The Heisman Trophy is college football’s most coveted individual award. Each week, Garnet Report’s Avery Wilks gives you the inside scoop on this year’s likely Heisman candidates.
1. Matt Barkley, Southern Cal Trojans
#7 QB, Sr., 6’2”, 230 lbs.
The leader and most talented player of one of college football’s premier teams, Barkley is the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman this year. On pace to break Southern Cal’s career passing and total offense records in his fourth year as a starter, Barkley is an NFL-ready quarterback who decided to come back for a shot at the national title. A Pac-12 title alone this year could cement Barkley’s fate as the 2012 recipient of the Heisman trophy.
Next Game: September 1, Barkley and the Trojans host Hawaii at 7:30 p.m. This should be as one-sided as it gets.
2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina Gamecocks
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After a phenomenal freshman season, Lattimore was an early Heisman contender last season. Now back from an ACL injury that caused him to miss the last five games of 2011 and all of spring practice, Lattimore is set to reclaim his spot as the SEC’s and possibly the nation’s best running back. Even if he lives up to expectations, the Gamecocks will need to create national excitement by picking off a top opponent like LSU for Lattimore to hoist the trophy in New York this year.
Next Game: At 7:00 pm on Thursday, August 30, Lattimore’s knee will face the ultimate test against a feisty Vanderbilt team in Nashville.
3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin Badgers
#28 RB, Sr., 5’11”, 212 lbs.
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Ball put up amazing numbers last season, tying Barry Sanders’ single-season record for touchdowns with 39 on his way to being named a Heisman finalist. Needing only 18 touchdowns this year to break the NCAA career record, Ball will likely leave Wisconsin a college football legend. He’ll be on the shortlist in New York in December if he can keep the Badgers alive in the Big Ten title race.
Next Game: At 3:30 On September 1, Ball and Wisconsin take on FCS foe Northern Iowa at home. Expect a strong performance from Ball and the Badgers, but no thriller of a game.
4. Geno Smith, West Virginia Mountaineers
After gaining national attention while lighting up Clemson’s defense in the Orange Bowl, Smith is back for more in his third year as the Mountaineers’ starting quarterback. A gifted athlete with poise and command in the pocket, Smith can do it all. It will be interesting to see how he and the #11 Mountaineers adjust to playing on a bigger stage against tougher opponents in the Big 12 this year.
Next Game: Expect a near-perfect performance from Smith on September 1 against Marshall at 12:00, though you probably won’t catch it on television.
5. Denard Robinson, Michigan Wolverines
#16 QB, Sr., 6’0”, 197 lbs.
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“Shoelace” Robinson had a down year statistically in 2011, but was nonetheless impressive in leading the Wolverines to an 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl Win over Virginia Tech. In his second year under coach Brady Hoke, Robinson should be in better command of the offense. If he can translate his athletic ability into more wins for Big Blue, Robinson can erase his label of being merely a “fun to watch” player and become a true Heisman contender.
Next Game: September 1, the Wolverines take on Alabama in Arlington, Texas at 8:00 p.m. An upset of #1 Bama would shoot Robinson straight to the top of the Heisman charts.
6. Landry Jones, Oklahoma Sooners
#12 QB, Sr., 6’4”, 218 lbs.
Oklahoma’s all-time passing leader returns for his senior season, hoping to return the Sooners to national prominence. Arguably the best pure passer in the nation, Jones spreads the field to multiple targets through the air—though Oklahoma looks thin at receiver this year. Jones can stay in Heisman contention as long as the Sooners reclaim the Big 12 crown from rival Oklahoma State.
Next Game: The Sooners square off against UTEP on September 1 at 10:30 p.m. Facing a defense that ranked 86th in 2011 should prove to be no challenge for Jones and company.
7. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon Ducks
#6 RB, So., 5’9”, 179 lbs.
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Gifted with track speed and highlight-reel moves, 2011’s Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year will be the focal point of Oregon’s offense in 2012, now that Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are gone. This sophomore is more than capable of making big plays, as he brought two kickoffs back for touchdowns last year and averaged double-digit figures in both yards per rush and yards per catch.
Next Game: On September 1, Thomas and the 5th ranked Ducks take on Arkansas State in Eugene. If Chip Kelly has his way, this game will look more like a track meet than a football game.
8. Sammy Watkins, Clemson Tigers
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Like it or not, Watkins is one of the most special talents in all of college football. An All-American as a true freshman, Watkins was the key to the Tiger’s success and ACC Title in 2011. He’s a textbook example of a playmaker, and he has as good a shot as anyone on this list to take home the trophy this year.
Next Game: Watkins will sit out Clemson’s first two games for violating team rules, but he’ll be back September 15 when Clemson hosts Furman.
9. Knile Davis, Arkansas Razorbacks
#7 RB, Jr., 6’1”, 226 lbs.
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Though he missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL, it’s hard to count Davis out of the Heisman race this year. He did some incredible things as a sophomore in 2010, and he’s had an entire year off to focus on his play this season. His explosive running style and tip-toe agility will be a treat to watch in big games this year, though he could be overshadowed by teammate Tyler Wilson.
Next Game: September 1, the Razorbacks take on Jacksonville State at 6:00 p.m. The coaching staff will likely take it easy on Davis, limiting his reps in his first game since 2010.
10. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas Razorbacks
#8 QB, Sr., 6’3”, 220 lbs.
Wilson stepped in more than capably for Ryan Mallet in 2011, garnering All-SEC Honors while leading the Hogs to an 11-2 season. Arkansas has an incredibly talented team this year, and Wilson could surge to the top of the Heisman list if he orchestrates upsets of Alabama or LSU, both of whom Arkansas face at home in Fayetteville.
Next Game: On September 1, the Razorbacks take on Jacksonville State at 6:00 p.m. Expect a strong performance from Wilson, though he won’t likely play the entire game.
11. James Franklin, Missouri Tigers
#1 QB, Jr., 6’2”, 225 lbs.
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Franklin had an outstanding season in 2011, his first as a starter. As he begins his junior campaign, he should be even better at finding the right reads in coach Gary Pinkel’s offense. Possibly more talented rushing than passing, Franklin’s style of quarterback play will be a new test for SEC defenses this year. While his chances of winning the Heisman are slim, if Franklin can do something remarkable at Missouri, we could be looking at the second coming of RG3.
Next Game: September 1, at 7:00 p.m. Franklin gets his first action of the season against FCS pushover Southeastern Louisiana.
12. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina Gamecocks
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No defensive player has won the Heisman since Charles Woodson in 1997, but one playmaker on the defensive side of the ball gets invited to New York every few years. Clowney fits the mold perfectly, and with more game time and a better understanding of the defense, he could easily compose a Heisman-caliber highlight reel. Simply put, expect to see incredible things this season.
Next Game: Tune in Thursday, August 30 to see how Clowney fares against the Vandy offensive line and Jordan Rodgers in Nashville.
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