Heisman Breakdown: Part 2
Logan Thomas might be a dark horse but he showed last year why he should be mentioned as a player to watch for the Heisman in 2012.
Marcus Lattimore, RB South Carolina
Why He Will
After destroying SEC competition as a freshman in 2010, Marcus Lattimore was on pace to do some incredible things in South Carolina before a knee injury prematurely ended his sophomore season. In just seven games, the powerful 6’1" 232-pounder compiled 1,000 all-purpose yards and totaled 11 touchdowns. Indications out of Columbia are that his knee is healed and ready to go this fall, and if that’s true the Gamecocks have one of the most destructive weapons in college football. With the late emergence of Connor Shaw under center last season, opposing defenses won’t be able to load the box against Lattimore and the South Carolina ground game. This could bode for the tailback, allowing him to reach that second level more often where he can use his rare combination of size and speed to run through defenders en route to a Heisman trophy.
Why He Won’t
A full return to form is far from guaranteed. ACL injuries have ruined football careers in the past, and while Lattimore still has a lot of football left in him there’s a chance he won’t be 100 percent for this upcoming season. And while Shaw’s presence in the pocket works to Lattimore’s advantage, his ability to move outside the pocket doesn’t. In the six games Lattimore missed Shaw scored eight rushing touchdowns, and there’s a good chance he’ll steal some of Lattimore’s red zone touches regardless of health. Fewer touchdowns, fewer first place votes.
Tyler Wilson, QB Arkansas
Why He Will
No Ryan Mallet? No problem. Tyler Wilson replaced Mallet in Arkansas’ potent air attack last season and didn’t miss a beat. The senior threw for over 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first season under center, leading a Razorback offense that was without one of the SEC’s most dangerous tailbacks, Knile Davis. At 6’3" 220 pounds, Wilson has an imposing pocket presence and big-time arm. His career 62.8 completion percentage is the best in school history, and his 11 wins last season were tied for the most by an Arkansas quarterback. With options like receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg returning to the Razorbacks sideline, Wilson could be in for another big year under center in Fayetteville.
Why He Won’t
Despite the supporting cast that returns around him, there’s just no replacing three NFL-bound receivers. Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs are all gone, and with them will go nearly two-thirds of Wilsons passing yards and 15 touchdowns. There’s no denying Hamilton has the makings of a stud and is probably bound for the NFL in his own right, but it’s difficult for one wide out to make up for the production of three. Also, with Davis returning to the backfield we should see a more balanced Arkansas attack this season. While his presence should open up things downfield for the accurate quarterback, it will also take some of the yards out of the passing game as well.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina
Why He Will
South Carolina coaches will tell you that Jadeveon Clowney didn’t have a feel for the game last year and that he was learning on the fly for much of the season. The quarterbacks he terrorized might tell you a different story. The defensive end tore offenses apart during his prolific freshman season, with eight sacks, six quarterback hurries, 12 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. Now a year into his collegiate career, Clowney should be ready to step into more of a leadership role on a tough Gamecock defense. The rumor out of Columbia is that he could see some time at linebacker this season as well, and at 6’6" 260 pounds he could be an absolute menace at the position. It’s Clowneys unlimited talent, versatility and big-time playmaking ability that make him one of the most elite defensive forces in college football.
Why He Won’t
He plays defense. In over 75 years of recognizing the best talent in college football, only Charles Woodson has won as a primarily defensive player, but he also doubled as a big-time return man. Several have gone to New York: Tyrann Mathieu was a finalist last year, Ndamukong Suh went two years before him, but only Woodson actually brought home the hardware.
Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson
Why He Will
Looking at everything but his age, it would have been hard to tell 2011 was Tajh Boyd’s first season as Clemson’s starting quarterback: over 3,800 yards through the air, 38 total touchdowns, wins in his first eight starts, first team All-ACC honors, an ACC Championship and an Orange Bowl berth. With returning weapons like Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington around him, there’s no reason the junior shouldn’t improve upon last year’s breakout campaign and establish himself in the upper echelon of collegiate quarterbacks. No player from the ACC has finished top three in the Heisman voting since Chris Weinke won it in 2000, but Boyd has a chance to showcase his talent against two premier SEC programs (Auburn and South Carolina), an opportunity no other ACC quarterback can boast.
Why He Won’t
Here’s a look at two different players from last season:
Player A – 2,379 yards, 28 total touchdowns, three interceptions, passer rating of 159.45
Player B – 1,449 yards, 10 total touchdowns, nine interceptions, passer rating of 117.48
Player A is Boyd’s line over the first eight games of 2011, Player B is reflects his performance over the final six matchups. Clemson’s quarterback faded fast down the stretch, making poor decisions on the field and gaining weight off of it. The school’s coaches have said Boyd has come into camp ready to turn over a new leaf and has shown renewed dedication, but he’ll have to show a commitment to winning for a full season before he can be considered for college football’s most significant fraternity.
Logan Thomas, QB Virginia Tech
Why He Will
He’s big. At 6’6" 260 pounds Thomas possesses elite size for the position which gives his arm a high release point and his imposing frame is difficult to bring down in or out of the pocket. He’s fast. With an unofficial 4.56 40 time, the Hokies’ quarterback has the ability to run around or through would-be tacklers. He can move the pocket. Plus field vision and sound footwork gives Thomas has the ability to extend plays and make opposing defenses pay with a cannon right arm. He’s a dual threat. Thomas posted a school record 3,482 yards of total offense and 30 total touchdowns (19 throwing, 11 rushing) in his first season as a starter. After a shaky performance in a week five loss to Clemson last season, Hokie Nation was quick to call for a change under center. Frank Beamer stuck with Thomas, and the following week he responded with one of the most impressive individual performances of the season in a win over Miami: a near perfect 23-25 passing for 310 yards and three touchdowns and two more scores on the ground (including a 19-yard rush on fourth down to put Virginia Tech ahead with 56 seconds left). If that was a glimpse of what this kid is capable of, Virginia Tech could be in store for a special season.
Why He Won’t
While Hokie fans remember the late scramble to seal the game against the Hurricanes, they can also recall the times Thomas’ talent was nowhere to be seen in a pair of blowout losses to Clemson. With 2011 ACC Player of the Year David Wilson now playing on Sundays, Thomas has the pressure of being the focal point of the Hokies’ offense and can’t afford to disappear like that this season. The potential is there, but he’s still very raw and adjusting to the quarterback position (losing wide outs Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale to the NFL won’t help his development either).
Any Other ACC Quarterback
Why (T)he(y) Will
In a conference not normally known for strong quarterback play, it’s loaded with talent under center this season. While Boyd and Thomas can be considered the frontrunners out of the ACC, they aren’t the only ones with a chance to visit New York in December. N.C. State’s Mike Glennon threw for nearly 2,800 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2011, his first as a starter. E.J. Manuel is another imposing pocket presence who could put up some big numbers in Florida State’s offense. Tobacco Road has a pair of excellent passers in North Carolina’s Bryn Renner and Duke’s Sean Renfree, and Tanner Price emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the Demon Deacon’s unconventional offense. Every quarterback in Paul Johnson’s system puts up big numbers on the ground, and Goergia Tech’s Tevin Washington will be no exception in 2012. Even Boston College brings back a two-year starter in junior Chase Rettig. The Atlantic Coast returns six quarterbacks who have thrown for 3,000 yards in a season, the first time in league history and the only conference in 2012 to do so.
Why They Won’t
There can only be one. To win the Heisman in the ACC typically requires a national championship bid, and six quarterbacks can’t do that. While the conference could be deeper at quarterback than ever before, that’s a trend which can been seen throughout college football. Glennon, Renner, Renfree, Price, Wachington and Rettig will have the chance to win a lot of games in 2012, but they just don’t have the same kind of pedigree or ceiling as some of the other talented signal callers in college football.