turbulent offseason that saw Jim Leavitt fired and replaced by former East Carolina coach Skip Holtz, B.J. Daniels is ready to lead the Bulls again.
Daniels was thrown into the fire after senior quarterback Matt Grothe was injured in the preseason. Daniels responded by throwing for 1,983 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The freshman was starting to get attention after a 5-0 start, but after finishing 2-5, his hopes at the Heisman were dashed. If South Florida can learn to finish what they start, a run at the Heisman is possible for Daniels.
3. Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati Bearcats
After Tony Pike went down, Collaros came up big to keep Cincinnati in the national title hunt. Pike is now gone, and with only four career starts, Collaros has to build on his 2009 season.
That is not as easy as it might sound, since like Daniels, Collaros has a new head coach after Brian Kelly jumped from the Bearcats to Notre Dame. Butch Jones takes over and it is his job to make sure Collaros builds on his 1,434 yards with 10 TDs and only two interceptions.
Expectations will still be high even with a new coach after an undefeated 2010 regular season and a Sugar Bowl appearance. Collaros will be in the running for the Heisman if he can duplicate Cincinnati’s 2009-10 season.
2. Noel Divine, RB, West Virginia Mountaineers
Divine could be the most dangerous player returning in college football this season. The senior is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and can score in every phase of the game.
The 2010-11 season will see Divine play for a third different quarterback in his college career. Last season, he had to carry the load after Pat White graduated and Jarrett Brown took over.
This season, either Geno Smith or Coley White will be the starter. A new quarterback last season did not stop Divine from amassing 1,465 rushing yards and 15 combined touchdowns. This season could see even bigger stats for Divine.
1. Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh Panthers
Lewis took the Big East by storm last season as the conference’s offensive player and rookie award winner. As a freshman, he finished third in the nation in rushing yards and only Stanford’s Toby Gerhart had more carries.
Only losses to West Virginia and Cincinnati kept the Panthers from winning the Big East. In 13 games last season, only three opponents kept Lewis below 100 rushing yards.
Lewis will be looking to better last season’s 1,700 rushing yards with 17 touchdowns and another 189 receiving yards with one receiving score. A downside to Lewis’s second campaign is that he will have to carry even more of the load with quarterback Bill Stull gone.
Other Big East Players to Watch
Armon Binns, WR, Cincinnati Bearcats
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Jock Sanders, WR, West Virginia Mountaineers
Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh Panthers
Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut Huskies
Big Ten Heisman Contenders
5. Robert Marve, QB, Purdue Boilermakers
Marve had to sit out the 2009-10 season after transferring from the Miami Hurricanes. Purdue hands the offense over to him since Joey Elliott has moved on to the Canadian Football League.
As the starter for the Hurricanes in 2008, Marve threw for 1,293 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. How quickly he shakes off the rust from a year of not playing will determine if he can get in the Heisman race.
4. Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa was on the verge of an undefeated season and a shot at a national championship until Stanzi was injured against Northwestern. The Hawkeyes starting quarterback did not play again after the injury, and in his absence, his team went on to lose to the Wildcats and Ohio State.
Stanzi passed for 2,417 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he also had 15 interceptions.
Iowa will be one of the favorites in the Big Ten this season. The Hawkeyes will go as far as their defense, running game, and Stanzi’s game management can take them. But to be a Heisman contender, Stanzi will have to reduce his interceptions.
3. John Clay, RB, Wisconsin Badgers
Last season, Clay led the Big Ten in rushing and was named offensive player of the year for the conference. The Badgers running back had 1,517 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
Already 10th on Wisconsin’s rushing list with 2,401 career rushing yards and sixth in career rushing touchdowns, Clay will have plenty of chances this season to add to those totals.
Expectations will be high after last season’s 9-3 record and bowl victory over Miami (FL) in the Champs Sports Bowl. As long as Clay puts up big numbers and the Badgers win, he will be in the hunt.
2. Evan Royster, RB, Penn State Nittany Lions
Royster could be in for a huge year during his final season at Happy Valley. Not only is he 481 yards from breaking Curt Warner’s all-time school rushing record, but the Nittany Lions are breaking in a new quarterback as well.
Since Daryll Clark has moved on and there is no experience at the quarterback position, look for Penn State to lean heavily on Royster. Last season, the Nittany Lions finished 10-2 and defeated LSU in the Capital One Bowl; if they duplicate that season, the senior running back will be a player to watch.
Royster will be playing to raise his draft stock as well this season. The only thing that can derail him will be poor quarterback play.
1. Terrell Pryor, QB, Ohio State Buckeyes
Pryor comes into the 2010-11 season after an up-and-down 2009-10. Expectations were high heading in to Pryor’s sophomore season, but a loss to Purdue brought major criticism on him and head coach Jim Tressel.
Ohio State righted the ship after the loss to the Boilermakers and the season ended with a victory over Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Besides Ingram, Pryor is one of the true favorites to win the Heisman.
Last season, Pryor passed for 2,094 yards with 18 touchdowns and rushed for 779 yards, while adding seven rushing touchdowns. For Pryor to make a run at the Heisman, he must improve his 56.6 completion percentage and cut down on his 11 interceptions.
Other Big Ten Players to Watch
Scott Tolzien, QB, Wisconsin Badgers
Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State Spartans
DeVier Posey, WR, Ohio State Buckeyes
Keith Smith, WR, Purdue Boilermakers
Tandon Doss, WR, Indiana Hoosiers
Stay tuned for part three of this series with the Heisman contenders from the Pac-10 and SEC, along with the non-BCS contenders. Don't forget to check out part one of this series as well!
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