2011 Heisman Hopefuls
The Heisman Trophy is undoubtedly the most prestigious individual sports achievement in our country. You could make arguments for other championship trophies and awards, but none carry the same weight that the almighty Heisman does.
Now only several weeks away from the beginning of the new college football season, it's time to start pondering who among colleges' elite could vie for the Heisman Trophy this season. These are in no particular order.
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Darron Thomas: Oregon Ducks, QB
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After a heartbreaking three point loss to Cam Newton's Auburn Tigers in the BCS National Championship game last season, Oregon Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas has his sights set on getting back to the top of the mountain. And maybe winning some hardware along the way.
He played a good game against Auburn in the National Championship, passing for 363 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, Oregon turnovers proved to be too much to overcome an Auburn defense that played one of their best games of the year.
His 30 touchdown passes in 2010 ranked second in the then-PAC 10, only behind Stanford's Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck. In a spread offense like Oregon runs, 30 touchdown passes is quite an impressive number for how effectively the Ducks ran the ball in 2010—303.8 rush yards per game.
I expect Thomas to pick up where he left off last year and become the resounding leader of one of the most potent offenses in college football. His mastery of the option attack coupled with his ability to drop back in the pocket will have PAC-12 defenses' heads spinning in 2011.
Kellen Moore: Boise State Broncos, QB
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The best thing that happened to Kellen Moore this offseason was that the Boise State Broncos accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference. Otherwise, he might be considered less likely of a Heisman candidate than he probably already is.
Last year, still playing in the WAC Conference, Moore passed for more than 3,800 yards and threw 35 touchdown passes. Despite playing in a less-than-competitive conference, Moore excelled against the competition that was put before him. You can't blame the guy for that.
His sweet left-handed delivery produces a perfect spiral every time. And unlike many left-handed throwers, Moore is capable of stretching the field and dropping a ball into his receiver's arms 40 yards down the field. Other than Stanford's Andrew Luck, Moore is probably the most polished quarterback in NCAA football.
His goal this year will be to lead Boise State to its first MWC and solidify the Broncos as a legitimate football program capable of competing with anyone in the country. If he is able to help the Broncos run the table, it could be Moore running away with the trophy.
Ryan Broyles: Oklahoma Sooners, WR
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Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Ryan Broyles is a vacuum cleaner. Any ball in his general direction will be caught. The scary thing is, Broyles may not have even realized the full potential of his talent yet.
Here is a receiver who has caught at least 14 touchdown passes the last two seasons and seen his receptions and receiving yards go up every year since deciding to play in Norman.
After 131 receptions and 1,622 receiving yards in 2010, I can't believe Broyles' numbers will improve much. Actually, I expect them to decrease, but I think he will become a more complete receiver. By refining his route-running abilities, he can dominate Big 12 secondaries even more so than he already has.
Yes, I know he plays in a pass-happy offense, but you can't ignore his production just because of that. He contributes in a big way. Without him, where would that receiving core be? A lot better covered, I'll tell you that for sure.
If Oklahoma finds themselves in contention for a National Championship bid, it will be certain that Broyles had another outstanding season.
Denard Robinson: Michigan Wolverines, QB
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Michigan's Denard Robinson is probably a Heisman Trophy dark horse, but barring an injury, he could be the favorite.
His dynamic speed and passing ability are similar to Oregon's Darron Thomas, but Robinson is much more likely to pull the ball down to take off and run. That is what scares defenses most. If Michigan's defense wasn't so laughable in 2010, we would be talking about this guy as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.
In 2010, under Rich Rodriguez's spread system, Robinson ran for 1,702 yards, an NCAA single-season record for a quarterback. He also threw in 2,570 pass yards and 18 touchdowns. This kid is a lethal threat to defenses every time he touches the ball. In 2010 he had 32 total touchdowns.
Despite a regime change at the University of Michigan, I expect new head coach Brady Hoke to utilize all of Robinson's attributes. It would be silly if he didn't taken advantage of one of the most spectacular talents in the collegiate game today.
If Robinson is able to bring Michigan back from the depths of the Big 10 cellar, Robinson could return the Heisman Trophy back to Ann Arbor this winter.
Justin Blackmon: Oklahoma State Cowboys, WR
Justin Blackmon 2010 Highlights
Possibly the most gifted receiver and physical specimen in college football right now, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon will probably be the first receiver off the big board in next year's NFL Draft.
Overshadowed by programs in his own conference like Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, Blackmon is not necessarily acknowledged as much as he should be. In 2010, Blackmon caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and found the end zone 20 times. He is a serious playmaker, much like his Oklahoma State alumnus, Dez Bryant.
His physicality makes him a tough matchup for undersized cornerbacks. He's able to go up and catch a jump ball in the corner of the end zone as well as anyone in college. If he continues to grow and progress the way he has at Oklahoma State, the sky is the limit for Blackmon.
Unlikely to win the Heisman at the wide receiver position, but still, a player to watch and pay attention to as his career progresses.
Landry Jones: Oklahoma Sooners, QB
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Doesn't it just seem like Bob Stoops breeds Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterbacks down at Oklahoma?
Landry Jones could be next on a list of names that include Sooners greats Sam Bradford, Jason White, and Josh Heupel (runner-up)—all Bob Stoops' products.
After filling in for 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford for a considerable amount of time in his freshman season, Jones has continued to thrive in the offensive juggernaut that is the Oklahoma offense. In his first two seasons at OU, Jones has thrown 64 touchdowns and shows no signs of slowing down. It's conceivable that he will finish his Sooners career with more than 100 passing touchdowns.
The thing I like about Jones most, and it has been a common theme with OU quarterbacks throughout the years, is his ability to throw on the move. Oklahoma, liking to roll the pocket out frequently, calls for a mobile quarterback who can make decisions while on the run. Jones has proven very capable.
He has been battle-tested throughout a tough Big 12 schedule in two-plus seasons at the helm of the Oklahoma offense, too. Last year en route to a New Year's Day victory in the Fiesta Bowl against Connecticut, Jones passed for 4,718 yards.
If he wants to step into Heisman immortality, he will first have to start with a tough opening game this 2011 season at Florida State.
Andrew Luck: Stanford Cardinal, QB
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Andrew Luck is the most anticipated quarterback to come out of Stanford since the great John Elway. Though he would have been the consensus number one overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, he forewent the early entry into the draft and is returning to school for his senior season.
By pulling a Matt Leinart, though I doubt Luck is taking dancing lessons with pretty girls at Stanford, he risks the possibility of injury by returning to Palo Alto. Critics say it's a questionable decision to pass up the draft when your stock is at its highest. But if he were selected first overall by the Carolina Panthers, who gave up 50 sacks in 2010, he could have risked an even more serious injury. By staying in college with kids his own age, he preserves his body a little more for when he gets selected first overall next year.
Luck has all the intangibles. Good build (6'4", 235), smart kid (c'mon, he goes to Stanford), and a quick delivery. Completing a ridiculous 70.7% of his passes in 2010, Luck led the Cardinal to an Orange Bowl victory against a highly touted Virginia Tech defense, scorching them for 40 points.
It makes me chuckle when I look at his stats line for the game - 18 for 23, 287 yards, four touchdowns.
Enough said. This guy is a front-runner.
LaMichael James: Oregon Ducks, RB
72 yard TD run @ Tennessee (2010)
LaMichael James is the most exciting runner I've seen since Reggie Bush. James' ability to stop on a dime and change direction is something that very few runners possess.
James, who's only listed at 5'8", has no problem running around or over defenders. He runs with a ferocity that few college backs have. His skill set is what will get him to the next level and playing on Sundays.
Running backs who can catch the ball out of the back field are highly sought after. If a player can turn a five-yard pass into a 75-yard pass, you know the kid has game. Breakaway speed and acceleration is what separates LaMichael James from most other running backs in the college game. In 2010 he lead the nation in rushing with 1,731 yards and scored 21 touchdowns. This is a potential 2,000-yard running back.
Defenders can't afford to throw out weak arm tackles, either. James' low center of gravity and freakish strength allow him to shed suspect tackling efforts and otherwise. Playing in an option-attack style offense, James will get his fare share of carries as well as opportunities to catch the ball out of the backfield on screen passes.
After finishing just shy of 2,000 total yards in 2010, I expect James to have his most productive offensive season as a Duck and help his team to a plausible consecutive national championship berth.
Trent Richardson: Alabama Crimson Tide, RB
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Ever since I saw Trent Richardson run during his 2009 freshman season behind eventual Heisman winner Mark Ingram, I was thoroughly impressed with how hard he ran. I knew he was going to be a big time player at any opportunity he got to touch the ball.
With Ingram now gone from Tuscaloosa via the draft, Richardson will become the featured runner at 'Bama. Knowing Nick Saban, he's not going to deviate from a plan that has been proven time and time again: strong defense, solid run game. Playing in the ultra-physical SEC, it's going to take a bulk of carries from Richardson for the Tide to return to the National Championship.
In two seasons complementing Ingram, Richardson has rushed for a total of 1,451 yards and gotten into the end zone 14 times on the ground. He's probably capable of doing that all by himself with a full workload this season.
He's going to split carries, but that's just the culture of football now. I believe with an offensive line that's returning four starters in 2011, Richardson will enjoy some big holes to run through and a 1,200+ yard rushing, 10+ touchdown season.
So What Did I Forget?
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So, I know some of you are probably saying, "Where are the defensive players?" Well, in my opinion, most if not all of the notable defenders from the 2010 college season have made their way into the NFL. Additionally, it is very unlikely in this day and age for a defensive player to win the award, considering how oversaturated the sports community is with explosive offensive players.
What about snubs to the Big 10, Big East, and ACC conferences? To that I say, think about your question again. These conferences are the weakest of the BCS conferences by far. There are talented players playing in these conferences no doubt, but I think it's a reach to consider any players right now as Heisman candidates from those conferences.
If you can think of any players I've missed, leave a comment below, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org