Five Heisman Trophy Sleepers
The most coveted award in college football has a heavy front-runner to start the season in Andrew Luck (Stanford). There are other players thought to be in the mix, not limited to Kellen Moore (Boise State), Trent Richardson (Alabama), Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina) and LaMichael James (Oregon). These are players that have the ability to alter their team's season and put them in the national title hunt while displaying incredible performances throughout the season.
It should be duly noted that no freshman has ever won the award. In its first 72 years as an award, no sophomore won until Tim Tebow won it in 2007, Sam Bradford in 2008 and Mark Ingram in 2009.
The previously mentioned players will likely see themselves in the Heisman mix for most of the season, but I will throw out five other names not popularly mentioned in the Heisman conversation that could very well be in New York at the end of the season.
Case Keenum, QB: Houston
Has everyone forgotten about Case Keenum? His 2010 season ended with an ACL tear in Houston's third game at UCLA. Though many will want to see if the knee holds up, we must not forget that this is a player who will be one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever play collegiate football when his career at Houston is over.
Keenum is an experienced QB that has thrown for 5,000+ yards twice in his illustrious career. He will be looking for redemption against UCLA in Houston's first game this season and will attempt to show the country his knee is healed and ready for a full season. If he comes out of the gates and has a big game against the Bruins, he'll have all the momentum to throw for 40+ TDs and 5,000+ yards... again.
A late November date in New Orleans against Tulsa, a team that ended last season on a seven-game winning streak, could be the game that propels Keenum to New York.
Nick Foles, QB: Arizona
Standing at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Nick Foles has the physical presence coaches at the NFL level salivate over. He ended 2010 with 20 TD passes and more than 3,000 yards despite missing two games. His team had a scare in the offseason when All-Conference receiver Juron Criner left the team for about a month for personal issues. Criner will return for 2011, as well as Arizona's other leading returning receiver David Douglas.
Foles will be able to pad his stats against Northern Arizona before the Wildcats enter murderers row, which includes four straight games against Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC. These are marquee contests where Foles has the chance to make an impression on national audiences. If Arizona can steal a couple of these games behind the arm of Foles, he has a great shot to find himself in New York because he certainly doesn't lack the experience, ability or weapons around him.
Robert Griffin III, QB: Baylor
A three-year starter that had his season shortened in 2009 due to an ACL tear, Robert Griffin III returns to Baylor for his junior season. He has quickly become one of the best QBs that Baylor has ever seen and will likely continue his march to prominence in Waco in 2011.
Griffin may not throw for 4,000 yards like a Landry Jones, but he will get himself 3,000 yards while getting close to or eclipsing 1,000 yards on the ground. Being a dual-threat QB that puts up numbers in the air and on the ground has definitely garnered attention as of late (i.e. Tim Tebow and Vince Young). There's no reason that Griffin can't put up 25 TD passes and 10 rushing TDs. If he is able to achieve those numbers and lead Baylor to 9 or 10 wins, he may find himself putting pressure on voters to get him to New York.
Montee Ball, RB: Wisconsin
This may or may not be a stretch, considering the Badgers have another back in James White just as capable as Montee Ball. Bret Bielema may or may not go with the hot hand, but if the final five games of 2010 are any indication, Ball will still see 20+ carries per game.
He saw limited time in 2010 until an injury to John Clay put Ball into an expanded role and saw him start four of the final five games, including the Rose Bowl. In those contests, Ball was undoubtedly the hottest back in the country as he ran for 777 yards and 14 TDs. The Badgers boast a traditionally strong offensive line and a somewhat soft non-conference schedule for Ball to up his numbers on.
With the way 2010 went for Wisconsin offensively, there's no reason to believe they will slow down with Ball returning for his junior season. He is every bit capable of running for 20 touchdowns in 2011.
Chris Polk, RB: Washington
Chris Polk has been an absolute load for Washington the past two seasons, which has seen him rush for over 2,500 yards and 14 TDs. With Jake Locker struggling mightily through the air in 2010, defenses geared more to stop Polk and Locker on the ground. It didn't work as Polk dashed his way to 1,415 yards. What really put him on the map were his final two games where he rushed for 284 yards and 177, respectively. With Locker graduated and in the NFL, look for Washington to once again lean heavily on Polk to carry the Huskies to another bowl berth.
If Polk wants to get to New York, he must improve on his touchdown numbers. Polk's value could diminish as he may miss the first two weeks of the season after knee surgery. Will he be ready to make an impression when the Huskies play Nebraska?
*Update: It was said that Chris Polk could possibly miss the first two weeks of the season after knee surgery. That turned out to be false as he rushed for 125 yards in a season opening win against Eastern Washington.
This list not limited to...
Tyler Wilson (Arkansas), Cyrus Gray (Texas A&M), Bryant Moniz (Hawaii), Robert Woods (USC), Matt Barkley (USC), Rex Burkhead (Nebraska), Aaron Murray (Georgia), Geno Smith (West Virginia), Ed Wesley (TCU), Marvin McNutt (Iowa), Kirk Cousins (Michigan State)