College Football Predictions 2011: Montee Ball, Jordan Jefferson and 15 Dark-Horse Candidates Vying for the Heisman Trophy
With the NFL lockout making no foreseeable progress, college football will take on a whole new meaning in 2011.
Sure, there are die-hard fans of football on the collegiate level. However the absence of NFL football on Sundays will mean gridiron fans must get there fix on Saturdays.
Last season we were fortunate enough to witness countless personal achievements from some of the top performers the game has to offer. However, many of those elite players are taking the leap to the NFL next season—leaving us with a whole new batch of playmakers to examine closely in 2011.
So as spring training heats up for many programs across the nation, let's take a look at 15 Heisman Trophy candidates you may not know at the moment.
Auburn's leading rusher last season, with exception of Cam Newton, Michael Dyer staked his claim as one of the most prominent tailbacks with SEC has to offer. And that was just his freshman season.
Yes, it's true: the Tigers' top tailback heading into 2011 will likely be a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
At just 5'9'', 215 pounds, Dyer is the epitome of quickness—and his statistics should show it next season in Gene Chizik's run-first offense.
With senior running back Mario Fannin on his way to the NFL, Dyer will be receiving a bulk of Auburn's carries next season. Will it be enough to propel him to Heisman status?
The nation's second leading receiver in terms of yards accumulated last season (1,782), Justin Blackmon will continue to impose his will against opposing Big 12 cornerbacks in 2011.
Additionally, his 20 touchdown receptions last season was tops in the entire nation. So why is it that Blackmon wasn't a Heisman favorite last season?
That, we are unsure of.
One thing we are sure of, however, is that the 6'1'', 207-pound Blackmon will be in serious contention for the Heisman Trophy in his junior season.
One of the most unheralded talents in the Pac-10 conference last season, junior running back Stepfan Taylor was able to maneuver his way to a staggering 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns last season for the Cardinal offense.
With Andrew Luck returning for his senior season with Stanford, Taylor will be a mainstay in the Cardinal offense as they try and repeat as Pac-12 (previously Pac-10) champions.
At best, Taylor could potentially eclipse 1700+ yards next season.
Most of the nation has yet to hear about Georgia's sensational freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. After his 2011 sophomore season, however, he will all but captivate the entire college football community.
Yes, we may be overselling this somewhat unproven youngster. But don't overlook what he brings to the table: a 6'1'', 209-pound frame that continues to wow NFL scouts, solid arm strength and ever-improving accuracy.
Last season for the Bulldogs, Murray threw for just over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns to go with a 154.48 quarterback rating that was tops in the SEC last season.
When the dust is settled, Murray could be contending for the Heisman in just his sophomore season.
The best thing to happen to South Carolina football in a very long time, Marcus Lattimore will prove to be a key element in the Gamecocks' SEC championship hopes in 2011.
Lattimore, who attained just under 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground last season for Steve Spurrier's offense, has been working extensively to add mass in the offseason to prevent future injuries.
Can you imagine a 6'0'', 232-pound Lattimore with explosive legs and freakish strength bulldozing his way towards a Heisman trophy in 2011?
If you can't, you might want to start.
At a speedy 5'11'', 183 pounds, Ryan Broyles is arguably the most valuable asset to any team in the Big 12.
Yielding 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns in his third year as the Sooners' most pivotal wideout, Broyles will easily be a Heisman Trophy candidate this season for no other reason than his pure value to the Oklahoma offense.
Sure, Landry Jones could be able to put up solid numbers sans Broyles next season. However can we pinpoint another receiver on Oklahoma's roster who is as reliable as Broyles?
His sheer value will be enough to place him in contention for the Heisman this season.
The first defensive player on our list, Florida State's skillful defensive end Brandon Jenkins will be a surefire first-round lock when he enters the draft.
In just his sophomore season for the Seminoles, Brandon Jenkins was able to accumulate 13.5 sacks (third-best in the nation behind Da'Quan Bowers' 15 sacks), 56 tackles and one forced fumble. And though his reputation as one of the nation's top pass rushers may only be at its inception, Jenkins continues to wow NFL scouts.
If the Seminoles are planning an ACC championship-caliber season in 2011, they'll need significant help from the 6'3'', 234-pound Jenkins.
One of the most versatile quarterbacks in the country a season ago, Jordan Jefferson will be a must-see kind of talent in 2011.
Though he only managed to throw for just over 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns in his junior season, his pocket presence is such that he could bring the Tigers to the national championship this season.
Additionally, his physical abilities are second to none amongst his fellow SEC quarterbacks. Jefferson also replicates the play of Cam Newton—last year's landslide Heisman winner.
If Jefferson can elevate his play to the "elite class" we're expecting him to, he'll have a great shot at winning the Heisman Trophy.
By far and away the Mountain West's most complete running back last season, Ronnie Hillman looks to captivate the country once again in just his sophomore season for the Aztecs in 2011.
As for his freshman season? Hillman dominated opposing defenses to the tune of 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns, including a 5.8 yard/carry average.
The only thing holding him back from national prominence is San Diego State's lack of recognition within the college football community. However an ever-improving Aztec squad could put Hillman over the top—catapulting him into the Heisman class at the end of their 2011 regular season.
One of the few highly-touted sophomore tailbacks last season, Knile Davis sprinted his way towards over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns in a power-packed SEC West division.
In 2010, Davis went off for over 100 yards in six of Arkansas' games, including a 187-yard effort against Mississippi State late in the season.
With the loss of junior quarterback Ryan Mallett to the NFL draft, the Razorbacks will likely be taking to the ground as they attempt to break-in junior quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Expect a breakout season from arguably the SEC's best running back in 2011, possibly leading to a Heisman Trophy.
Many college football fanatics have yet to hear of Hawaii's sensational senior quarterback Bryant Moniz. But by the end of the 2011 season, he may be holding up the Heisman Trophy in New York City.
A two-year starter for the Warriors, Moniz has attained over 7,400 yards and 53 touchdowns in his unheralded career at Hawaii. Last season, he threw for 5,040 yards (tops in the entire country) and 39 touchdowns in leading the Warriors to a 10-4 mark.
Moniz's statistics may almost be too monumental to ignore, and could potentially bring the Heisman Trophy to Hawaii for the first time in school history.
In his sophomore season, South Carolina's prolific wideout Alshon Jeffery raked up over 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. Additionally, Jeffery also managed to produce at least 100 yards receiving in eight individual games (excluding his 99- and 97-yards efforts).
This season looks to be as promising as ever for the Gamecocks, and if Jeffery is able to improve even more from his 2010 numbers, he'll be the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.
In just his sophomore season for Oregon, quarterback Darron Thomas managed some of the most impressive and unheralded numbers in the Pac-10, as well as the entire country.
Thomas threw for 2,881 yards and 30 touchdowns a season ago, however his numbers are often overlooked due to the successes of fellow teammate and star running back LaMichael James.
If the Ducks are once again back in contention for a national title berth, it will because of the consistency of Thomas over the course of their regular season.
Often overshadowed by his former teammate John Clay, Wisconsin's prototypical running back Montee Ball actually led the Badgers in touchdowns (18), while falling just short of leading Wisconsin in yards (996).
Last season the Badgers maintained a three-headed attack in the backfield between John Clay, Ball, and freshman tailback James White. Can you imagine Ball's statistics once Clay leaves for the NFL?
As versatile of a runner as he might be, Ball also notably led all Wisconsin running backs in receiving yards (128) last season.
Ball was the complete package for the Badgers in his sophomore season, and his 5'11'', 236-pound frame should serve him well against Big Ten defenses in 2011.
Although his 2010 statistics aren't exactly Heisman-worthy, Ed Wesley will be an absolute force for the TCU Horned Frogs this season.
Last season, Wesley ran for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns for Gary Patterson's dominating offense. In his junior season as TCU's starting tailback, Wesley looks to continue his success in a big way.
With the loss of senior quarterback Andy Dalton, these Horned Frogs will most likely be taking to the ground much more than last season—giving Wesley a considerable amount of carries.
Expect a breakout season from TCU's expeditious running back, and for him to make a solid case for a Heisman Trophy next season.