Dual threat if there ever was one, Denard Robinson spent the better part of the last three seasons electrifying Wolverine fans up and down the field and around the country. Last season saw the junior rush for more than 1,000 yards while passing for more than 2,000 for the second straight season, the only player in NCAA history to reach those levels in two consecutive years. Those things alone place Robinson squarely in the Heisman conversation coming into the 2012 season.
Clearly, the stats are there to support a Heisman campaign, however, as has been the case in the past, concerns linger about Robinson’s ability as a complete passer. If he aspires to a Tim Tebow-like season (and the Heisman that could come with it), he must bring his production as a passer to a level that is commensurate with the best quarterbacks in the country. Robinson’s career 4:3 touchdown to interception ratio will simply not cut it if Robinson hopes to contend for the trophy this season.
Matt Barkley has been through a lot as USC’s quarterback. In 2011, the bowl-ineligible Trojans prospered from Barkley’s experience, finishing 10-2 as Barkley broke the Pac-12’s single-season passing touchdowns record and all the other things seemed to melt away. Faced now instead with hype and expectation similar to that of the USC-dominated mid-2000s, Barkley is the media’s preseason favorite for the award.
A junior season of 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns will do that for any quarterback, let alone one also expected to lead a national title contending team of Trojans. Difficult games await USC in the deepening Pac-12, but if USC can stay in the national title race all season, Barkley is likely — at the very least — to stay in the Heisman conversation all year.
Few running backs enter their sophomore season with as much hype as Marcus Lattimore did in 2011. Coming off a 1,000-yard freshman rushing season against SEC defenses, Lattimore readied to contend for a Heisman trophy as a sophomore at South Carolina. It all seemed in place until the South Carolina running back tore his ACL against Mississippi State midway through his season.
Suddenly, Lattimore was out of the conversation and out of the national consciousness, but 2012 is a new year, and the back who electrified the SEC as an 18- and 19-year-old for 1,197 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns is back again to light Gamecocks opponents up. His 818 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games in 2011 isn’t exactly Heisman-winning pace, but playing under the bright lights of SEC football, Lattimore’s production is sure to put him in the conversation all season.
In a conference prideful of the way its defenses make teams fight for every yard, Montee Ball certainly was worth his weight on the gridiron in 2011. Wisconsin’s star running back torched defenses for nearly 2,000 yards rushing and 39 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns — tying the all-time FBS record.
Though it will be difficult to match his record-breaking junior season, anything that approaches his 2011 output against an even stouter Big Ten crop of defenders will easily position Ball for a second selection as a Heisman finalist. Finishing fourth in last year’s Heisman balloting and then dropping the Rose Bowl to Oregon was probably not the finish Ball envisioned, but if the Badgers can continue an unprecedented run of success in 2012, expect Ball to stay on the national consciousness all season.
Sure, 4,300 yards and 31 touchdowns in any FBS conference is impressive, but in Geno Smith’s case, those impressive numbers came against a Big East conference who’s national profile hasn’t often warranted its stars being recognized on a national and Heisman level in the last decade. Smith will play his last season with West Virginia in a new conference and get the chance to prove his worth all over again.
West Virginia moves to the Big 12 this year, and although not necessarily known for its defense (Cowboys, Wildcats, Sooners and Bears seem more of the offensive mind these days), the conference is certainly visible in a way the Big East often is not. With a stat line like the one he put up in 2011, the senior quarterback might just be able to give the Mountaineers not only with a chance for a return trip to the BCS, but also a shot at personal achievement — in this case, well-deserved consideration for the Heisman trophy.
Others to Watch
Helmer of by no means bad, but underwhelming, Oklahoma teams in back-to-back years, senior quarterback Landry Jones has seen his preseason Heisman hype dissipate the last two years. Both years saw 4,400 or more passing yards, but no invite to NYC. Could more of the same in 2012 change that?
If it’s possible, Tyler Wilson’s junior season as Arkansas’s quarterback — all 3,600 yards, 24 touchdowns and 11 wins — was largely forgotten in the all-SEC title game bonanza. Though Arkansas again enters the season outside of the seemingly BCS-ensued preseason SEC top-two, Wilson certainly has a shot at some Heisman attention his senior season.
From the moment De’Anthony Thomas hit the field during his first game as a Duck, it was clear he was a spark plug in the Duck mold — fast, efficient and great to watch. Racking up an even 1,200 yards of combined rushing and receiving in 2011, the freshman was a factor all over the field. Could he be even more in 2012?
A national champion quarterback has rarely been as unheralded as A.J. McCarron. Perhaps the perception belied the fact that Crimson Tide faithful widely lauded McCarron for his work in the title game despite the lack of eye-catching statistics. The junior’s 2012 season might have a little more attention turned its way.
The honor of SEC Freshman of the Year hasn’t exactly turned into Heisman glory down the road for recent recipients, but that a defensive lineman received the honor is stark enough of a fact that Clowney should register on Heisman pundits radars all season. Many expect big things of the South Carolina sophomore, and delivering on them could spell some national attention.