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2011 NCAA Football Preview Pt. 1: Early Heisman race

It’s been a while. I’m going to try out the Bruce Feldman format this time.

The world hasn’t seen a Heisman winner like Cam Newton ever in my lifetime. Though this year’s winner likely won’t be another first year starter or transfer, there aren’t many standouts early.

The likely top candidate is Stanford QB Andrew Luck. The junior has been heralded as the top QB prospects coming out of college since Peyton Manning in the late 90’s. Structurally, you couldn’t ask for a better QB – 6’5″ and just shy of 240 lbs. He possesses all the tools a pro QB needs and has showcased it at Stanford for the last two years. He’s as tough as they come too, showcase in this Ed Reed-esque hit against USC. With a veteran O-Line and solid receiving corps including Chris Owusu, Luck will be the best player in College Football. He may not put up the video game stats needed to win the award, however.

My actual favorite to win the award (and sits in most peoples’ top three) is Bama junior running back Trent Richardson. Now that poster boy Mark Ingram is gone to the Saints, Richardson will be the Tide’s feature back – in every sense of the word. With a new QB at the helm (whom hasn’t even been chosen yet) Richardson will definitely get the number of carries needed to put up 1500+ yards on the ground. Physically, you won’t find a better looking back that Richardson. He’s a poor man’s Ricky Williams at 5’11”, 220 lbs. He runs in the low-to-middle 4.4’s, and even returns punts – the factor that likely tipped the Heisman scale for 1999 winner Charles Woodson.

The last serious contender at this point who no one seems to be giving any credit to is Oregon’s LaMichael James. James led that nation last year totaling over 1700 yards rushing. The Texas native is absolutely taylor-made for Chip Kelly faced-paced offense, and should realistically be able to equal his performance last season. The biggest issue for James is his size – can he stay as durable as he has at just 5’9″ 185 lbs? The Pac-12 hasn’t play much defense in the last two years, so who knows.

Two players too good to be labeled “darkhorses” are Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon and South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery.  Both will be among the top-10 most talented players next season, but the Heisman hasn’t given much love to receivers in recent years. Blackmon, who is  an amazing-catch machine, will be labeled as a “product of the system” playing in Oklahoma State’s spread offense. Jeffery, who is a nightmare of a matchup at 6’4″ 235 lbs, may be a better receiver than Blackmon, but won’t put up the stats that Blackmon will.

Quick hit candidates (In no particular order):

Kellen Moore – QB, BSU: Can he produce without the two best receiving threats he’s ever had in Austin Pettis and Titus young?

Dennard Robinson – QB, MU: Will he run wild or distribute the ball more in Al Borges’ new pro-style offense?

Matt Barkley – QB, USC: Likely won’t have the talent around him to showcase his own.

Brandon Weeden – QB, OKST: Like Blackmon, will receive the “system QB” label.

Taylor Martinez – QB, NU: Is he durable enough to be at full speed for a whole season?

Dan Persa – QB, NW: If he’s 100% coming back from an ACL tear, could be an elite QB.

Ryan Lindley – QB, SDSU: A great pro prosepct, can he get the hype and stats in the Mountain West?

Knile Davis – RB, ARK: With a new QB, Davis should get a big number of carries, topping 1300 yards again.

Ronnie Hillman – RB, SDSU: If he builds on a sensational freshman year, he’ll be in the top-5 fast.

Landry Jones – QB, OU: He’s got experience, talent, weapons around him, and possibly the best team in college football.

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