College Football: Who Are These Guys? 10 Darkhorse Heisman Hopefuls in 2011
I'll spare you the list regarding 10 Heisman hopefuls. For the most part, they are predictable and would be the same on anybody's list.
However, just for clarity's sake, that list includes the following players: Andrew Luck of Stanford, Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina, Kellen Moore of Boise State, LaMichael James and Darron Thomas of Oregon, Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma, Trent Richardson of Alabama, Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State.
Maybe some might disagree that one or two of the above shouldn't be considered "favorites," but for the most part, I think that group of 10 is accurate.
In effect, as that bunch is fairly palpable, this list will focus on dark-horse possibilities for the award, much as last year's winner, Cam Newton, was nowhere to be seen on Heisman favorite lists in August .
This list is predicated on the following two assumptions: Firstly, only a quarterback, running back, or a receiver that returns kicks has a realistic shot at winning.
Secondly, a player on a team that doesn't make a BCS bowl doesn't have a shot at winning.
I do not agree with the circumstances that cause me to make these assumptions. However, they are realities that are borne out by every single winner since the first year of the BCS. In that year, Ricky Williams was the only non-BCS bowl player in the BCS era to win the Heisman.
As the BCS comes down to money, don't expect it to happen again. It's simply not good business.
Moreover, if Ndamukong Suh losing to Mark Ingram—as well as Colt McCoy and Toby Gerhart—in 2009 proves anything, it is that a non-offensive skill player is not going to win the Heisman.
Jake Heaps: Quarterback, Brigham Young
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As I said, only somebody who plays on a BCS bowl-bound team is going to have a shot at the Heisman.
I've gone over my reasoning for feeling that BYU has a very good chance at being a dark-horse BCS team in 2011.
The fact is, if that is to happen, much of it will be because of sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps.
In his true freshman year, Heaps was decidedly lackluster. He finished the season having completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,316 yards. He had a TD:INT ratio of 15:9 and a quarterback efficiency rating of 115.89, which was the lowest rating of any starting quarterback in the Mountain West.
However, it has to be remembered that he was a true frosh. Moreover, he improved as the year went on, having an efficiency rating of over 160 in his final five games.
There have been two other quarterbacks who have started at BYU under Bronco Mendenhall: Max Hall and John Beck.
In 2005, Beck was a junior who finished with an efficiency rating of 137.6. The following year, his rating jumped to 169.05.
In 2007, sophomore Hall had an efficiency rating of 137.71. The next year, it was 157.22.
And just to drive home the point, neither of them started as true frosh (at least, not under Mendenhall).
In short, if Heaps progresses substantially, BYU will have a very good shot at 11 or more wins. If they do that, the Cougars might find themselves in a BCS bowl. If they do that, Heaps will find himself in New York City.
Davin Meggett: Running Back, Maryland
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UConn joined the Big East in 2004. Randy Edsall has been the UConn football coach since 1999.
Since joining the Big East, the lowest their rushing offense has ranked nationally was 66th. That was in 2004, which, incidentally, was only four years removed from the Huskies becoming a FBS team.
Between 2005-2010, the Huskies have averaged 30th in the country in rushing, and have had two top 20 rushing offenses.
Usually, Edsall likes to rotate his backs, but when he's got somebody he really believes in, he allows him to carry the load.
Last year, that player was Jordan Todman, who ran for 1,695 yards. In 2008, Donald Brown ran for 2,083 yards.
Now that Edsall is at Maryland, he is sure to attempt to pound the ball, just as he did at Connecticut. His go-to man should be the senior Meggett, who ran for 720 yards on 126 carries last season.
As Edsall's offensive scheme is not terribly different from that of former coach Ralph Friedgen, the transition should be fairly painless.
Of course, Maryland is not a favorite to win the ACC in 2011, but with 15 starters returning from a nine-win squad, the Terps will have a reasonable chance.
If Maryland does win the ACC, expect Meggett to have gaudy numbers; easily enough to earn him a nomination.
Logan Thomas: Quarterback, Virginia Tech
Here is the catch. At this point, the Hokies have to be considered the favorite in every single one of their games next season. However, there are a couple of probable close ones, and close ones are usually decided by two or three plays.
Usually, the experienced team—and especially the experienced quarterback—comes out on top of those two or three plays.
In the end, I think nine wins for VT is almost bankable next season, with 10 wins being likely. Nevertheless, to paraphrase Lou Reed, between 10 wins and 13 wins "lies a lifetime."
If Tech is to indeed surprise almost everybody, the onus will fall on the shoulders of their probable starting quarterback, sophomore Logan Thomas.
There is very little to be said about Thomas, as he hasn't played much. When he has played in mop-up duty, his passing has been extremely raw.
Moreover, he came to Tech as a tight end that played wide receiver in high school. In short, he is a very big physical presence that is tough to bring down, but his passing isn't so hot.
Luckily, the Hokies don't pass much. They had the 90th most passing attempts in the country last season, and that was with an experienced quarterback.
Tech also ranked 21st in yards-per-passing attempt. In other words, when they do pass, it has to count.
With Virginia Tech's schedule, Thomas will have time to work the kinks out.
Ultimately, the difference between 9-10 wins and 11-13 wins will be Thomas. If he does indeed make that difference, he will be recognized for it.
Knile Davis: Running Back, Arkansas
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Next year, Bobby Petrino and his Razorbacks will be out to prove they are on the ever-competitive SEC map to stay. However, they will do so without the seventh most efficient passer in the nation in Ryan Mallett.
On the other hand, one of the returning players is running back Knile Davis.
In 2010, Davis ran for 1,322 yards for 6.48 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns. What is even more impressive is that he had his best games against the stiffest competition.
He averaged 5.82 yards per game against Arkansas' seven ranked opponents, and he was virtually unstoppable down the stretch, putting up over 100 yards/game for each of the Hogs' final five games.
This included contests against Ohio State, Mississippi State and South Carolina, all of whom were top 20 rushing defenses.
While Arkansas will miss Mallett, along with Davis, they return some of the best receivers in the conference, as well a ton of experience on defense.
If next season's quarterback—probably junior Tyler Wilson—can keep opposing D's even somewhat honest, Davis should have a huge year.
If he does that, Arkansas should have a good shot at winning the SEC.
At that point, all Davis will have to do is pick up the hardware.
Dayne Crist Or Tommy Rees: Quarterback, Notre Dame
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It's difficult to think of anything related to Notre Dame as being a "dark horse" in any capacity.
After all, despite having not done anything substantial since 2006, the Irish figure to be on most people's top 25 heading into 2011. Moreover, they will certainly start the season ranked.
Of course, this often seems to be the way it has gone for Notre Dame over the last decade or two. Start the season with all the hype in the world, and flounder in mediocrity.
However, in 2011, it is difficult to argue with all the hoopla.
In the first year of the Brian Kelly era, the Irish went 8-5, finishing the season with four strong wins over four bowl-eligible teams.
Next season, they will have 10 returning starters on offense and nine on defense.
This includes two quarterbacks that both have starting experience.
If the Irish win 10 games, they will be in a BCS bowl. Moreover, if they win 10 games, it is probably a safe bet that their quarterback will have had an extremely productive season in Brian Kelly's offense.
If that is the case, then a Heisman nomination is just a matter of course.
Jordan Jefferson: Quarterback, Louisiana State
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Next season, LSU will unquestionably be one of the favorites to make it to the national championship game.
They return nine on offense and seven from the SEC's second stingiest defense. As usual, they brought in a top 10 recruiting class.
Finally, last season they went 10-2, including a Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M, another team that projects to be in the top 10 in 2011.
However, the biggest problem is the schedule. In conference, the Bayou Bengals play Mississippi State, Tennessee and Bama on the road, and Florida, Auburn and Arkansas at home.
That's not even taking into the consideration the "easier" games against Kentucky and Ole Miss (away).
Out-of-conference, they play two cupcakes, as well as a road game vs. West Virginia and a "neutral" game against Oregon in Arlington, Texas.
If the Tigers are to get through their schedule with even one loss—let alone unscathed—their senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson will have to take some major steps forward.
Last season, Jefferson had the second worst efficiency rating of any SEC starting quarterback. This led to LSU having the fourth worst scoring offense and the worst passing offense.
If Jefferson does make those forward strides, Louisiana State could very well find themselves at 13-0 at the end of the season.
If they do that, Jefferson can expect to benefit individually from his team's success.
Matt Barkley: Quarterback, Southern Cal
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Matt Barkley started off last season on fire, posting numbers that were almost as good as his fellow PAC-10 quarterback, Andrew Luck.
Then things went south after Oregon pounded the Trojans 53-32. On top of that, Barkley was injured against Oregon State, and neither he, nor USC, ever really got fully back on track. In the final five games, Southern Cal went 3-2, including a loss to Notre Dame in a game that Barkley missed, due to the OSU injury.
Heading into 2011, the Trojans are still on suspension and are still coached by this guy. However, they return seven on both sides of the ball, and, as ever, they have top-of-the-line talent.
The biggest problem is their schedule, which finds them traveling to face Arizona State, Notre Dame and Oregon, all of whom are potential top 25 teams.
Throw in home dates against Stanford, Utah, and resurgent UCLA and Syracuse teams, and the Trojans have a full slate.
Although Southern Cal cannot appear in a bowl game, there is no sanction that would keep Barkley out of New York.
Of course, for him to get there, USC would probably have to go a dominant 12-0, but with the Trojans' typical firepower, stranger things have happened.
Andre Ellington: Running Back, Clemson
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In 2010, Ellington essentially missed the last five games of the season due to an injury. This included missing the bowl game.
This season, his health will be a top priority, as the Tigers look to break in a new quarterback.
If Ellington does stay healthy, he is a fair bet to put up solid numbers. Last season, in limited action, he put up 684 yards for 5.85 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns.
This year, he will be running behind an offense that—outside of the quarterback—returns almost everybody.
Moreover, the new quarterback—Tajh Boyd—is a dual-threat player, whose legs could take some of the focus off of Ellington.
It won't be easy as the Tigers have to face Auburn and South Carolina out of conference, as well as Florida State at home, and Virginia Tech, Maryland and NC State on the road.
However, if they come out of it as the ACC champions, it is fair bet that Ellington would have eclipsed 1,500 yards in the process.
That would be enough to get voters to notice him.
Chris Relf: Quarterback, Mississippi State
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Last season, second-year head coach Dan Mullen led the Bulldogs to their first bowl game in three seasons.
This season, Mullen and quarterback Chris Relf will look to prove that they are a force to be reckoned with in the SEC.
n order to do that, Relf will have to deliver against top-notch competition; something he failed to do in last season's nine-win campaign.
MSU went 0-4 against ranked teams. Against scoring defenses that ranked in the top half of the SEC, Relf completed 53 percent of his passes and had a TD:INT ratio of 2:8.
The fact is, the burden of last season's success was mostly on Mississippi State's third-ranked scoring defense and not their 10th-ranked scoring offense (conference rankings).
In 2011, the defense should still be solid, as they return seven. Meanwhile, the offense returns eight, including their top four receivers and top four rushers.
In order for MSU to take the next step, the offense will have to be more productive. The primary strain of that will fall on Relf's shoulders.
If the Bulldogs' offense can produce against top-notch competition, then Relf will surely be recognized for his contributions.
Ryan Tannehill: Quarterback, Texas A&M
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There is no ignoring the fact that the Aggies' season turned around after Ryan Tannehill became the full-time starter beginning on Oct. 23 against Kansas.
Before that, TAMU had gone 3-3, though all three of the losses were to ranked teams.
Once Tannehill took over, the Aggies finished the season 6-1, with the one loss coming in the Cotton Bowl.
Although Texas A&M is known for pounding the ball, they did have the 20th-ranked passing offense.
Next season, that offense returns 10 players, including Tannehill, running back Cyrus Gray, four O-linemen, and their top nine receivers.
Meanwhile, the Big 12's fourth-ranked scoring defense returns eight.
With a tough out-of-conference game against Arkansas, as well as a stacked Big 12, the Aggie offense will have to be polished from the beginning of the season.
If they are, they have as good a chance as anybody to win the Big 12.
If that's the case, then Tannehill has a good chance of being the focus of national laurels.