College football is a sport that for the most part focuses on the team aspect thanks to bowl games and conference championships, but the scope is strengthened to the individual level come December when the Heisman Trophy award is given to the best player in the country. Although the award won’t be presented for another six months, it is never to early to start thinking about players that may have what it takes to hold the stiff-arming statue and call it their own. Here’s a list of ten players that I think have a chance of winning the trophy in the 2012 season. 10. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia – Say what you will about a Georgia fan including the Bulldogs’ signal caller on this list, but I honestly think that Murray has a shot at the Heisman; however, it all depends on how well his team plays in the cutthroat SEC. Everyone accepts the fact that Heisman voters tend to lean towards players on teams with outstanding seasons more often than players on a team muddled in mediocrity, which gives a player like Murray, who isn’t exactly going to take your breath away with his mechanics and decision-making, an outside shot at making some noise. If the Bulldogs turn some heads in the polls come late November and into December, don’t be surprised if Murray isn’t at least mentioned by some as Heisman worthy.
9. Robert Woods, WR, USC – When it comes to creating a list of Heisman contenders, it is never a good idea to replicate the exact players that everyone else is pushing because it is redundant and will sometimes exclude the “where did he come from?” players that wowed the country, like a Robert Griffin III from Baylor. Robert Woods is exactly that type of player, and he has all the characteristics to have a shot at being the first wide receiver since Tim Brown to win the Heisman: he has the skills (holds USC’s record for catches and touchdowns in a game and broke the PAC-12 record for receptions in a season), already has a significant amount of eyes on him (made the All-American team in 2010 and 2011 and was a Biletnikoff Award finalist in 2011), is part of a high-ranking team (USC finds the top spot in many of the online preseason polls that are already available), and is one of the favorite targets of a high-caliber quarterback (Matt Barkley, who will you see on this list). It’s clear when guys like Larry Fitzgerald don’t win the Heisman that there’s a bit of a bias against wide receivers, but if Woods plays his cards right he just might make history.
8. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama – During Nick Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa it has been very clear that the Crimson Tide will have one of the best running backs in the nation (see Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson), and no one should expect much less from Eddie Lacy. Honestly, the biggest struggle for Lacy, who ran for 674 yards and 7 touchdowns last season, may come from those sharing the backfield with him, as the Crimson Tide have three legitimate starters at halfback with Lacy, redshirt freshman Dee Hart, and junior Jalston Fowler. I expect Lacy to win the job outright and carry the load for the Tide in what will more than likely be another double-digit win season, which could result in Alabama having its second Heisman Trophy winner in three years.
7. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia – The Mountaineers never really had many players garner respect from the rest of the nation during their time in the Big East, but it looks like a shift to the Big 12 could be just the ingredient needed for a run for the Heisman for senior quarterback Geno Smith. Smith, who threw for 407 yards and 6 touchdowns in West Virginia’s Orange Bowl victory over Clemson, played like a Big 12 quarterback in his first season playing for Dana Holgorsen last season, and you can rest assured that the Mountaineers’ offense will have to be nothing but high-flying in order for the team to compete in a conference in which it must face the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State week after week. While the competition level’s increase could mean a year of adjustment, I expect Smith to play just as well as the best quarterbacks the Big 12 currently has to offer.
6. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma – Jones was upstaged last season in Big 12 play by Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Oklahoma State’s Branden Weeden, but this year it appears that he will be the most talented quarterback in the conference. The key to Jones having a chance at the Heisman will be cutting down on his interceptions, which at 41 over three seasons have been too much of an issue. Although he does lose reliable receiver Ryan Broyles, it goes without saying that Sooners head coach Bob Stoops will provide Jones with plenty of weapons, which leaves the opportunity to make some noise all up to him.
5. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas – Prior to Bobby Petrino’s scandal this spring, I would say that Wilson was probably in the top three in many peoples’ minds in regards to the Heisman race, but the loss of the Razorbacks’ head coach puts both the team’s chances of making a national title run and Wilson’s chances of winning the heralded Heisman come season’s end in jeopardy, especially when the man running the show now in Fayetteville has a habit of doing strange things like this. In order for Wilson to have a chance to be at the top at the end of the year, he has to lead the Hogs to a convincing victory over either Alabama or LSU, and wins over both with good play out of him would practically guarantee that those in attendance at Radio City Hall in December would hear “woo pig sooie!”
4. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin – Any other year Montee Ball would have at the very least finished 2nd in the Heisman voting, but 1,923 rushing yards with 39 total touchdowns (tying an FBS record) and 13 consecutive games of two or more touchdowns (breaking an FBS record) last season was only enough to land Ball a fourth place finish. I fully expect last season’s Heisman race and Rose Bowl loss to Oregon to be motivators for Ball going into his senior season, which means that defenders that are preparing to stop the 5’11” back better get ready to get hit and hit hard.
3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina – Lattimore is an odd case in this list, as he could very well be the most talented player listed but also the most questionable. A breakout star his freshman year in Columbia, Lattimore was poised for another big season in 2011 when a knee injury in the seventh game ended his season prematurely. All signs point to Lattimore being fully recovered and ready to lead the way for South Carolina, and his status will be a storyline for all college football fans to follow. If Lattimore leaves defenders in the dust again without any recurring issues, he will find himself in the hearts of key voters; if he has more injuries, he very well may fall into the dreadfully long list of great running backs that could have been.
2. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan – Robinson has been great in his previous three seasons in Ann Arbor, and if “Shoelace” can leave enough people captivated by his performances this season he very well could give Michigan its fourth Heisman winner in school history. Probably the most important game for Robinson’s Heisman chances will come in the first week of the season, as the Wolverines will take on the Crimson Tide in Dallas Cowboys Stadium. If Robinson can tie Saban’s defense in knots through four quarters of play, he will earn the early lead in the race that could be maintained by just getting the job done game in and game out for the rest of the season.
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC – The Trojans appear to be on a collision course to a unforgettable season, and it’s all headed up by the senior from Newport Beach. If Barkley, who is considered by many to be the top prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft, leads the Trojans to at least ten wins this season, you can rest assured that he will at the very least make the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Although opposing defensive coordinators are hoping otherwise, Barkley has the capability of having an outstanding senior season and joining the likes of Pat Haden, Carson Palmer, and Matt Leinart as the greatest quarterbacks in school history.