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College Football 2011: Dark-Horse Heisman Candidates You Need to See

Sanjay KirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystSeptember 14, 2011

College Football 2011: Dark-Horse Heisman Candidates You Need to See

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    With three of last season's four finalists for the Heisman Trophy returning in 2011, at first glance, it may appear that a familiar name will take home this year's award.

    Boise State's Kellen Moore, Stanford's Andrew Luck and Oregon's LaMichael James all should put up huge numbers as they look for a return trip to New York in December.  

    Other favorites like Alabama's Trent Richardson, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon are household names who are expected to make a run at college football's most prestigious individual award. 

    However, when you consider that the last two winners (Auburn's Cam Newton last year and Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009) were preseason long-shots at best, it appears more likely that a new name or two will emerge by season's end.  

    With this list of guys who could surface in this year's race, I tried to be creative and realistic.  

    Creative in the sense of picking players who are under the radar nationally (sorry Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Marcus Lattimore)  and realistic with teams that have a chance for success on the big stage (ditto, T.Y. Hilton).  

    Here are five dark-horse Heisman candidates you need to see.  

5. Brock Osweiler, QB (Arizona State)

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    The mammoth Arizona State quarterback had a coming-out party of sorts in last week's thrilling victory over Missouri. The 6'8", 240-pound Osweiler carved up the Tigers' defense, completing 24-of-32 passes for 353 yards and three touchdown passes in leading his Sun Devils squad to the upset.    

    After playing in spurts his first two years in Tempe, the junior is in his first year as a full-time starter.

    However, the Montana native oozes potential.

    Osweiler has all of the necessary tools be a star, including NFL-caliber arm strength. Despite his size, he is not a statue in the pocket and possesses deceptive mobility, rushing for 59 yards and a touchdown through the first two games of the season.  

    With peers like James and Luck putting up huge numbers in the Pac-12, Osweiler is well on his way to joining them in the line for postseason recognition.  

4. Geno Smith, QB (West Virginia)

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    After a solid sophomore campaign that saw him complete just under 65 percent of his passes and toss 24 touchdowns, West Virginia's Geno Smith is a big reason the Mountaineers appear to be the favorites to win the Big East title in 2011.  

    With the arrival of offensive guru Dana Holgorsen as the new head coach in Morgantown, Smith is primed to take his game to the next level. Holgorsen's system should help Smith put up eye-popping stats that catch the voters' attention.

    Through the first two games, the experiment looks to be working. Smith has thrown for more than 600 yards with six touchdown passes and no interceptions.  

    With a trip to Maryland this weekend and next weekend's showdown against SEC power LSU in Morgantown, Smith has a chance to build a strong resume before October.   

3. Robert Woods, WR (USC)

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    The explosive Woods appears ready to add his name to the long list of USC's impact wide receivers. 

    The former 5-star recruit burst onto the scene as an impact freshman last season when he hauled in 65 catches for 792 yards and six touchdowns.  

    With Ronald Johnson moving on to the NFL, the talented sophomore came in to the year looking to become the go-to guy for star quarterback Matt Barkley.  

    Woods is off to a blistering start in 2011. Of Barkley's 54 completions in the Trojans' first two games, 25 have gone to Woods.  

    If he is able to maintain that level of production, Woods has a chance to erase the bad memories left by the Trojans' last Heisman Trophy winner.  

2. Ryan Tannehill, QB (Texas A&M)

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    Aside from the expansion noise in College Station, there is a noticeable lack of buzz for a Texas A&M squad that appears to be their best in recent memory.  

    With Big 12 quarterbacks like Jones, Griffin III and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden getting the early press clippings, the Aggies' trigger man, Ryan Tannehill, is often overlooked by those outside of the conference.  

    With playmakers at wide receiver (Jeff Fuller, Ryan Swope) and running back (Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael), Tannehill has the supporting cast around him necessary to put up huge numbers for a team positioned firmly in the Top 10 of the polls.  

    He will have a great opportunity to steal the spotlight from his peers in the league when they match up against one another. Tannehill may not have their flash or hype, but don't be surprised if they are upstaged by the gritty QB. 

1. David Wilson, RB (Virginia Tech)

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    David Wilson has an affinity for dressing up; Virginia Tech's junior running back is famous around Blacksburg for wearing a shirt and tie to class every day.

    After a strong start to the 2011 season, Wilson's wardrobe may get put to the test on the postseason awards circuit.   

    With quarterback Tyrod Taylor, as well as backfield mates Ryan Williams and Darren Evans off to the NFL, Wilson is the big man on campus in Blacksburg.  

    While the Hokies have struggled to get new quarterback Logan Thomas up to speed, Wilson has shouldered the load, rushing for 300 yards in the first two games of the season.  

    The Hokies are hovering around the Top 10 in the rankings, and with a soft schedule that should see them favored in every regular-season matchup, Wilson should continue his strong production and keep the Hokies on the national radar all season long.   

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