With only a few days remaining remaining before the January 15th deadline to enter the 2011 NFL Draft, there is a general understanding as to who will be in the draft and who will return to school for the 2011-2012 season.
Since many of college football's big names have already declared for the draft, there is a little more clarity about who will be in serious contention to win next year’s Heisman trophy.
There are always players who could have breakout seasons and prove worthy of being Heisman finalists, but as of now there are five who have legitimate shots at bringing home college football’s highest individual honor.
These three players all have talent to win the Heisman but will each have to deal with different obstacles that will hinder their chances to take home the trophy in the 2011 season.
Matt Barkley is undoubtedly one of the most physically gifted players in the country and returns several offensive weapons, but USC’s sanctions will hurt his Heisman campaign since his team is ineligible for both postseason play and national rankings. With his team's reduced exposure and national relevance, Barkley will surely be a dark horse candidate
Marcus Lattimore burst onto the college football scene in his freshman year but it remains to be seen whether he will suffer a “sophomore slump” or have a lesser role in the offense with what will now be a veteran offensive squad. Stephen Garcia and Alshon Jeffery developed a nice repertoire towards the end of the season and the emergence of the passing offense might take away the need for an every-down running back.
Kellen Moore will lose several of his offensive targets to the NFL Draft and his stats will likely suffer from it. That combined with with the departure of offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to Texas makes it unclear what kind of offense the Broncos will put on the field next year to best utilize their skill players.
It remains to be seen how Richardson will be used as the lead back in Alabama’s offense after being used as Mark Ingram’s backup for the last two years, but whenever he has stepped foot on the field so far in his career he has been a force to be reckoned with.
While Ingram was a more elusive and balanced running back, Richardson is more of a downhill bruiser that is a perfect fit for a lead back in the SEC.
As long as A.J. McCarron is efficient enough to keep the defense honest and not stack the line of scrimmage, Richardson should have more than enough opportunities to make himself a household name.
The only reason that Denard Robinson isn't higher on this list is because his role in Brady Hoke's new offense is uncertain. If Michigan runs an offensive set similar to last season then expect a big season from the man known otherwise known as "Shoelace".
When Robinson was handed the keys to a stagnant offense in 2010, he immediately lit the college football world on fire. Denard Robinson was effective with his arm but was the most dangerous when scrambling. He ran for over 100 yards in seven of his first eight games and became the first quarterback in college football history to both run and pass for over 1500 yards in a season.
As long as Robinson stays healthy, look for him to put up huge numbers and be a finalist for the Heisman trophy.
Landry Jones continued his progression from last season and put up numbers that proved him to be a worthy successor to former Heisman trophy winner and #1 draft pick Sam Bradford.
Jones put up over 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns through the air while winning both the Big 12 title and the Fiesta Bowl. Jones has passed for over 7,000 yards and 60 touchdowns through his two years as a starter and surpassed all expectations that were set for him.
With the Sooners poised to contend for the BCS Championship in 2011 and star wideout Ryan Broyles returning, it is likely that Landry Jones will be a strong contender to bring the Heisman trophy back to Norman.
With more and more players opting to go pro instead of stay in school for their fourth year, it's refreshing to see a top prospect postpone their NFL career for another year of college. In 2011 that player is Andrew Luck, who turned down millions of dollars to return to Stanford and pursue his degree.
Luck was rated by many as the top NFL prospect in the country because of his great intangibles as well as his incredible 2010 season where he put up a 70% completion rate, over 3700 total yards, and 32 touchdowns.
Luck rewrote seemingly every passing record at Stanford on the way to a #4 BCS ranking, an Orange Bowl victory, and a 2nd place finish in this year's Heisman balloting.
His numbers might fluctuate some with the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh, but there should still be enough stability in the offense for him to turn in another impressive season.
What LaMichael James has done so far in his college football career would be impressive for anyone, but the fact that he has put up these numbers in just two years of competition is unbelievable.
James is running at a pace that is unprecedented for a player in this era of spread passing offenses, as he has amassed over 3200 yards and 35 touchdowns in the last two years, while setting Pac-10 records in both rushing and rushing touchdowns this season.
James finished 3rd in this year's Heisman balloting, led Oregon to the BCS Championship Game, and is poised to do even greater things in his upcoming junior season. Without any major changes in Oregon's offensive personnel or coaching staff, look for LaMichael James to continue his production and get an invitation to the 2011 Heisman trophy presentation.