Heisman Trophy 2011: 6 Long Shots Who Could Haul Home the Hardware
The Heisman Trophy is college football’s greatest individual honor. In recent years, the 25-pound bronze statue has been claimed almost exclusively by quarterbacks and running backs.
In fact, Michigan’s Charles Woodson, who was listed as both a DB and WR, was the last defensive player—one of only three—to win the award.
Expect the trend to continue this year. With early favorites such as Stanford QB Andrew Luck, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and Oregon running back LaMichael James leading the way, it seems likely that another player on the offensive side of the ball will be carrying home the hardware.
But the Heisman is a lot like the Kentucky Derby–upsets happen. No one saw Animal Kingdom (30:1 early on and 20:1 at race time) coming.
At the start of last season, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor and Alabama’s Mark Ingram looked to be the front-runners. While Michigan’s Denard Robinson pressed them early, eventually they all gave way to Cam Newton from Auburn.
That being said, here are six players—all long-shots—who could end up making an acceptance speech in Manhattan in December if everything breaks their way.
6. NOTRE DAME LB MANTI TE’O
Although the Heisman just about always goes to someone lined up behind the center, there are a number of great defensive players that might deserve the award this year.
However, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o seems to me to have the best shot. In his first two seasons in South Bend, Te’o, who hails from Hawaii, has played in every game and started in 23.
Through his sophomore season, Te’o has 196 tackles to his credit, including 95 solo stops. He has also managed 15 tackles for losses to go along with two sacks, four pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Te’o’s tenacious defense was one of the keys to the Irish resurgence down the stretch last year. If he continues to pile up the numbers—and given the extra exposure ND will get because of all the night games on the schedule—he’s going to deserve a place in the Heisman conversation.
5. HOUSTON QB CASE KEENUM
Along with Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Keenum is the only other NCAA Division I QB to record multiple 5,000 yard seasons.
In 2009, he set a school single-season record with 5,671 passing yards, which was good for third place on the all-time NCAA Division I-FBS single-season list.
Last season, Keenum went down in the third week with a torn ACL as the Cougars lost to UCLA. In January, he was granted a rare sixth year of eligibility.
If he can stay healthy, he should own every Houston career passing record when he leaves and there is a very good chance that he could end up first in several NCAA career categories.
Right now, Keenum has 14,448 career yards of total offense (good for seventh place), 13,586 passing yards (good for fifth). His 107 TD passes are good for eighth place while his 1,118 completions have him sitting in seventh.
Working against him is the fact that he’ll have needed five-plus years to compile all those gaudy stats—a fact that may not sit well with the voters.
4. MICHIGAN STATE QB KIRK COUSINS
The Big Ten has produced its share of Heisman winners. In East Lansing, QB Kirk Cousins is rewriting the Spartan record books and leaving his imprint all over them.
During his two years behind center, Cousins has compiled a 16-9 record, including going 11-2 last year.
Twice elected team captain, he has appeared in 31 games and completed 64 percent of his passes, good for the top spot in the Michigan State record books.
His 146.7 passing efficiency rating is also the best in the school’s history and good for fourth place among NCAA active players. He currently stands in fourth place with 5,815 passing yards and has nailed down sixth place in completions (456) and TD (41).
The Spartans enjoyed a banner year last year and Cousins was a major factor. If the Spartans can repeat as Big Ten champions—they shared the title last year with Wisconsin—it would certainly elevate Cousins’ status.
3. OKLAHOMA WR RYAN BROYLES
Last year, Broyles finished second in the NCAA with 131 receptions and fourth with 1,622 in receiving yards. He holds 10 Sooner records, including nine that he set in 2010.
He has caught at least one pass in 38 straight games and gone over the century mark in receiving yards in 12 of his last 16 games while scoring at least one TD in 12 of his last 17 games.
Despite the fact that he’s only 5’11" and 187 pounds, Broyles gives DBs fits. With the Sooners ranked so high in the preseason polls, this could be a year to remember for Broyles.
The catch is that if the Sooners go undefeated, QB Landry Jones will probably get more of the credit than his star receiver.
2. BOISE STATE QB KELLEN MOORE
Last year, Moore had the top QB rating in the country (182.6). He led the Broncos to a 12-1 record, the lone setback coming in the overtime loss to Nevada when the Boise kicker couldn’t hit a field goal.
Although the Broncos will be playing in the new Mountain West Conference this year, they open the season with non-conference foe Georgia.
If Moore can lead his team to victory over an SEC team on the road in prime time on ESPN, he might just get a leg up on some of the other contenders.
The Broncos are highly ranked in a number of preseason polls, and if Moore can duplicate last year’s success, he may find himself improving significantly over 2009 when he led the Broncos to an undefeated season and finished seventh in the Heisman race—the highest finish ever for a member of the Broncos.
1. NOTRE DAME WR MICHAEL FLOYD
Assuming that he plays and assuming that he can stay healthy and out of trouble, Floyd should rewrite the record books at Notre Dame.
Despite missing games both last season and the season before, Floyd already owns the Irish record having snared 28 TD tosses, and he trails Jeff Samardzija by just eight catches and 54 yards for the career marks in those categories.
With a mediocre season, Floyd will surpass those marks and with a stellar season, he’ll eclipse them.
At 6’3", 227 pounds, Floyd has the size to play against anyone and the ability to out-jump and out-muscle most DBs. Gifted with great hands and tremendous athletic ability, Floyd is a long shot but then so was this year’s Derby winner.
He’ll definitely have to play his way into the race, but he has the ability to do just that. Desmond Howard was the last WR to win the trophy in 1991. Maybe they throw one that way every 20 years.