I was looking back through Phil Steele's 2011 preview magazine and looked at his "favorites" to win the Heisman. The top five was Trent Richardson, Landry Jones, Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore and LaMichael James. That's probably pretty close to what everybody else had. He listed out his top ten and then included a list of ten additional contenders. Then he listed some "possibilities". The sixth guy on the list of possibilities (after the first twenty) was a guy named Robert Griffin from Baylor. He was a long-shot to win the Heisman last year but he put together a really good season and then capped it with a stunning Heisman moment last second victory over Oklahoma. The last two Heisman winners (RG3 and Cam Newton) have really come out of almost nowhere to win the Heisman. I thought it would be interesting to take a look some "under-the-radar" possibilities for the Heisman this year.
Will we see another under-the-radar player walk away with the Heisman?
I took into consideration Heisman Pundit's eighteen player watch-list and Phil Steele's top ten favorites to win the award. That automatically disqualified the following players from my list: Tavon Austin, Montee Ball, Matt Barkley, Tajh Boyd, Tyler Bray, Knile Davis, James Franklin, Landry Jones, Collin Klein, Marcus Lattimore, EJ Manuel, Aaron Murray, Keith Price, Denard Robinson, Geno Smith, De'Anthony Thomas, Logan Thomas, Sammy Watkins, Tyler Wilson and Cierre Wood. I also self-disqualified Tyrann Mathieu because he was a top five finisher last year.
Keep in mind that for any of these guys to win the Heisman they would have to ball out of their minds (like Cam and RG3) as well as their teams would have to finish in the Top 15 (higher if they aren't a quarterback).
RB Kejon Barner, Oregon: LaMichael James led the Pac-12 in rushing last season with 1805 yards and led the Nation in yards per game (150.42). James finished 10th on the ballot. Last year, James compiled a lot of early yards against lackluster opponents (SW Mo St, Arizona and Cal), then he got hurt which took him out of the picture for two weeks and he also had his worst games of the season in the Ducks most highly publicized games (LSU and USC). For an Oregon RB to win the Heisman he has to put up gaudy numbers (like James), has to have his biggest games in their biggest games and he needs some breaks due to the west coast teams not being as visible on TV due to some start times of games. A factor against Barner is his backfield partner De'Anthony Thomas will also be getting a lot of touches.
QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville: Talk about a long-shot, the last Louisville player to win the Heisman was...wait for it....a Louisville player has never won the Heisman. To find the last Big East player that won a Heisman we have to go back to Gino Torretta in 1992 and he played for a team that isn't even in the Big East anymore. It would take an undefeated or near undefeated Louisville to make this happen but Bridgewater is just a sophomore so watch out for him in the future.
RB Rex Burkhead, Nebraska: The Huskers had a bit of a disappointing year in their first B1G season but they did manage nine wins. Burkhead was the third leading rusher in the B1G last year and is the second leading returning rusher in the league this year behind Montee Ball. Burkhead had 1357 yards last year along with 15 TD (he also had 21 receptions last season). When Mark Ingram won the Heisman he ran for 1658 yards in 14 games (with 17 TDs). Burkhead was only 14 yards per game off of Ingram's pace when he won the Heisman.
RB Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Before he got on campus, Crowell was the talk of Athens. Expectations were sky high. Crowell showed some glimpses of superior talent but he also hit a freshman wall and was hampered by injuries and doubts by the fanbase. Despite what some considered a disappointing year, Crowell finished sixth in the SEC in rushing (850 yds) and is the second leading returning rusher in the SEC behind Vandy's Zac Stacy. All reports are that Crowell has done a lot of growing up this off-season and he's also got better competition pushing him in the Georgia backfield. It might be a little early for Crowell but if Georgia is as good as some think they will be then he could be in the picture if he puts up the numbers and he is a dual threat (running and receiving).
QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU: The last two Heisman winners have been quarterbacks. Ten of the last twelve Heisman winners have been quarterbacks. Cam Newton set the precedent of a first year JUCO transfer winning the Heisman but Mettenberger has actually been on campus longer than Cam and knows more of the play-book. Of course, Mettenberger is a different type of player than Cam iss and LSU runs an offense that will rely on Mettenberger a lot less than Cam was relied on by Auburn. Mettenberger's best shot is if he proves that he is clearly the missing ingredient that LSU did not have last year and leads them to an undefeated season and puts up strong numbers in the process.
QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State: Urban Meyer has a strong history with quarterbacks. Tim Tebow won the Heisman in 2007 and Alex Smith completely balled out for Utah (2952 yards passing, 631 yards rushing, 31 passing TDs, 10 rushing TDs and only 4 INTs). Alex Smith actually finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2004 and that was playing for a team that was in the Mountain West. Braxton Miller plays for the Ohio State University so he's got one up on Alex Smith. In the span of less than twenty years they've had two Heisman winners (1995: Eddie George; 2006: Troy Smith) so the pedigree and name recognition is there.
QB Casey Pachall, TCU: As a first year starter, Pachall put up some impressive stats last year (2921 yards passing, 25 TD vs 7 INTs and a victory over Boise State). TCU moves to the Big 12 so Pachall has some tougher competition this season but he also has a bigger stage to make his name known.
RB Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy has put Oklahoma State on the National radar over the last few years. In 2010, everybody was expecting the Cowboys to take a step back because they lost their QB, leading rusher and top receivers. In stepped Brandon Weeden, Kendall Hunter and Justin Blackmon. Blackmon stole the show en route to finishing fifth in the Heisman voting in 2010. All of those guys are gone now and the Cowboys will be starting a true freshman quarterback. Joseph Randle is going to be the heart and soul of this team on offense. Last year he compiled an impressive 1216 yards rushing, 24 rushing TDs and 43 receptions. He has the talent but he's going to need some help and the Pokes will have to win some big games.
RB Stefan Taylor, Stanford: Andrew Luck is gone but he opened up some eyes. If Stanford can continue to win then Taylor has a shot. Taylor ran for 1330 yards last year, ten touchdowns and he had 25 receptions. Stanford needs to go undefeated in the regular season for him to have a shot.
WR Robert Woods, USC: Woods has done himself a service the last couple of years by building a strong resume. As a freshman in 2010, Woods caught 64 passes with 6 TDs. In 2011, he busted out with 111 receptions (fifth in the Nation, first in the Pac-12) and 15 TDs (fifth in the Nation). The biggest obstacle for Woods is that his quarterback has been politicking for the Heisman since his press conference where he announced he was staying in school and that might be too much for Woods to overcome.