Big plays like this one against Georgia are why The Honey Badger is in our top 5 to watch in 2012
Top 25 Heisman Candidates for 2012
1. Matt Barkley QB Southern California- Southern Cal has 7 Heisman Trophy winners in its history, so it shouldn't shock anyone that Barkley is #1 on this list. Southern Cal will be in everyone's top 5 next year and Barkley will be the biggest name returning in the NCAA next year. Barkley threw for 39 TDs and only 7 INTs in 2011 to lead the Trojans to a 10-2 finish. If Southern Cal makes a BCS bowl in 2012 it is almost certain Barkley will be in New York.
2. Montee Ball RB Wisconsin- Ball tied Barry Sanders for the most TDs in a season in 2011 with 39 TDs. Without Wilson back as QB, Ball will be relied on to carry the load even more for the Badgers in 2012 and this could mean even bigger eye popping stats for the rising senior who could end his career with over 5,000 yards rushing.
3. Landry Jones QB Oklahoma- The 2010 Sammy Baugh Trophy winner will be one of the favorites to win College Football's biggest trophy in 2012. Jones will no doubt put up huge numbers in the offensive friendly Big XII. The question will be can Jones and Oklahoma stay away from another let down against a team they should beat? If Oklahoma is back int he BCS then there is little doubt Jones will be in New York.
4. Tyler Wilson QB Arkansas- Wilson can be described by two words "Hog Tough". Playing behind a young offensive line in 2011 Wilson excelled as a first year starter by throwing for 3,638 yards and was calm inside of the pocket despite being hit hard many times. Wilson will be without the trio of Childs, Wright, and Adams but Cobi Hamilton, Chris Gragg, and possibly Dorial Green-Beckham(nation's top recruit) will take up the slack in an explosive offense. A win over Alabama in Fayetteville would likely put Wilson on the top of most lists early in 2012.
5. Tyrann Mathieu DB LSU- Making it to New York in 2011 proves that this defensive talent has the attention of voters. Whenever LSU needed a big play in 2011, it seemed like the "Honey Badger" was there to provide it on defense and special teams. LSU is likely to be in the top 2 of most voters preseason polls in 2012 and Mathieu is the highest profile player for the Tigers.
6. Denard Robinson QB Michigan- Robinson has been a human highlight film ever since he started putting up insane stats for Michigan in 2010. This year though, he finally broke through and got Michigan a BCS Bowl win. There's a good chance Robinson will end his Michigan career as a 7,000+ yard passer and a 4,000+ yard rusher. Can he stay healthy enough to put up the stats Heisman voters will want to see?
7. Marcus Lattimore RB South Carolina- I had Lattimore in my Heisman top 3 for most of the first half of last year. Then, an injury against Mississippi State ended his chances. Lattimore has an amazing work ethic, so I have little doubt he will be 100% by the time September comes around. I expect Shaw and the passing game to be more efficient in 2012 and this will open up things for Lattimore in the running game. Lattimore has a fanstastic chance at becoming USC's #2 rusher in school history in 2012, trailing only 1980 Heisman Winner George Rogers.
8. Aaron Murray QB Georgia- The pro potential is there and the schedule is friendly enough to the Dogs in 2012 that another SEC East Championship is certainly possible. Murray must become more consistent on on offense though, something that has hurt the Bulldogs in big games. At times he appears to be the best QB in the SEC, if he can keep looking like he did in games against South Carolina and Auburn then Murray will certainly move up this list. Murray returns plenty of good talent on offense around him.
9. Geno Smith QB West Virginia- I might have been the only person in the United States that had Smith on my preseason top 10 list entering 2011. I knew WVU's system had explosive potential with the new coaching staff. The offense had its ups and downs in 2011, but with a month to prepare for Clemson Smith was able to put up insane stats against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. With Tavon Austin back on offense Smith will have a big time playmaker to put up some even better stats. What conference will West Virginia be a part of in 2012?
10. De'Anthony Thomas RB Oregon- Thomas did it all in 2011 for the Ducks. He gave the Ducks some speed in the running game and became a great target in the passing game. In the Rose Bowl Thomas had an amazing 314 all purpose yards, including a Rose Bowl record 91 yard TD run from scrimmage. The key to his Heisman chances will be how Thomas handles his role and the top playmaker in this explosive offense now that James and Darron Thomas are gone.
11. Eddie Lacey RB Alabama- Last season Lacey average 7.1 yards a carry for the National Champs. Saban's offense has come to the point that if you plug in a talented RB in this system, they are certain to become a Heisman Candidate. Lacey isn't the only returning talent at the RB position for the Tide, but he is the most experienced and there is no reason to think he won't go well over 1,000 yards rushing next seaon.
12. Sammy Watkins WR Clemson- No freshman had a bigger impact for a team this year than Sammy Watkins did for Clemson. Watkins had 82 receptions and 12 TDs in 2012 leading Clemson to their first ACC Championship in 20 years. Watkins also was big in the return game for the Tigers and even had an 89 yard kickoff return for a TD this past season.
13. Robert Woods WR Southern California- In 2011 Woods had 111 receptions and 15 TDs. These numbers would put Woods at the top of any school's Heisman list, but at Southern Cal he is behind Matt Barkley. Heisman votes going towards his QB is certainly an issue, but Woods has the advantage of being the highest profile WR on the West Coast.
14. Collin Klein QB Kansas State- Klein might have been the most important player for his team in 2011. WIth over 1,100 yards rushing and nearly 2,000 yards passing, Klein was one of the most diverse players in College Football in 2011. The most amazing stat was the fact that Klein had 27 rushing TDs and 13 passing TDS leading the Wildcats to a 10 win season and a top 10 regular season finish.
15. Christin Michael RB Texas A&M- The best running back prospect for the 2013 draft might be in College Station, TX. Michael missed the Aggies final 4 games in 2011 with a knee injury, but prior to that had rushed for 899 yards and 8 TDs. Michael will face tougher defenses in the SEC in 2011, but he proved against Arkansas that he can come up big against SEC teams as he had 230 yards rushing against the Razorbacks.
16. Stepfan Taylor RB Stanford- All the attention in 2011 for the Cardinal went to Andrew Luck, so few noticed that Taylor had 1,330 yards rushing and 12 TDs. Taylor had a huge Fiesta Bowl running for 177 yards and is now starting to get attention for the 2012 season where he will be called on to carry the load for the PAC 10's most physical offensive attack.
17. Casey Pachall QB TCU- I think Pachall had the most surprising season for a first year starter in 2011. Filling in for Andy Dalton wasn't easy, but Pachall did a fantastic job. Despite being very young, the Horned Frogs finished the year 11-2 and nearly made it to a BCS game. Pachall finished the year with 25 TDs and only 7 INTs. If he can improve these numbers in a tougher Big XII Conference and the Frogs can maintain their win totals from the last few seasons then Pachall will receive more attention from Heisman voters.
18. Ronnie Hillman RB San Diego State- Being at SDSU doesn't give Hillman the attention that others will get, but in 2011 Hillman ranked #3 in rushing yardage with 1,711 yards. Hillman also had 20 TDs for the Aztecs in 2011, inlcuding a 99 yard run against Wyoming. It will take Marshall Faulk type numbers for Hillman to get to New York, something an improved 2012 could give Hillman.
19. Keith Price QB Washington- Price might be the most underrated QB in College Football. Last season he threw for over 3,000 yards and had 33 TD passes, but outside of the PAC 12 few took notice until the bowl game againt Baylor. Price's QB rating is the highest among returning BCS QBs in 2012. He would be higher on this list if I felt like Washington could get to a 10 win total in 2012 because its going to take that to get any attention from East Coast voters.
20. Jeff Tuel QB Washington State- Similar to Geno Smith in 2011, no QB will benefit more from a coaching change in 2012 than Tuel will. With Mike Leach coming into Pullman, you can bet the Cougar offense will put up similar numbers of that seen at Texas Tech for the last decade. Tuel was injured and missed most of 2011, but has ability to run the Leach system to perfection.
21. Tavon Austin WR West Virginia- He's small, but explosive. With 101 receptions, over 1,100 yards receiving, and nearly 200 yards rushing Austin put together some huge numbers for WVU in 2011. Austin deserves mention on this list, but with Geno Smith being the QB for WVU it's going to be hard for Austin to be on top of the Heisman voting in 2012.
22. A.J. McCarron QB Alabama- Saban's offense isn't one where a QB is going to put up huge numbers. Still, McCarron has the ability to put up efficient enough passing numbers to get Heisman attention for a team that will contend for the National Championship. Last season McCarron actually ranked ahead of Aaron Murray and Landry Jones in passer rating. His 2,635 yards passing 16 TDs and only 5 Ints were impressive for a first year starter in an offense that focuses so much on a power running game.
23.Knile Davis RB Arkansas- The most devastating injury in 2011 was that to Knile Davis of Arkansas. In 2010 Davis led all SEC Running Backs in rushing yardage, helping the Hogs to a BCS Bowl appearance. Then early on in Fall Camp Davis had a season ending injury that kept him out for all of 2011. Davis seems to be recovering well and even practiced with the Hogs during bowl preperation. The biggest issue for Davis is the Hogs are deep enough at the RB position with Wingo and Johnson, that Davis might not get enough carries to break into anyone's top 5 Heisman list.
24. Taylor Martinez QB Nebraska- At times Martinez is one of the most explosive QBs in college football. He enters 2012 with over 1,500 yards rushing in his career and over 3,500 yards passing. The problem with Martinez is that he seems to struggle to stay consistent in his playmaking ability from week to week. If he can continue to improve on his passing skills and lead the Huskers to a Big 10 Championship then there is no doubt Martinez will get consideration in 2012.
25. James Franklin QB Missouri- A new James Franklin enters the SEC in 2012 and if his impact is as big as the first one, then he could be a Heisman Candidate in 2012. As a first year starter in 2011 Franklin had 21 TD passes and threw for over 2,800 yards. We all know Gary Pinkel's offense can put up big numbers for a QB and I'd expect Franklin to do that as a year two starter. Missouri is going to be a contender in the East, and if they can knock off USC and UGA then Franklin is going to move high up this list.