College Football 2011: Predicting the Statement Game for Top Heisman Candidates

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistJuly 6, 2011

College Football 2011: Predicting the Statement Game for Top Heisman Candidates

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    Steady and consistent play in college football is one thing.  Great play and winning the Heisman Trophy is quite another.  The FBS is full of good players, but there are a small handful of great ones, and even fewer are considered Heisman Trophy candidates.

    But great play and amazing stats are just part of the journey to the Heisman Trophy.

    Every Heisman candidate has a defining moment.  It might be leading his team to an improbable victory, or mounting a stunning fourth-quarter comeback.  Whatever the case may be, that one great player can make his case for the Heisman in what is called the "statement game."

    So what games will provide such an opportunity for the 2011 Heisman hopefuls?

Darron Thomas: Oregon, QB, Junior

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    Darron Thomas finished 2010 with 2,863 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions. He also added five more touchdowns on the ground with 486 rushing yards.

    Not bad for a sophomore. Not bad for anyone.

    Thomas did all this while leading the Ducks to a Pac-10 Championship and BCS Championship Game berth, and he'll be looking to do much of the same in 2011.

    Picking a statement game for Thomas is pretty easy. Oregon faces fellow top five team LSU in Week 1, and whichever team emerges victorious from that battle will have an inside track to the BCS Championship Game.

    A big game from Thomas leading the Ducks to victory will make him an early favorite for the Heisman in 2011.

Taylor Martinez: Nebraska, QB, Sophomore

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    The young Taylor Martinez had a rocky freshman year, punctuated by some signs of greatness.

    Martinez only had 1,631 passing yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games, but he also added in 965 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.

    Martinez's biggest weakness is the inconsistency in his passing game. Seven interceptions compared to ten touchdowns is not a good ratio. His TD numbers will need to increase dramatically and his interception totals will need to drop if he has any hope of earning a trip to New York.

    Martinez and the Cornhuskers will have the perfect opportunity to show that they can play with the best the Big Ten has to offer on October 8, when the Ohio State Buckeyes come to Nebraska for the first-ever Big Ten game in Lincoln.

    By putting up some monster numbers in a victory over the Buckeyes, Martinez could propel himself from a Heisman hopeful to a legit Heisman contender.

Brandon Weeden: Oklahoma State, QB, Senior

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    Last season, Oklahoma State had the nation's third-best offense by yards and scoring, and second best passing attack in the FBS.

    Brandon Weeden was a big part of that success, putting up 4,277 yards, 34 touchdowns, and a 154.1 passer rating.

    With numbers like that, it's no wonder Weeden is listed as a preseason Heisman hopeful. Weeden's only shortcoming has been his total lack of running ability. In 13 games last season, Weeden only attempted 17 rushes, and totaled minus-68 yards.

    Part of that is due to the fact that because Oklahoma State was so successful with the pass, Weeden rarely needed to run the ball. But if he hopes to win the Heisman this season, or propel the Cowboys to a Big 12 championship and the BCS, he'll need to show he has some ability to run the ball. After all, there are plenty of other quarterbacks in the FBS that can do both.

    Perhaps the most important game for the Sooners in 2010 will be their season finale with Oklahoma State. If Weeden can lead the Cowboys past the Sooners, it will cement his legendary status at Oklahoma State, and may just raise a few eyebrows amongst the Heisman voters.

Landry Jones: Oklahoma, QB, Junior

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    The Sooners are the preseason No. 1 team in the nation, and Oklahoma is looking to earn a trip to New Orleans with the play of junior quarterback Landry Jones.

    Last season, Jones passed for over 4,700 yards while racking up 38 touchdowns. Jones had an amazing 337 passing yards per game last season, and a repeat performance could be just what is needed to bring home another Big 12 championship and BCS title, as well.

    Like his counterpart at Oklahoma State, Jones has shown great ability at throwing the ball, but hasn't been called upon to showcase his feet very much. That resulted in Jones finishing 2010 with minus-128 rushing yards on 51 attempts in 14 games.

    Also like his Oklahoma State counterpart, Jones will need to showcase all of his abilities in the season finale against the Cowboys to not only earn the Sooners another Big 12 championship and BCS berth, but also earn his way onto a few more Heisman ballots.

Denard Robinson: Michigan, QB, Junior

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    For the first few weeks of 2010, Denard Robinson was all the rage, and no one even mentioned a guy named Cam Newton. Robinson was a shoe-in for the Heisman.

    Then, the Wolverines began losing games, Robinson was sidelined with injuries, and Cam Newton stepped in and stole the show.

    From a statistical standpoint, Robinson still had one heck of a 2010. His 2,570 passing yards don't pop off the page, nor do his 18 touchdown passes. His 11 interceptions certainly hurt his Heisman case, but he still managed a 149.6 QB rating.

    The really shocking numbers are his rushing totals. As a quarterback—a Michigan quarterback, at that—Robinson ran for 1,702 yards, fifth in the nation in 2010, and just 29 yards behind the nation's top rusher. Additionally, he was the only non-running back in the top 10 in terms of rushing yards (Cam Newton was 15th, the next non-running back on the list).

    If you put all of his stats together, Robinson accounted for 4,272 yards of offense, and was part of 32 offensive touchdowns. Not bad for a sophomore on a team that has traditionally been known for it's statuesque, pocket-passing quarterbacks.

    Denard Robinson will make many statements in 2011. After all, when a single player is capable of putting up over 500 yards of offense in a single game, it's a very large statement. But Robinson will need to make a different type of statement in 2011. His best opportunity to do so will be on October 15, when the Wolverines travel north to East Lansing to face the Spartans of Michigan State.

    MSU has gotten the better of U-M for the past few years—something that hasn't been done in a half-century. Michigan State starts the year ranked in the top 15 in the nation, and is a contender for the Big Ten.

    Robinson will need to display his Heisman ability by not only staying healthy long enough to play a full sixty minutes against Sparty, but he'll need to show the leadership necessary to guide the Wolverines to a victory against an MSU squad that might have a little more talent these days than the guys from Ann Arbor.

Marcus Lattimore: South Carolina, RB, Sophomore

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    Marcus Lattimore had one of the more impressive freshman seasons we've seen from a running back in some time.

    Lattimore racked up nearly 1,200 rushing yards with 17 touchdowns, and he added 412 yards and two touchdowns receiving. He was a big part of the success of South Carolina last season, and his numbers should only increase as his skill and experience progresses.

    South Carolina will be looking to defend its SEC-East Divisional Title in 2011, and Lattimore figures to be a big part of the Gamecocks offense. He'll unquestionably be the featured back this season, and he'll need to play a big role in the September 10 showdown with Georgia to begin the SEC-East title defense.

    As the season progresses, he'll need to build off of any success found against the Bulldogs to keep SC in the SEC hunt, and himself in the Heisman race.

LaMichael James: Oregon, RB, Junior

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    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that LaMichael James will be right in the midst of another Heisman campaign in 2011. It also won't come as a galloping shock that Oregon will be one of the better teams in the nation this season.

    After putting up 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, the nation's leading rusher from 2010 will be looking to showcase his skills for another season, and hopefully earn a few more Heisman votes along the way.

    James will get a prime opportunity to impress the Heisman voters right from the get-go, as Oregon will face off against fellow top five team LSU on September 3, in the much-anticipated season opening clash between the Ducks and Tigers at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.

    James will need to show some of his speed and elusiveness if Oregon is to have any shot at knocking off LSU. If James can put up some big numbers against an SEC power like LSU, he may emerge as the Heisman favorite after Week 1.

Kellen Moore: Boise State, QB, Senior

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    Kellen Moore was an unheard of recruit brought on to a program that was unheard of just a few years before that.

    Today, both Boise State and Kellen Moore have name recognition only a handful of other programs enjoy.

    Moore's junior season ended with 3,845 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. Moore also finished 2010 with a QB rating of an almost unbelievable 182.6. Moore's accuracy is so good that he averages 10 yards per attempt. His average per completion is better than 14 yards.

    With figures like that, Boise State's success is no mystery. It's also the reason Moore was a Heisman finalist in 2010.

    But if Boise State wants to prove its lofty preseason ranking is deserved, they'll have an early opportunity to do so when they take on Georgia in Atlanta on September 3. The Bulldogs have an impressive quarterback of their own in Aaron Murray.

    Moore will need to show that he still has the goods, even if he has a new receiving corps to break in, if Boise is to win against the Bulldogs.

    If Moore is able to lead the Broncos to victory, and show up Murray and the Bulldogs, that is about as big of a statement he can make in 2011, and will put him in the early pole position for the Heisman Trophy in 2011.

Andrew Luck: Stanford, QB, Junior

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    Andrew Luck announced he would be returning to Stanford for his redshirt junior season, and there was much rejoicing amongst Cardinal fans.

    And why not? Luck was one of the best players in the nation last season, and guided the Cardinal to one of their best seasons in decades. While Stanford fell just short of winning the Pac-10 last season, the consolation prize was pretty good—a BCS berth a trip to the Orange Bowl, which the Cardinal won.

    The mountain will be a little steeper this season. Stanford will need to replace some big names both on the field and on the sideline. Losing a head coach is never easy, but when you're only returning a small handful of offensive starters, there could be some serious problems.

    Andrew Luck is one of those players that can keep his team in the game single-handed, but he's going to need a bit of help if Stanford has any hope of reaching the 2011 Pac-12 Championship Game—3,332 passing yards and 32 touchdowns are great, but won't be enough to win the conference in 2011.

    If Luck gets the needed help, Stanford could again be a very good team in 2011. If he doesn't, Cardinal fans may be in for a let down.

    Luckily for Stanford and Luck, the early schedule is fairly benign. There aren't really any tough opponents on the schedule until the end of the year, but that's when the rubber will need to hit the road for Luck.

    The November 12 showdown with Pac-12-North foe Oregon looms large, and Luck will need to be able to guide the over-matched Cardinal past a very talented and high-octane Oregon Ducks team that many people are picking to not only win the Pac-12, but make a return appearance in the BCS Championship Game this season.

    If Luck is successful, he may again find himself earning a trip to New York.