Once again, it’s time to begin the list for the year's top Heisman Trophy candidates. As I have said before, this award does not necessarily recognize the best player in the country but more often the best player at the right position on the right team. It probably is going to a quarterback or running back on a team that is contending for the national championship. I look as much to the chances for a team’s success as I do to the actual playing position, statistics and abilities of the particular athlete.
Combining all these attributes gives you the best chance of predicting who eventually will win the Heisman Trophy. So without further explanation, here is my first list of Heisman hopefuls.
1. Brady Quinn (QB, Sr., Notre Dame)
Without a doubt Quinn is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Such is the power of being the quarterback for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. No one will get as much publicity throughout the year and no one will be in as many featured television games. As long as Notre Dame stays in the national championship picture, Quinn will stay atop the Heisman leaderboard.
Of course, he has earned the right to be exactly where he is. Last year he threw for almost 4,000 yards and 32 touchdown passes, with only seven interceptions. He will leave the storied program at South Bend with almost every passing record in the books.
And finally, his surrounding cast couldn’t be better. Not only does he return his top receiver and running back but he again will be mentored by arguably the best play-calling, offensive-coordinating head coach in the country, Charlie Weis.
2. Adrian Peterson (RB, Jr., Oklahoma)
Peterson goes into the season as the No. 1 running back in the country, and if the trophy were based on talent or NFL ability alone he might be the frontrunner. However, much of Peterson’s success will depend on how well the quarterback plays at Oklahoma this year and whether the Sooners can develop a passing attack that will keep defenses from overloading the box on the running game.
Two years ago, QB Jason White led a balanced Oklahoma offense, and Peterson rushed for 1,925 yards to finish second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. Last season when the passing game disappeared, defenses put nine men on the line of scrimmage and Peterson rushed for “only” 1,108 yards. With the recent dismissal of starting quarterback Rhett Bomar, the Heisman chances for Peterson appear dependent as much on the quarterback replacement as they do the nation’s best running back.
3. Troy Smith (QB, Sr., Ohio State)
If Troy Smith can lead the top-ranked Buckeyes to the national championship game, he will be hard to beat for the Heisman Trophy. Such is the importance of his team's success to a quarterback in the Heisman race.
Smith caught everyone’s attention at the end of last season when he accounted for 337 total yards against Michigan and followed that with a 408-yard performance against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Overall, this multiple-threat quarterback passed for 2,282 yards and rushed for 611, accounting for 27 combined touchdowns. A great game in Ohio State’s nationally televised game against Texas on Sept. 9 would go a long way toward Smith’s Heisman chances.
4. Ted Ginn Jr. (WR/KR/PR, Jr., Ohio State)
Ted Ginn Jr. will carry the distinction this year as college football’s most exciting player. As a wide receiver and kick/punt returner for Ohio State, Ginn will have to fill up a highlight reel with eye-catching plays to outdistance the quarterbacks and running backs in the field. The last true wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy was Desmond Howad 15 years ago (although defensive back Charles Woodson did put in a few snaps at the position).
Statistically, Ginn showed his versatility last year as he caught four touchdown passes, rushed for a touchdown, and returned a kickoff and a punt for two more. If he can add to those numbers this year and throw in a reverse and maybe a pass or two, he just might steal the show.
5. Chris Leak (QB, Sr., Florida)
How can you be the preseason first-team all-conference quarterback in the SEC and still be the second favorite quarterback on your own team? Such is the pressure on Florida's quarterback to lead his team back to a conference and national championship. Many Gator faithful feel that freshman sensation Tim Tebow has the stuff to take Florida to the next level.
But if head coach Urban Meyer is going to perform his second-season magic on the Gators just as he did for Utah and Bowling Green, it is going to be behind the arm – not the legs – of senior Chris Leak. After throwing for 2,639 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, he will have three veteran and talented receivers to work with this year.
6. Pat White (QB, Soph., West Virginia)
Yes, Pat White is only a sophomore, but what he is capable of doing this year at the quarterback position for the Mountaineers puts him in a pretty enviable position in this Heisman Trophy race. If success at quarterback is based mostly on leading your team to victory, then White could end up the most successful quarterback in college football because West Virginia may have the best chance to end the season undefeated.
White is, hands down, the best running quarterback we have seen in college football in the last decade, and he operates the most cutting-edge spread option offense in the land. If he can develop his vertical passing game – forcing the secondary to focus on pass defense and run support at the same time – look out college football and look out Heisman Trophy.
7. Kenny Irons (RB, Sr., Auburn)
From what I am hearing around the country, Auburn may be the No. 1 dark-horse candidate to win the national championship. The main reason is the return of senior running back Kenny Irons. Head coach Tommy Tuberville is in his comfort zone when he has a veteran quarterback, a stingy defense and a thousand-yard rusher at tailback. That is exactly what he has this year.
Knowing what Auburn has done in the past with two-tailback systems, don’t be surprised if Irons – the big man in the backfield – gets close to 2,000 yards this season. Last season, Irons did not become a true starter until the sixth game and averaged nearly 150 yards per game from that point on for a total of 1,293 yards.
8. Brian Brohm (QB, Jr., Louisville)
Last season I was the television analyst for the Louisville-West Virginia game, and although West Virginia came back to win in triple overtime, Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm was the one player who stuck out in my mind after the game. He looked like a man among boys. With his physical size and the way he threw the ball, he looked like he could already to be playing in the NFL. Brohm could prevent Brady Quinn from being the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft if he decides to come out after this year.
Before getting hurt in the Syracuse game last season, Brohm had thrown for 2,883 yards and 19 touchdowns at an impressive 69-percent completion rate. If this year's Cardinals can get by Miami on Sept. 16, they might host West Virginia with a chance to go undefeated and push Brohm’s Heisman stock through the ceiling.
9. Dwayne Jarrett (WR, Jr., USC)
There’s no way you can have a Heisman Trophy list without a Southern California player on board. Three of the last four winners have been from USC, and the Trojans are loaded again. The premier player and likely Heisman candidate for USC this year is wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett. He led the Trojans in receptions last season as a sophomore with 91 catches for 1,274 yards and 16 touchdowns. If a new quarterback can come through, Jarrett again will be the main target. USC is favored to win the Pac-10 again and, because of its overall talent, will be in the hunt for another national title.
10. Marshawn Lynch (RB, Jr., California)
California head coach Jeff Tedford may be best known for developing NFL quarterbacks, but if you have watched his teams closely you could just as easily say that about the running game. The Golden Bears know how to run the football and, with their top-10 preseason ranking, have a great chance to propel tailback Marshawn Lynch into the Heisman Trophy picture. Although Lynch missed two games last season he still rushed for 1,246 yards. His backup, Justin Forsett, added 999 yards, so if Lynch can stay healthy he should put up some pretty sporty numbers.
- Heisman Trophy
- Notre Dame
- Adrian Peterson