College Football 2011: 10 Dark Horse Heisman Candidates

Anthony BarattaContributor IFebruary 9, 2011

College Football 2011: 10 Dark Horse Heisman Candidates

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    Andrew Luck, LaMichael James, Trent Richardson, and Kellen Moore. These names belong to 2011 Heisman hopefuls.  When talking about college football, everyone knows that they will likely be receiving invitations to New York this winter.  However, preseason rankings do not always lead to on-field results. 

    One bad game or devastating injury could change everything.  Beyond that, a player can come along and have a monster season, taking the trophy away from said hopefuls.  Not many people predicted Cam Newton as a Heisman finalist last season.  However, he took the country by storm and won the trophy in a landslide. 

    Even though Newton put together a strong 2010 campaign, it is hard to imagine any player sneaking into the Heisman conversation this year.  Nevertheless, college football history shows that a player can make a big splash in any Heisman conversation, despite the hype.  That is why these preseason rankings mean very little come December. 

    The names listed above were among the preseason favorites last year.  However, looking back, it's amazing to see how many more names were preseason hopefuls. What happened? Each and every one of those players either fell off the map, had terrible seasons or sustained injuries that moved them out of the Heisman conversation.  

    The following are ten names that could make headlines and crash the Heisman party in 2011. 

Geno Smith: Quarteback, West Virginia

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    Geno Smith impressed at West Virginia last season.  With a deadly combination of speed and throwing accuracy, Smith might be able to make his way into the Heisman conversation.  Though his numbers were not eye-popping, he still managed to put together a productive season.

    Smith threw for over 2,500 yards and 24 touchdowns, while turning the ball over only seven times in 2010.  He has shown an ability to make plays as well.  Smith rushed for 217 yards last year, but did not find the end zone with his legs.  Nevertheless, if Smith continues to make solid decisions with the football, this could be a big year for him. 

    While at the helm, the Mountaineers have had an explosive offense.  They made this apparent in the second game of 2010.  They found themselves down by 15 points to Marshall, and managed to come back in overtime.  Smith led two drives of 96 and 98 yards in just eight and a half minutes to tie the score. 

    However, Smith comes into 2011 with questions about his health.  During the offseason, Smith had foot surgery.  This could impair his ability to make plays with his feet.  It could also mess up his throwing mechanics, which could lead to more turnovers.  

    Smith's health will be a big factor not only in his Heisman candidacy, but also in how the Mountaineers' season turns out.   

Ryan Lindley: Quarterback, San Diego State

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    Ryan Lindley may be the best name on this list.  He turned a lot of heads in 2010, and could make a push for the Heisman in 2011.  Lindley helped the Aztecs to an 8-4 record and a Poinsettia Bowl appearance in 2010, the Aztecs' first bowl appearance in 12 years.  The Aztecs defeated the Navy Midshipmen 35-14, giving San Diego State its first bowl victory in 14 seasons. 

    Lindley was not only impressive in that game, but all season.  He threw for over 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns.  The one major flaw with Lindley was the 14 interceptions.  However, if he can get that straightened out, he has a good chance at impressing the Heisman voters

    If he can continue to play at a high level not only will he be in the Heisman conversation, but the Aztecs will also have a chance to be a BCS buster.   

Davin Meggett: Running Back, Maryland

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    Meggett is an explosive player, despite his size (drawing comparisons to Maurice Jones-Drew).  Meggett helped turn Maryland from into a nine-win team in 2010.  Even though he had to share carries with Da'Rel Scott, Meggett managed to put up solid numbers last season.

    Meggett has been described by offensive coordinator James Franklin as a downhill power-style runner.  That is surprising when you consider his small stature.  Meggett ran for 720 yards and scored four touchdowns last season. 

    He should be able to easily replicate and even exceed those numbers in 2011.  If he is able to get the bulk of carries, he could push his name into Heisman candidacy. 

    Meggett is in a great system at Maryland.  Coach Randy Edsall loves to run the ball, which would lead some to believe that Meggett will be the feature back heading into 2011. 

Kenny Tate: Defensive Back, Maryland

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    In this day and age where offense is so highly touted, it's difficult for defensive players to even get into the Heisman conversation.  However, Kenny Tate may front that list.  He is already considered one of the best defensive players in the country.  Is he the best player?  That's tough to say.  As it stands right now, the answer is no.

    Tate impressed in his junior season at Maryland.  He had 90 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception in 2010.  He will need to make even more plays if he wants to be considered for the Heisman Trophy.

    If Tate can stay healthy and continue to make big plays (tackles or otherwise) his defense should once again be very strong.  Right now, Tate has the most work cut out for him of any other dark horse candidate. 

Andre Ellington: Running Back, Clemson

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    Ellington seems to fly under the radar when people talk about the best running backs in college football.  He sustained an injury that cut into his play last season.  This season could turn out to be a big one, provided he can rid himself of the injury bug.  He missed the last five games of 2010 with turf toe.

    Ellington is an explosive runner and once he finds daylight, he is very hard to catch.  In just seven games last season, he rushed for 686 yards in 118 attempts (that’s nine yards per carry).  He only found the end zone once, but this year could be different.

    Clemson returns almost their entire offense from last season, and with a new dual threat at quarterback the Tigers could be in for a big 2011.  They have a tough schedule with teams like Auburn, South Carolina, and Florida State on their schedule.  However, if Ellington stays healthy, Clemson could find their way into the BCS picture. 

    Ellington could easily eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this year.  If he is able to get his touchdown totals up, he could make some noise in the Heisman race. 

Robert Griffin: Quarterback, Baylor

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    Coming off a strong 2010, Robert Griffin has a place in the Heisman discussion.  After being injured for most of 2009, Griffin came back last season to lead his team to seven wins (they only won four in 2009).  The Baylor Bears appeared in their first bowl game since 1994, but lost to Illinois.

    Griffin put up solid numbers last season.  He threw for 3,501 yards and 22 touchdowns, with a completion percentage just under 70.  He finished the season with an impressive QB rating of 144.2.  Heading into 2011, Griffin will look to improve on those numbers. 

    One of Griffin’s biggest problems seems to be his health.  Like Andre Ellington. Griffin is a game-changing type of player, but has to stay healthy.  The knee injury he sustained in 2009 seems to have healed nicely.  If he can remain healthy for the duration of 2011, he could easily force himself into the Heisman picture. 

Jake Heaps: Quarterback, BYU

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    Jake Heaps comes into 2011 on a high after putting on an impressive show in 2010.  Heaps put up solid numbers and lead the Cougars to six wins in their last ten games.  In 2011, he and his team look to break into the BCS conversation.  Heaps will have to be better to make noise in the Heisman hunt. 

    Heaps came into 2010 sharing time with Riley Nelson.  However, when Nelson went out in the third game of the year, Heaps took the reins.  He finished the season with decent numbers.  Heaps put up over 2,000 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 116.2.

    However, it was his performance in the New Mexico Bowl that has some people talking.  He was named the game’s MVP after throwing four touchdown passes and just one interception.  Heaps will have to improve with his decision-making if he wants a shot at the Heisman. 

David Wilson: Running Back, Virginia Tech

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    David Wilson was as dangerous a return man as they come, zipping by special teams units in 2010.  After the departure of Ryan Williams, Wilson takes over as the feature running back for the Hokies. 

    He carried the ball 113 times last season for 619 yards.  Wilson found the end zone four times as well.  If he can bring that game-breaking speed to the running back position, he will open some eyes around the college football world. 

    The Hokies enter 2011 after a 2010 marked with many ups and downs.  High hopes were dashed after a second-week loss to FCS school James Madison, and even though they went on to win eleven straight games they still were looking for a better result in 2010. 

    With his world class speed, Wilson could possibly get the Hokies to the BCS championship game next season. 

Doug Martin: Running Back, Boise State

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    Not a lot of people know who Doug Martin is. Kellen Moore playing in the same backfield has a lot to do with that.  Nevertheless, Martin quietly made a statement as a top running back last season. 

    In 2010 the Broncos were known as a passing team.  However, if they can balance with Martin in the running game they will be a very dangerous team in 2011.  Martin rushed for 1,260 yards last season and found the end zone twelve times.  One of those touchdown runs was an 84-yard scamper in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl which turned the game around for the Broncos. 

    He has stiff competition coming from Kellen Moore in 2011.  However, that should only lead to great results on the field for Boise State.  Even with said competition, the two players form a dynamic backfield, and Martin could emerge as the better player in 2011. 

Kendall Wright: Wide Receiver, Baylor

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    Kendall Wright creates a nice option for Robert Griffin.  Wright is an electrifying player that can burn defensive backs with his speed.  He was part of that loaded Baylor offense in 2010.  If last year was any indicator, it will be amazing to see how many points the Baylor offense can put up in 2011. 

    Wright has been described as a “slippery” wideout that can cause players fits when trying to bring him down.  Once he gets into the open field, he is very hard to catch and can make big plays out of almost any catch.  Baylor seems to always find a way to get the ball in his hands when they need a game-changing play. 

    Last year Wright brought in 78 passes for 952 yards and seven touchdowns.  If he continues to find open space in the defense, 2011 could be a huge year for Wright and the Baylor Bears.