It's never too early to talk top Heisman contenders

We're less than two months away from the start of fall drills, less than three months away from the first game and exactly six months away from the awarding of the 2012 Heisman Trophy (make your TV plans now; it will be handed out Dec. 8).

Here's a look at the top 10 preseason candidates for the award. Remember, though, that Stanford's Andrew Luck was considered a lock for the award last year at this time. In fact, none of the past five winners (Baylor's Robert Griffin last year, Auburn's Cam Newton in 2010, Alabama's Mark Ingram in '09, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford in '08 and Florida's Tim Tebow in '07) were preseason favorites in the years they won it. Heck, only Griffin was even a returning starter.

The awards watch

The top preseason candidates for each individual award:

Davey O'Brien (top quarterback)

1. Matt Barkley, USC
2. Denard Robinson, Michigan
3. Geno Smith, West Virginia

Doak Walker (best running back)

1. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
3. Knile Davis, Arkansas

Biletnikoff (most outstanding wide receiver)

1. Robert Woods, USC
2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson
3. Marqise Lee, USC

Mackey (top tight end)

1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
2. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
3. Ryan Otten, San Jose

Rimington (most outstanding center)

1. Barrett Jones, Alabama
2. Khaled Holmes, USC
3. Dalton Freeman, Clemson

Outland (best interior lineman)

1. DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
2. C Barrett Jones, Alabama
3. DT Kawann Short, Purdue

Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)

1. LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
2. CB David Amerson, North Carolina State
3. CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

Butkus (most outstanding linebacker)

1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia
2. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
3. Sean Porter, Texas A&M

Thorpe (most outstanding defensive back)

1. CB David Amerson, North Carolina State
2. CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
3. CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

Lou Groza (top kicker)

1. Caleb Sturgis, Florida
2. Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
3. Brett Maher, Nebraska

Ray Guy (top punter)

1. Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
2. Brad Wing, LSU
3. Jackson Rice, Oregon

10. LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Buzz: If a defender is going to contend for the Heisman, it has to be a guy who makes a lot of big plays. That's Jones. He had 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss last season, his first as a starter. Georgia's 3-4 defensive set needs the outside linebackers to provide consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback, and Jones does that. His backstory helps, too (he injured his neck as a true freshman at USC in 2009, and doctors there would not clear him to play any more football).

9. QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Buzz: He threw for 3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, his first in coordinator Chad Morris' offense. He has big-time weapons on the outside and at tailback, so his numbers should increase this season. He also should be more comfortable in the scheme, and his running ability gives him a chance to score 10 TDs on the ground.

[Related: Mike Huguenin: Get to know the new college football coaches now before they're gone]

8. WR De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
Buzz: Thomas should be able to make the jump from "fun-to-use spare part" to "huge part of the offense." He scored 18 TDs last season as a true freshman – seven as a rusher, nine as a receiver and two as a kickoff returner. Those 18 TDs came on 140 total touches; for those lacking math skills, that's a touchdown on every 7.8 touches. With TB LaMichael James gone, how many more touches does Thomas get this season? (That maniacal laughing you hear is Chip Kelly devising more plays for Thomas.)

7. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Buzz: He was one of the preseason favorites last season, but slumped late and wasn't even second-team All-Big 12. He has a nice arm and fits well into OU's offense. Still, the loss of senior WR Ryan Broyles and the uncertainty among the remaining wide receivers makes you wonder if he again can throw for 4,000 yards (he has thrown for at least 4,400 in each of the past two seasons). He also needs to cut down on his interceptions (15 last season and 41 in his career).

6. QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Buzz: Coach Bobby Petrino's departure makes Wilson an interesting case. Can Wilson be as successful as he was last season (3,638 yards, 24 TDs) without Petrino calling the plays? (Well, there will be a Petrino calling the plays, but it will be Paul and not Bobby.) In addition, the return of stud TB Knile Davis, who missed last season with an ankle injury, may mean a bigger emphasis on the ground game this fall. Indeed, it's possible Davis becomes the Hogs' top Heisman candidate.

[Related: Deposed coach Bobby Petrino donates Arkansas gear to Goodwill]

5. RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Buzz: Forget Steve Spurrier's past success as a coach whose quarterbacks torched opposing secondaries. Lattimore is the key if the Gamecocks are going to win the SEC East this fall. He played in just seven games last season before suffering a knee injury, but still ran for 818 yards and 10 TDs. He has scored 27 TDs in his two seasons and has proved to be a workhorse.

4. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
Buzz: Smith was a great fit in coach Dana Holgorsen's pass-happy version of the spread last season, throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns. He has excellent weapons at wide receiver and should enjoy another productive season. The biggest question is the jump in competition from the Big East to the Big 12. Then again, Big 12 teams aren't exactly known for their defenses.

3. QB Denard Robinson, Michigan
Buzz: This will be the final go-round for one of the most exciting players to ever wear the maize-and-blue. Robinson has 8,160 yards of total offense and has been responsible for 75 TDs in his career. At times last season, he didn't look entirely comfortable in coordinator Al Borges' offense, yet he still was responsible for 36 touchdowns. "Shoelace" is at his best as an improviser, which means he is going to have perhaps the best highlight package of any player in the nation this season.

2. RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Buzz: Ball was a TD machine for the Badgers last season, scoring 33 rushing TDs and 39 overall; he also rushed for 1,923 yards and surprised a lot of folks by returning for his senior season. He again will have the privilege of running behind one of the nation's biggest – and best – offensive lines. A scary thought for opponents: Ball could have an even bigger role in the offense this season because of the loss of QB Russell Wilson.

1. QB Matt Barkley, USC
Buzz: As soon as he announced in December that he was returning for his senior season, Barkley became the early Heisman frontrunner and USC became a legit contender for the national title. He would be the third Trojans quarterback and fourth Trojans player to win the Heisman in 11 years. Barkley is going to be a rare four-year starting quarterback for USC and should graduate with most of the school's important passing records. He passed for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdowns last season (with just seven interceptions); he had five games with at least four TD passes and eight with at least three. Expect more huge numbers, as he will be throwing to the nation's best wide receiver duo (Marqise Lee and Robert Woods).

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