Just because the calendar says February doesn't mean it’s too early to
begin discussing this year’s primary contenders for the Heisman Trophy.
Of course, this is a fluid process and names will come and go between
now and September, but barring injuries or suspensions, the favorites
today are still going to be the favorites six months from now. With
that in mind, there’s no harm in stirring up the Heisman pot, while
getting a little head start on a race that had already begun before last
year’s BCS Championship Game in Glendale had ended.
20. RB Branden Ore, Jr., Virginia Tech
Fund a campaign: Ore’s breakthrough sophomore season included a
pair of 200-yard games within a five-day span in October and an ACC-best
112 yards total yards a game. He’s a rugged, old-school Hokie, who’ll
be the Offensive MVP of a program that could get maximum coverage as a
national championship contender.
Buy new wrestling mats: Ore’s real good, but he lacks the
highlight reel plays that force voters to pay attention. He averaged
less than five yards a carry in 2006 and rarely broke off the big run,
which will earn a kid all-conference recognition, but not a lot of
19. RB Jonathan Stewart, Jr., Oregon
Fund a campaign: Pound for pound, Stewart has as much ability and
upside as any back in the country, blending brute force with the ability
to bounce outside and run past or through overmatched defensive backs.
Even in Oregon’s spread offense, he’s far too talented to be relegated
to a complimentary role. More than just a big-time back, Stewart’s
honing his pass-catching skills and is already one of the country’s
premier kick returners.
Buy new wrestling mats: Stewart has yet to remain healthy in
either of his two seasons in Eugene, battling painful and nagging ankle
injuries both years. He toughed through it last year, but when it comes
to this race, a couple of scratches means a quick Heisman hook.
18. RB Tashard Choice, Sr., Georgia Tech
Fund a campaign: Choice steps outside Calvin Johnson’s shadow one
year after leading the ACC in rushing and going for more than 100 yards
in nine of his last ten games. A local phenomenon for much of the
season, he amassed some important national style points by shredding
West Virginia for a career-best 169 yards in the Gator Bowl.
Buy new wrestling mats: If an all-timer like Johnson labored to
crack the top 10 last year, imagine how difficult it’ll be for Choice, a
very good, yet still pretty anonymous back. Unless Tech is in the hunt
for another ACC title, he’ll struggle to capture the attention of voters
outside the southern region.
17. RB James Davis, Jr., Clemson
Fund a campaign: Davis possesses all of the tools to be an
All-American back in his third season with the Tigers. He’s got
breakaway speed on a 210-pound frame, terrific vision and a nose for the
goal line. Davis has scored 26 rushing touchdowns in two years,
including an ACC-best 17 last fall.
Buy new wrestling mats: C.J. Spiller is way too explosive to save
for spot duty, so Davis is going to lose plenty of carries and spotlight
opportunities to his sophomore counterpart. Both backs should be
worried that a rebuilt Tiger offense will enter 2007 with a new
quarterback and four inexperienced offensive linemen.
16. QB Tim Tebow, Soph., Florida
Fund a campaign: The hype machine has been cranking out Tebow
tidbits since the moment he stepped foot in Gainesville, so forget the
notion that a kid with no starting experience hasn’t earned this
slotting. He’s a media magnet with a chance to dramatically maximize
his exposure now that Chris Leak is out of the picture and the training
wheels are coming off.
Buy new wrestling mats: Running periodic keepers at scheduled
intervals in a game is one thing. Being the leader of the defending
national champs is an assignment of an entirely different magnitude.
With a monster target on his chest, Tebow must prove he can make plays
with his arm and be a winning SEC quarterback.
15. WR DeSean Jackson, Jr., Cal
Fund a campaign: A quintessential long-ball hitter, Jackson is
arguably the most dynamic and electrifying player in the country.
Whether he’s taking a hitch pass or fielding a punt, he’s a constant
threat to deliver a sensational, highlight reel performance. Jackson
already has five career returns for touchdowns, which is a real
Buy new wrestling mats: Even when they moonlight on special
teams, receivers win the Heisman about once every generation. Once
opponents wise up and completely ban punting the ball to Jackson, he’ll
lose the one hook that makes him so unique.
14. QB Sam Keller, Sr., Nebraska
Fund a campaign: In Keller, the Huskers have found an ideal
bridge from Zac Taylor to whoever is next in line at the position. The
Arizona State transfer is a veteran of three Pac-10 seasons, has an NFL
arm and a new offense that’ll encourage him to use it. If, as expected,
Nebraska is in the hunt for a Big 12 crown, Keller’s stock goes even
Buy new wrestling mats: Keller’s a terrific free agent pickup,
however, for all the attention, he’s only started eight games his entire
career. When we last saw him in 2005, he was imploding in the face of
the USC defense, a performance that’ll sink his Heisman hopes if he
repeats it Sept. 15 against the Trojans.
13. RB P.J. Hill, Soph., Wisconsin
Fund a campaign: After just one season of watching Hill thunder
through Big Ten defenses, it was obvious he was born to a Badger back.
Tapping into his inner-Dayne, he lumbered for 15 touchdowns and 1,569
yards in 2006, tops among the nation’s freshmen. Wisconsin is good
enough to take the Big Ten, which would really supercharge his
Buy new wrestling mats: Unlike last year, Hill can forget about
sneaking up on anyone. He’ll be a marked man from the opener,
especially since the passing attack might offer less support without
John Stocco at the controls.
12. QB Erik Ainge, Sr., Tennessee
Fund a campaign: Ainge regained his freshman form in 2006,
authoring one of last season’s comeback stories of the year. With
similar strides in his second full season with offensive coordinator
David Cutcliffe, he’ll be in the thick of the race, especially if
Tennessee can win the SEC title.
Buy new wrestling mats: Ainge was good last season, but a lot of
the credit for his rebound goes to receivers Robert Meachem and Jayson
Swain, both of whom are off to the NFL. All but five of his 19
touchdown passes went to the duo, production which will be real
difficult to replace.
11. QB Chad Henne, Sr., Michigan
Fund a campaign: As a talented fourth-year starter with the Big
Ten favorites, Henne is in a real nice position to become the first
Wolverine quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. Coming off a third
straight season with at least 20 touchdown passes, he’s got the
supporting cast to keep the good times rolling in Ann Arbor.
Buy new wrestling mats: Michigan has certainly opened up the
playbook over the years, but it’s still too conservative to support a
quarterback’s quest for individual awards. Plus, Michael Hart and Mario
Manningham are sure to siphon off some of his attention.
10. RB Ian Johnson, Jr., Boise State
Fund a campaign: Boise State is all the rage these days, and a
big chunk of the credit belongs to Johnson, who ripped off 1,714 yards
and 25 touchdowns in last year’s perfect season. The number of voters
that either don’t know or don’t respect what he’s accomplished shrunk
markedly after the Broncos beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
Buy new wrestling mats: After what Boise and Johnson accomplished
last year, what do they possibly do for an encore? With the bar set so
high, anything less than another sweep through the schedule and monster
statistical season from Johnson will be perceived as a letdown by some
9. RB Ray Rice, Jr., Rutgers
Fund a campaign: Along with head coach Greg Schiano, Rice became
the poster boy for Rutgers’ unbelievable 2006 carpet ride into the
uncharted territory waters of poll positions and BCS bowl contention.
He ran for 20 touchdowns, 1,794 yards and nearly a spot in New York City
as a Heisman finalist, finishing seventh in last year’s vote.
Buy new wrestling mats: Has the novelty worn off a little
regarding Rutgers and Rice? Last year was one of those
once-every-decade Cinderella moments, but even a solid season in 2007
won’t match that level of national interest in the junior or his Scarlet
8. QB Colt McCoy, Soph., Texas
Fund a campaign: As a freshman replacing a legend, McCoy actually
played his way into this discussion last year before he got hurt and the
Longhorns got upended by Kansas State and Texas A&M. He performed with
uncanny poise and promise throughout much of 2006, finishing an
unexpected No. 8 nationally in passing efficiency. With the foundation
set, the sky’s the limit for McCoy.
Buy new wrestling mats: Inexplicably, there’ll be pockets of
voters that’ll demand more from McCoy if he’s to become the first
sophomore to cop the award. Losing Justin Blalock, Kasey Studdard and
Lyle Sendlein could mean more sacks and less time to throw than last
7. RB Michael Hart, Sr., Michigan
Fund a campaign: Hart is not the most glamorous of the
Wolverines’ offensive stars, but he is the most valuable, something the
savvy voter recognizes. With an entire season at full strength, he ran
for a career-best 1,562 yards and 14 touchdowns, perpetually moving the
chains and protecting the ball.
Buy new wrestling mats: Playing with Chad Henne and Mario Manningham
is great for team goals, but a potential drain on individual honors. As
productive and valuable as Hart is to Michigan, his running style
generates a yawn from many voters looking for a little more flash. Can
he stay healthy for two years in-a-row?
6. RB Steve Slaton, Jr., West Virginia
Fund a campaign: For two consecutive years, Slaton has been pure
dynamite with the ball in his hands. No one in the country goes from
zero to six points faster, which makes for attention-grabbing numbers
and a ton of free advertisements on Saturday night and Sunday morning
Buy new wrestling mats: At some point in the second half of last
season, teammate Pat White pulled even with Slaton in Heisman circles,
chipping away at his support base. He underwent surgery last month for
a wrist injury, raising questions about his ability to stay healthy for
a full season.
5. QB Brian Brohm, Sr., Louisville
Fund a campaign: Plenty of factors point to Brohm making a
serious run at Heisman immortality. He’s one of the two or three best
pure passers in America, plays on a ranked team with an improving
national identity and welcomes back his three top receivers from a year
ago. Oh, and some voters have a soft spot for kids, such as Brohm, that
forego guaranteed riches in the NFL for one more year at the college
Buy new wrestling mats: As good as Brohm’s been for the
Louisville program, he’s yet to play an entire injury-free season,
making for very pedestrian Heisman numbers. He’s got just 41 career
touchdown passes, which isn’t going to cut it in this field.
4. QB Pat White, Jr., West Virginia
Fund a campaign: White will enter 2007 with the wind at his back
courtesy of a terrific second-half of last year and a courageous effort
leading the Mountaineers from behind in the Gator Bowl. He’s got all
the speed and game-breaking ability of teammate Steve Slaton to go along
with an improving passing game that’s going to paralyze defenses on
Buy new wrestling mats: Durability is a major concern for White,
who’s not very big and takes a ton of hits roaming outside the pocket.
He and Slaton are inevitably going to split votes when ballots are cast
3. QB John David Booty, Sr., USC
Fund a campaign: No contender left a more lasting impression for
voters to process in the off-season than Booty, who torched a real good
Michigan D for 390 yards and four touchdowns in the Rose Bowl. The fact
that he’s the starting quarterback for USC, the likely pre-season No.1
team, is enough for him to belong on everyone’s top 5 at this early
stage of the debate.
Buy new wrestling mats: Booty lacked consistency in 2006, which
will not be helped by the departures of top receivers Dwayne Jarrett and
Steve Smith. Of course the Trojans are jammed with blue-chip
replacements, but has everyone forgotten how many balls Jarrett dropped
in his first season taking over for Mike Williams? Booty could suffer
through a similarly frustrating year as his young receivers mature.
2. QB Colt Brennan, Sr., Hawaii
Fund a campaign: Not too many people outside the WAC knew Brennan
this time last year. After breaking or tying 19 NCAA records, including
single-season touchdown passes, he will not have to overcome that hurdle
this fall. Brennan is suddenly a household name, riding a tidal wave of
media attention into the upcoming season.
Buy new wrestling mats: If 58 touchdown passes aren’t enough to
win the Heisman, maybe voters just aren’t ready to give the award to a
kid from the WAC. Unless the Warriors are this year’s Boise State, too
many voters will scoff at Brennan’s production as a product of his
system and competition for him to win.
1. RB Darren McFadden, Jr., Arkansas
Fund a campaign: Last year’s runner-up to Troy Smith has the
potential to be even better in 2006 now that offensive coordinator Gus
Malzahn is gone, putting to bed the debate over the direction of the
offense. McFadden is the nation’s premier running back and new
coordinator David Lee is going to treat him as such, meaning more of the
run-pass Wildcat package that was wildly popular a year ago.
Buy new wrestling mats: Malzahn and Mitch Mustain may be gone,
but the residue from last year’s power struggle still exists with Team
Turmoil. If the Hogs don’t repeat as SEC West champs, a distinct
possibility, McFadden won’t repeat last year’s second place finish.
Losing three talented linemen means he may also struggle to find holes