Ridiculously Early Heisman Rankings

Posted Feb 25, 2007

It's never too early to start the hype machine going for the Heisman race. This year's battle should be wide-open and tremendously entertaining with a slew of exciting candidates led by Arkansas RB Darren McFadden.


By Richard Cirminiello 

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 Heisman support.

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 attention-grabber.  
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 higher.    
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 campaign.     
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 voters.

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 Knights.

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 year.    

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 highlight shows. 
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 level.    
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 play-action.  
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 in December. 

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 this fall.