Heisman Breakdown: Part 3
Hard to forget about Tavon Austin when talking about potential Heisman candidates after an All-Star performance in last year's Orange Bowl.
Matt Barkley, QB USC
Why He Will
Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez…Matt Barkley? When you follow in the footsteps of three first-round draft picks there are some lofty expectations, but Barkley has met and exceeded those expectations in his three years with the Trojans. After a junior campaign that saw him throw for over 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns, USC’s quarterback enters the 2012 season as the early Heisman favorite. He’s unbelievably accurate, completing almost 70 percent of his passes last season with just seven interceptions, and has improved his game across the board each season in Southern California. With two of the most dangerous wide outs in the game at his disposal, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, all the pieces are in place for Barkley to take over college football. The Trojans haven’t seen postseason play the past two years, but with a chance to do so in 2012 makes a hungry Barkley and the potent USC offense a major force to be reckoned with.
Why He Won’t
At the end of the day the trophy is his to lose, but it is much easier to win the award late in the season then hold on as the favorite all year long. The idea of two potential meetings with Chip Kelly and the imposing Oregon Ducks is daunting, and he could also lose some of the spotlight to Woods and Lee (who have been talked about potential Heisman candidates themselves).
De’Anthony Thomas, RB Oregon
Why He Will
Two touches, 155 yards, two touchdowns; those were De’Anthony Thomas’ rushing numbers in Oregon’s 2012 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. One of the most versatile and explosive weapons in college football, Thomas had 1,200 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns in a freshman campaign rivaled only by fellow Heisman hopeful Sammy Watkins. Now, with FBS-rushing leader LaMichael James out of the picture, the running back should play an even bigger role in Chip Kelly’s big-time offense. His 27.3 kickoff return average was tops in the Pac-12 and he averaged 10.8 yards per carry on 55 attempts. If he becomes as the blue chip in Kelly’s offense and lives up to his reputation as a lethal playmaker, the Black Mamba could become the first Heisman winner in school history.
Why He Won’t
He won’t get enough looks on the field. Aside from kickoffs, Thomas touched the ball more than 10 times in just two games all of last season. While that number will go up in 2012, he still isn’t the main back in the Oregon offense. Kenjon Barner is a highly productive runner, who will be the Ducks’ feature running back this season and has generated a little Heisman buzz himself. It’s likely the two will cancel each other out when it comes down to voting for the 78th Heisman trophy winner.
Robert Woods, WR USC
Why He Will
If there’s a player in the country with better hands than Robert Woods, you’d be hard pressed to find him. The junior hauled in 111 passes last season on 166 targets, a catch percentage was one of the best in college football. While he has the ability to move the chains on third down, the 6’1" 180-pounder is much more than just a possession receiver (his 15 touchdowns were fifth-most in the FBS a year ago). What endears him to Matt Barkley and company is the kind of gutsy performances Woods puts on week after week. Unafraid to go over the middle or stretch the field, he plays with the kind of intensity and ferocity you look for in a Heisman candidate. He’s easily one of the best receiving threats in college football, and Woods has the right quarterback to put up some serious numbers with on his way to the Big Apple.
Why He Won’t
He’s one of three potential Heisman candidates on USC’s offense. Matt Barkley is a consensus favorite, and Marqise Lee emerged as an equally deadly weapon late in the season. Although Woods out-caught his sophomore counterpart 72-27 through the first seven games of 2011, he pulled in just 39 passes to Lee’s 46 over the final five games. Woods doesn’t have the impact on special teams other receiver candidates might have either, which really hinders his ability to be the first wide out to win the award since Desmond Howard in 1991.
Other names to consider:
David Amerson, CB NC State: A big, physical corner with an eye for the ball, Amerson led the FBS in interceptions last season with 13 and won the Jack Tatum Award for the nation’s top defensive back.
Tavon Austin, WR/KR West Virginia: One of the most dynamic players in football, he earned All American honors with his ability in the return game; led the nation in all-purpose yards and racked up 11 total touchdowns.
Kenjon Barner, RB Oregon: After spending three years backing up LaMichael James, Barner will now be the feature back in one of college football’s top offenses.
Giovani Bernard, RB North Carolina: Compiled 1,615 yards of offense and 14 touchdowns in his first year back from a devastating ACL injury, and should improve upon that in Larry Fedora’s new offense.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville: Threw for over 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman last season, he could improve by leaps and bounds in 2012 and become one of college football’s elite passers.
BJ Daniels, QB South Florida: Improved vastly after a down year in 2010, Daniels could take a big step forward as the leader of a very experienced USF squad that is looking to crash the BCS party.
Jarvis Jones, LB Geogria: The former USC transfer led the SEC in sacks with 13.5 and was a Butkus Award finalist last season, his first as a starter.
Eddie Lacy, RB Alabama: Averaged 7.1 yards per carry running behind Heisman finalist Trent Richardson a year ago, and will be the feature tailback in an always strong Alabama ground game.
Marqise Lee, WR USC: The lesser known of USC’s receiver tandem; Lee still racked up over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns despite 72 fewer targets than partner in crime Robert Woods.
Star Lotulelei, DT Utah: Winner of the 2011 Morris Trophy, Lotulelei is a terror on the line who commands double and triple teams on every play; can create havoc in the backfield as well.
Aaron Murray, QB Georgia: First team All-SECs selection last season and scored a school record 37 touchdowns; exceptional leader of a balanced Bulldog offense and one of the most consistent passers in the game.
A.J. McCarron, QB Alabama: McCarron had a streak of 152 pass attempts without an interception at one point last season, and now that he’s more comfortable under center he could really break out as a junior.
Joseph Randle, RB Oklahoma State: Responsible for 26 touchdowns in 2011 playing second fiddle to the poignant Cowboys passing game, Randle returns to Oklahoma State as the primary weapon on offense.
Connor Shaw, QB South Carolina: Led the Gamecocks to wins in eight of nine starts and is South Carolina’s most accurate quarterback in school history; he’s a threat to score on the ground as well.