College Football 2011: The Top 50 Heisman Trophy Contenders

Eric Galko@OptimumScoutingFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2011

College Football 2011: The Top 50 Heisman Trophy Contenders

0 of 20

    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal rolls out of the pocket against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Stanford won 40-12. (Phot
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The Heisman Trophy is given to the best college football player each year. And while some years there are clear cut favorites that last throughout the year, there are some like last year with Cam Newton being on a select few radars as a deep sleeper who ended up being the obvious choice.

    Here is the Heisman race broken down between the "favorites," the contenders on the "fringe," and players that need a "great" and "outstanding" seasons, as well as a few Cam Newton-like "longshots."

The Favorites: 1. Andrew Luck, Stanford

1 of 20

    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrates after he threw a 38-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Virginai Tech Hokies during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miam
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The future No. 1 selection in the NFL Draft, Luck was a finalist a year ago and had his team finish with the number four ranking last year.

    Now with the Pac-12 in place and his Stanford Cardinal still the favorite despite head coach Jim Harbaugh being gone, he'll have a chance to go down as maybe the best Stanford quarterback ever (yes, even ahead of John Elway) if he can finish his career with a Heisman trophy.

The Favorites: 2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma

2 of 20

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Landry Jones #12 of the Oklahoma Sooners throws the ball against the Connecticut Huskies during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Peters
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The quarterback of the currently top-two ranked Oklahoma Sooners on almost every top-25 list, Landry Jones returns seven other offensive starters including four offensive linemen and likely soon to be NCAA all team reception leader Ryan Broyles.

    A talented offense and a potential BCS title contending quarterback, if he can stay healthy and win the games he's suppose to, he'll be in the mix by season's end.

The Favorites: 3. Kellen Moore, Boise State

3 of 20

    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Quarterback Kellen Moore #11 of the Boise State Broncos throws for yardage against the Utah Utes during the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas at Sam Boyd Stadium December 22, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State Won 26-3.  (Photo by Eth
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    My pick to win the award, Moore has been the most consistent quarterback in college football the past two years. He has a career record of 38-2 (lost those two games by a COMBINED four points) and is on pace to break the all time win record for a quarterback in the FBS.

    He's already at 10,000 plus total passing yards in his career, and is 36 touchdowns away from the current all time FBS record. He'll get a chance to shine week one at Georgia and if he can go undefeated for the second time in his career, he SHOULD be at least a top-two finisher.

The Favorites: 4. Denard Robinson, Michigan

4 of 20

    ANN ARBOR, MI - APRIL 16: Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines drops back to pass during the annual Spring Game at Michigan Stadium on April 16, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    At one point early last year, Denard Robinson was the "favorite" to win the Heisman trophy, but after three losses to Michigan State, Iowa, and Penn State, he was all but out of the running.

    Still, the returning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has three returning receivers and a new coach that lead San Diego State to the 12th best passing offense in the country last year. This Michigan team could ride Denard all the way to a surprise Big Ten title if they can stay healthy.

The Favorites: 5. LaMichael James, Oregon

5 of 20

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  LaMichael James #21 of the Oregon Ducks runs down field against the Auburn Tigers during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald M
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Leader of the National Champion runners-up Oregon Ducks a year ago, James finished with 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.

    This year, he'll start off with SEC foe LSU in Texas week one, and if he can start off fast with a big game (120-plus yards) and a win for his team, he'll quickly be in the mix for a Heisman shot if he can replicate his 1700-plus yard season.

The Favorites: 6. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

6 of 20

    ATLANTA - DECEMBER 4:  Running back Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs with the ball during the 2010 SEC Championship against the Auburn Tigers at Georgia Dome on December 4, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty I
    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    The final of the "favorites" for the trophy, Lattimore is, in my opinion, the best running back in the college football game since Reggie Bush and Adrian Peterson. He's that dominant as a runner. While South Carolina features the athletic Stephen Garcia at quarterback and maybe the nations best receiver,

    Lattimore is the engine of that Gamecock team, and if last year's coming out party is any indication, we could be seeing the next great college running back of our time.

On the Fringe: 7. Robert Griffin, Baylor

7 of 20

    WACO, TX - OCTOBER 04:  Quarterback Robert Griffin #10 of the Baylor Bears drops back to pass against the Oklahoma Sooners at Floyd Casey Stadium on October 4, 2008 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The most athletic quarterback, maybe outside of Denard Robinson, in the FBS this year, Griffin has shown he can be dominant as a passer (3,501 yards, 22 TDs and only eight interceptions) as well as a runner (635 yards and eight TDs) last year.

    He'll have speedy receivers, offensive line experience, and an offense that, thanks to him, was 13th in the nation last year.

On the Fringe: 8. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

8 of 20

    STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 27:  Quarterback Brandon Weeden #3 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys looks for an open receiver against the Oklahoma Sooners at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Image
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The head of the 2nd ranked passing offense from a year ago, Weeden was outstanding last year in Dana Holgorsen's offense.

    Now he'll be without his offensive mastermind offensive coordinator, but does have fellow Heisman contender Justin Blackmon at receiver, and five returning starters on the offensive line.

On the Fringe: 9. Case Keenum, Houston

9 of 20

    PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Quarterback Case Keenum #7 of the Houston Cougars at the game against the UCLA Bruins in the second quarter at the Rose Bowl on September 18, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  UCLA won 31-13.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    One of my favorite "sleepers" in the Heisman race, this decorated Heisman contender is already likely to break the FBS record for passing yards and passing touchdowns, while two of his receivers are likely to break FBS reception records.

    Houston's schedule isn't overly difficult outside of a few C-USA teams, and while that doesn't help in BCS support, an undefeated season with outstanding numbers and all time records could push Keenum to votes by season's end.

On the Fringe: 10. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska

10 of 20

    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers drops back to pass against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Big 12 Championship at Cowboys Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    In the mix for Heisman candidacy in the middle of last season, Martinez is the team's returning passing and rushing leader from last year as a freshman.

    With Nebraska now the favorite to win the Big Ten title with Ohio State in a mess of a situation, he'll be battling with Denard Robinson for Big Ten votes if he can replicate last year's success.

On the Fringe: 11. Russell Wilson, Auburn/Wisconsin

11 of 20

    ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 28:  Russell Wilson #16 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack passes the ball during the Champs Sports Bowl against the West Virginia Mountineers at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mik
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    It's unknown right now where Russell Wilson will be playing this upcoming season, but whether it's Auburn or Wisconsin, the two favorites right now, he should be in great position to be successful.

    It will be especially the case if he's in Wisconsin, where he'll have a great team around him and make Wisconsin the favorite in the Big Ten.

On the Fringe: 12. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State

12 of 20

    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01: Kirk Cousins #8  of the Michigan State Spartans warms up during the Capitol One Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Cousins has been a favorite of mine for the past two seasons as far as being a future NFL Draft first round pick, and he'll have BJ Cunningham at receiver returning who had nine TDs last year.

    He'll only have three other returning starters on offense, and he'll have to go on the road to play Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Iowa.

On the Fringe: 13. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

13 of 20

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Ryan Broyles #85 of the Oklahoma Sooners looks on against the Connecticut Huskies during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty I
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    His quarterback Landry Jones is securely in the Heisman discussion as of now, but Ryan Broyles has made a name for himself thus far.

    He almost declared for the draft last year, but returned this year and likely will end his career as the FBS all time leader in receptions (only 51 receptions away).

On the Fringe: 14. Trent Richardson, Alabama

14 of 20

    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 16:  Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Ole Miss Rebels at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Now that Mark Ingram is gone and Richardson is the focus of the rushing game, he'll be the face of an offense that averaged 182.9 rushing yards last year in the SEC.

    He may have more skill than Mark Ingram, though it remains to be seen if he can handle a full workload, as he only had 112 carries a year ago.

On the Fringe: 15. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

15 of 20

    STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 05:  Wide receiver Justin Blackmon #81 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys warms up before the college football game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Boone Pickens Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  The Cowboys defe
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The leading offensive weapon for fellow Heisman contender Brandon Weeden, Blackmon had over 1,700 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns a year ago.

    He should end his career as the second most productive receiver in Cowboy history, ahead of Dez Bryant and behind Rashaun Woods.

Need a Great Season (16-20)

16 of 20

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans passes against the Oregon Ducks at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 30, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    16. Derron Thomas, Oregon
    -While LaMichael James was the feature player for the Ducks last year, Thomas could have a Dennis Dixon type season as the Ducks try and get back to the BCS title game.

    17. Matt Barkley, USC
    -Forget the sanctions, Matt Barkley looks poised to have a great season and closer to Andrew Luck in the Heisman voting and in the NFL Draft selection area.

    18. Knile Davis, Arkansas
    -With Mallett gone, the face of the offense is now Knile Davis at running back. He had 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.

    19. Jordan Jefferson, LSU
    -Many have LSU as one of the favorites to win the SEC, and if that's the case, they'll need a big season out of quarterback Jordan Jefferson, especially needing him to control the ball.

    20. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
    -One of the most explosive rushers in the country, Gray has a chance to explode onto the Heisman scene if he can be consistent and single handedly lead this team to a Big 12 title run.

Needs a Great Season (21-25)

17 of 20

    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Alshon Jeffery #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks against Terrance Parks #4 of the Florida State Seminoles during the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    21. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
    -Not as high on him as many are, he has a chance to be the nation's best senior quarterback and, if he can be more influential to his team's success than Gray, he could be a surprise Heisman contender.

    22. John Brantley, Florida
    -I'm not ready to put my faith in John Brantley based on how panicky he looked last year, but with the weapons at Florida and in Charlie Weis's offense, he has no reason not to drastically improve.

    23. Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
    -The third receiver on this list, Jeffery has many the highest NFL potential ceiling and has a great chance for 1,300+ receiving yards in the SEC. However, Marcus Lattimore should steal much of his thunder.

    24. Kyle Padron, Southern Methodist
    -Leader of June Jones's high powered offense, Padron showed some impressive ability last year. He should have 4,000+ yards, and an undefeated season could get him in the mix.

    25. Ryan Lindley, San Diego State
    -Without Brady Hoke, he and this team could struggle to be as competitive as they were last year. Still, he has NFL ability and some weapons on offense.

Need an Outstanding Season (26-33)

18 of 20

    AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 13:  Quarterback Aaron Murray #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    26. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
    -Has leftover weapons from Ryan Mallett's productive offense last year, and Bobby Petrino always has a great offense.

    27. Dayne Crist, Notre Dame
    -Brian Kelly won't have this team down for long, and Dayne Crist has the skill set he likes in a quarterback.

    28. Chris Relf, Mississippi State
    -Dan Mullen runs a fantastic offense each and every year, and if Mississippi State can continue with last year's success, it will be thanks to Relf at quarterback.

    29. EJ Manuel, Florida State
    -Jimbo Fisher has the Florida State program on track to continue to be successful, and the next step is getting athletic quarterback Manuel to be consistent.

    30. Bryce Brown, Kansas State
    -Formerly the best running back recruit in the country, Brown finally will step on the field since leaving Tennessee. Expect big things from him in year one.

    31. GJ Kinne, Tulsa
    -He'll have a tough time with one of the toughest non-BCS schedules out there, but he has the offense and talent to do so.

    32. Aaron Murray, Georgia
    -Plays Boise State week one, if he wants to have a chance, he'll have to do so without his two leading receivers from a year ago.

    33. Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
    -If he doesn't get suspended this year, he could be the face of the revival of the Notre Dame program as one of the country's best receivers.

Need an Outstanding Season (34-40)

19 of 20

    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 25:  University of Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert #8 rushes during the first half against Texas A&M at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 25, 2010 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
    Darren Carroll/Getty Images

    34. Garrett Gilbert, Texas
    -Struggled mightily as Colt McCoy's replacement last year, don't count out Mack Brown or any Texas offense to be unexpectedly impressive.

    35. Michael Dyer, Auburn
    -Now the face of the Auburn Tigers with Cam Newton gone, he'll try and once again battle with Marcus Lattimore as the SEC's top running back.

    36. Danny O'Brien, Maryland
    -Impressed as a freshman a year ago as Maryland turned their program around last year, he'll be the face of the program along with new head coach Randy Edsall.

    37. Montel Harris, Boston College
    -A workhorse for this Boston College team, they likely won't have the record to give him a chance barring they win the ACC.

    38. Zach Collaros, Cincinnati
    -Struggled last year with injuries and overall consistency, but he has been impressive in his career, and with DJ Woods and Isaiah Pead as weapons, he could surprise in the Big East.

    39. Nick Foles, Arizona
    -One of the top seniors for the 2012 NFL Draft, he'll have to beat out the four Pac-12 contenders ahead of him as well as lead his team to the tops in the Pac-12 to have a shot.

    40. Bernard Pierce, Temple
    -A contender in the pre-season last year, it'll be tough for him to get respect without Al Golden there and with fellow senior Matt Brown at running back as well.

The Longshots

20 of 20

    COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 30:  Tyler Bray #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    41. Tyler Bray, Tennessee
    -Showed promise last year, he's the face of one of the more prestigious programs in the SEC.

    42.Chris Polk, Washington
    -With Jake Locker gone, the offense will run through this very talented and capable feature back.

    43. Geno Smith, West Virginia
    -Curious to see how much he can benefit from having one of the best offensive minds in football as his head coach.

    44. Tim Jefferson, Air Force
    -The leader of the best "academy" school in the country, he's productive, consistent, and could get to 10 wins this year.

    45. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
    -No Dion Lewis, Graham showed explosive ability in 2010, and now he'll be the unquestioned feature weapon for Pitt.

    46. Jacory Harris, Miami (FL)
    -In danger of losing his starting job, Harris has too much talent himself and at receiver for him not to be able to thrive in 2011.

    47. Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss
    -Ole Miss will need to be in contention in the brutal SEC West, but he'll be featured like Darren McFadden this year.

    48. BJ Daniels, South Florida
    -The best quarterback athlete in the conference, Daniels has a chance to upset Notre Dame week one and put this team on track to be back to the Big East title.

    49. Dan Persa, Northwestern
    -Maybe the next great Northwestern quarterback after Mike Kafka, Persa has a chance to upset Big Ten foes this year.

    50. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
    -The lone defensive player of the list, he's the most valuable asset to a Notre Dame team that some feel could be BCS good.

    Check out and follow me on Twitter at