WIth Robert Griffin III bringing home the 77th Heisman Memorial trophy on Saturday night, I feel it's not too early to start thinking about next year's Heisman crop. This article highlights each conference's top contenders for the 78th Heisman Trophy. This list is not exhaustive and is hypothetical with the potential for some of the players mentioned in it to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
Tajh Boyd was one of the nation's most surprising stories in the 2011 season as he took over the full-time quarterback duties for the Clemson Tigers. He was the driving force of Clemson's 8-0 start. However, the second half of his season left a lot to be desired.
Overall, Boyd played well in 2011 and his stats agree. Boyd ranked ninth in the NCAA in total passing yardage in a balanced spread offense (the top eight in passing yardage among those playing in "Air Raid" pass-heavy offenses), and tied for eighth in passing touchdowns. Boyd's negatives in 2011 were that he turned the ball over too much with 10 interceptions and took too many sacks (28, tied for 13th most). Both will improve with experience, which is good news considering Tajh was only a sophmore in 2011 and will have two more years of eligibility at Clemson.
Look for Boyd to come into 2012 with a chip on his shoulder after his lackluster second half of 2011.
Others to mention: E.J. Emanuel (QB, Florida State), David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech), Logan Thomas (QB, Virginia Tech)
This selection is based on the assumption that RG3 returns to Baylor for another year for football, which by listening to him in interviews sounds like a real possibility. The 2011 Heisman trophy winner is without a doubt one of the most exciting and explosive players in college football.
With Griffin at the helm Baylor will be serious Big 12 contenders and his ability may even have them in the Preseason National Title picture.
In his Heisman campaign RG3 posted some impressive statistics. He ranked sixth in Nation in passing yards (3998), fourth in passing touchdowns (36), completed 72.4 percent of his passes, and had an impressive 192.3 quarterback rating. He also rushed for 644 yards and sixth touchdowns.
The big key to RG3 and Baylor's success was the fact that he rarely turned the ball over. While looking at his stats, the only thing that could be viewed as a negative is that he holds the ball too long and tends to take too many sacks (23 in 2011).
But lets face it, Griffin isn't playing with the cream of the crop when it comes to offensive linemen. He plays in a conference that tends to be pass-heavy, allowing defenses to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.
If he comes back for his senior season, I expect RG3 to be a serious contender to win the Heisman in 2012.
Others to Mention: Collin Klein (Quarterback, Kansas State), Seth Doege (Quarterback, Texas Tech), Geno Smith (Quarterback, West Virginia)
I'm well aware that the Big East isn't a powerhouse conference with star power and hasn't had a real contender since Pat White and Tony Pike, but the conference has some names that have the potential to put up some Heisman-like stats.
The player with the best shot in my opinion is Pittsburgh's Ray Graham. Graham will be coming off of major knee surgery which cut his 2011 season by five games. Head coach Todd Graham and the Pitt faithful will be hopeful that Graham can return to his pre-injury form and take the program to the high-octane level Coach Graham has promised.
Graham posted impressive stats in the 7 games he played in during the 2011 season. He rushed for 958 yards, 9 touchdowns, and had an impressive 5.8 yards average per carry. Graham also was a threat receiving out of the backfield catching 30 passes for 200 yards.
Considering Graham's skill set, offensive system, and lack of defensive talent in the Big East, he could realistically put up stats that land him as a finalist for the 78th Heisman Trophy.
Others to Mention: Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers), Teddy Bridgewater (quarterback, Louisville)
If Montee Ball goes pro, which is likely considering how high is stock is and the lack of running back depth in the 2012 NFL Draft, Michigan Quarterback Denard Robinson would be the Big Ten's top Heisman contender.
Michigan's first season under Brady Hoke has created optimism from the Big Blue faithful, something lost during the Rich Rodriguez era. The key to that continued success is the performance Robinson.
Robinson had an up and down 2011 season. Robinson finished the season with 3,219 all-purpose yards (2,056 passing and 1,163 rushing) and 34 touchdowns (18 Passing, 16 rushing). If Robinson is going to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012, he must be more consistent and not turn the ball over so much.
Robinson is full of big-play potential, and has the ability to change the course of the game in one play. Along with Robert Griffin, Robinson is among the nation's most electrifying players. Look for Robinson to get an invite to the Heisman ceremony in 2012.
Others to Mention: Rex Burkhead (running back, Nebraska), James White (running back, Wisconsin), Silas Redd (running back, Penn State), Marcus Coker (running back, Iowa)
With Andrew Luck most likely leaving Stanford to cash in on the NFL Draft, USC's Matt Barkley has the potential to be the Pac-12's Heisman front-runner. Now, this is clearly speculating that Barkley stays forgoes the NFL draft and stays at USC for another season, which I feel will happen since he will be able to lead USC back into bowl eligibility.
If he returns he will most likely be the top quarterback heading into the 2013 NFL Draft.
Barkley wrapped up his 2011 season ranked 11th in passing yardage (3,528 yards), third in passing touchdowns (39), and a 161.2 passer rating. Add two rushing touchdowns to that, and Barkley had a pretty impressive junior season. Pretty impressive considering all USC wasn't playing for a bowl berth or even a conference title shot. Barkley's top two targets Robert Woods and Marqise Lee will return, enhancing his potential for lighting up scoreboards in the 2012 season even more.
If Barkley returns, as I suspect in 2012, I feel Barkley and USC will remind us of USC powerhouse from the mid-2000s which produced three Heisman winners (Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush*).
Others to consider: Darron Thomas (quarterback, Oregon), Brock Osweiler (quarterback, Arizona State), Chris Polk, (running back, Washington).
*-denotes Heisman Trophy forfeited
Sorry, LSU fans, I don't see a defensive player winning the Heisman Trophy next season with all of the offensive fire-power returning. That's why I believe the SEC's true Heisman contender is South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore. As long as he fully recovers from the knee injury he sustained in 2011 by the next season, I cannot see a reason to believe he wont be gashing holes in SEC defenses. If there is one thing South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier know how to do, it's utilize his talent to benefit his teams and Lattimore may be the most talented athlete on his 2012 Gamecock team.
Lattimore played only seven games in his sophomore season at South Carolina but he still put up stats that were better than many team's starting running backs. He rushed for 818 yards, 10 touchdowns and 5.0 yards a carry. He also caught 19 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. Lattimore is real game-changer at running back position. Anyone who has watched South Carolina when he played has witness the potential that his young man brings to the game.
With much of South Carolina's offense returning for the 2012 season, I look ride on Lattimore's shoulders to the SEC Championship.
Others to Mention: Aaron Murray (Quarterback, Georgia), Trent Richardson (Running Back, Alabama)*, Tyler Wilson (Quarerback, Arkansas), Tyrann Mathieu (Defensive Back, LSU)
* if he forgoes the NFL Draft
My prediction for the results for the 78th Heisman Trophy are:
Winner: Matt Barkley, QB USC
Runner-Up: Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor
Second Runner Up: Marcus Lattimore, RB South Carolina