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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Early Season Heisman Hopefulls


1. Chris Wells, Ohio State, RB
In 2007: Rushed for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns on 274 carries.
Why he'll win it: He's the second leading returning rusher from '07, and figures to have an excellent chance to reach 2,000 yards. He accumulated more than half of his rushing total (967 yards) in the final six games of last season while facing four opponents which ranked among the nation's top 36 in rushing defense. Wells also had fewer than 20 carries in four games and played with a sore foot, which is healed now. Ohio State returns four starting offensive linemen and receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, so opponents will have to at least respect the pass. The Buckeyes play USC in September. If Wells has a good showing, he could take the early lead in the race. He's also the top offensive player on a national championship contender.
Why he won't: USC's defense ranked fourth against the run last season, and seven starters are back. If the Trojans keep Wells in check, some voters might hold that against him.
2. Tim Tebow, Florida, QB
In 2007: Passed for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for 895 yards and 25 touchdowns en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.
Why he'll win it: No one ever doubted Tebow's running ability, but he proved himself a tremendous passer in '07 by completing 67 percent of his passing attempts and throwing only six interceptions. Three of Tebow's top four receivers return, and he'll be protected by an experienced offensive line. Archie Griffin remains the only two-time Heisman recipient, but Tebow could be next. He showed he can break trends and make history last year by becoming the first sophomore to win it. Tebow also was the first recipient from a team with four losses since Notre Dame's Tim Brown in 1987. Also, Florida's defense could have problems this year, so the offense will be counted on to post big numbers.
Why he won't: Let's face it. Accounting for 57 touchdowns was a big reason Tebow won the Heisman in '07. This year the wealth may be spread more evenly with a presumably healthy Percy Harvin and speedy new running backs Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody. Having so many potential stars makes it more difficult for one to stand out.
3. Chase Daniel, Missouri, QB
In 2007: Passed for 4,306 yards 33 touchdowns to earn Big 12 offensive player of the year award. He was also a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Why he'll win it: A productive quarterback of a national championship contender is the definition of a Heisman contender. Daniel is undoubtedly productive, having passed for more than 7,800 yards over the last two seasons. And Missouri, which went 12-2 last season, is a national championship contender. Daniel figures to post another big statistical year, and the Tigers figure to have a double-digit win total again. By the way, Daniel was fourth in last year's voting. Four players have won the Heisman after finishing fourth the previous year. They are USC's Charles White in 1978, Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett in 1976, UCLA's Gary Beban in 1967 and Georgia's Frank Sinkwich in 1941.
Why he won't: Well, Daniel struggled against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game last season. There's a good chance the Tigers and Sooners could meet for the conference crown again this year. Some voters might be inclined to label Daniel as a "system" quarterback, and that could work against him.
4. Pat White, West Virginia, QB
In 2007: Passed for 1,724 yards and rushed for 1,335 yards while accounting for 28 touchdowns. Earned Big East offensive player of the year award.
Why he'll win it: No quarterback – not even Tebow – is a more electrifying runner. In fact, White might be the nation's most dangerous open-field runner. His passing ability is underrated, too. White completed more than 66 percent of his attempts with only four interceptions. West Virginia could be in the national championship hunt, which will enhance his candidacy. He'll have a national TV audience for a late October game against Auburn - a great opportunity to make a big statement. Additionally, the last two seasons he had to share the Heisman hype with teammate Steve Slaton. Not this season.
Why he won't: Some voters might demand gaudy passing stats from a quarterback, and White doesn't have his top two receivers from '07. White also has a tendency to get hurt, and sophomore running back Noel Devine could steal at least some of the spotlight.
5. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia, RB
In 2007: Rushed for 1,334 yards with 14 touchdowns to earn All-SEC honors.
Why he'll win it: Moreno had a tremendous freshman season, and he's a huge reason the Bulldogs are strong national championship contenders. He carried more than 20 times in just five games, and averaged 153 yards in those contests. That included a brow-raising 188-yard, three-touchdown performance against Florida. Moreno should get more carries, which will figure to increase his numbers. If Georgia remains in the national championship picture, Moreno will remain in the Heisman picture.
Why he won't: He could get overshadowed by Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford doesn't expect to put up the kind of eye-popping stats that could upstage other premier quarterbacks, but he could draw attention away from Moreno. And even though Moreno should get more carries, that doesn't necessarily mean he will. Coach Mark Richt likes to spread the work around. Another obstacle for Moreno: No SEC running back has won the Heisman since Bo Jackson in 1985.
6. Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech, WR
In 2007: Earned All-America recognition and won the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation with 134 receptions, 1,982 yards and 22 touchdowns. He did all that as a freshman.
Why he'll win it: Crabtree emerged as the nation's best receiver, and the word out of Lubbock is that he's better. Texas Tech throws frequently, so he has a good chance to at least equal last season's outrageous production. Some believe the Red Raiders can be a factor in the national championship race. If that proves true, Crabtree likely will be the main reason. He's in danger of being overlooked because of quarterback Graham Harrell, who led the nation in passing in '07. But Tech quarterbacks typically lead the nation is passing. There is nothing typical about Crabtree.
Why he won't: All the receivers that have won the Heisman – Desmond Howard in '91, Tim Brown in '87, Johnny Rodgers in '72 – were also dangerous kick returners. Crabtree doesn't return kicks. Texas Tech might need a championship year for Crabtree to win the Heisman. That would likely require a win at Oklahoma, which Tech has never done. Crabtree might face scrutiny for a schedule that includes seven teams which last season ranked 84th or worse in the country in pass defense. Two more opponents are Division I-AA programs.
7. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma, QB
In 2007: Led the nation in passing efficiency with a 176.5 rating as a redshirt freshman. He completed almost 70 percent of his attempts while passing for 3,121 yards and 36 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.
Why he'll win it: The quarterback of a national championship contender rule certainly applies here. Bradford has a strong, accurate arm and he's a year older –and presumably a year better. He's also behind perhaps the nation's best offensive line and has experienced receivers returning.
Why he won't: Bradford was shaky in road games last season. He has to prove he can be as effective on the road as he was in Norman. There's always the concern of a "sophomore slump," though it certainly didn't happen to Tebow. Bradford also isn't much of a threat to run, but running back DeMarco Murray is. Murray could draw attention away from Bradford. Perhaps you've noticed that OU running backs have a history of doing well in Heisman Trophy voting.
8. LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh, RB
In 2007: Rushed for 1,328 yards and 14 touchdowns to earn All-Big East and freshman All-American acclaim.
Why he'll win it: The speedy and elusive McCoy exceeded 100 rushing yards in seven games last season even though his offense struggled mightily in the passing game. The Panthers ranked 104th nationally in pass offense after losing starting quarterback Bill Stull to a season-ending injury in the first game. Leading receiver Derek Kinder was out before the season started. They're both back this year, which will force defenses to respect the pass. That should create opportunities in the running game. Pitt alum Tony Dorsett, the '76 Heisman Trophy recipient, has said McCoy reminds him of himself. An endorsement like that never hurts.
Why he won't: The Panthers are coming off a five-win season and likely will need to improve dramatically for McCoy to have a chance. No one has won the Heisman from a team with fewer than nine victories in 21 years. The Panthers will have two new tackles starting on the offensive line.
9. Jeremy Maclin, Missouri, WR
In 2007: Maclin earned All-America honors after posting 2,776 all-purpose yardage as a freshman. He was the only player in the country to score touchdowns via rush, reception, punt return and kickoff return.
Why he'll win it: Maclin is a lethal weapon on what is expected to be one of the country's best teams. He had 80 receptions a year ago, and his role in the offense may expand. And unlike Crabtree, Maclin is a tremendous kick return specialist.
Why he won't: He's likely the second best candidate on a team with two. Daniel likely trumps him.
10. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State, LB
In 2007: Earned All-American honors for the second consecutive year after posting 121 tackles and two interceptions. He won the Butkus Award, while also finishing as a finalist for the Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik awards, among others.
Why he'll win it: Laurinaitis is excellent against the run and pass, which is evidenced by his career totals of 245 tackles, seven interceptions and 10 passes defended. He's the focal point of the Ohio State defense, which figures to be among the country's best. The Buckeyes are expected to be national championship contenders again, and defense is a big reason. An early game against USC provides a chance for Laurinaitis to further distinguish himself on a national stage.
Why he won't: He plays defense. Only one primarily defensive player has ever won the Heisman.

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