SEC Heisman Candidates: The Mark Ingram Effect
I made an attempt to outline four dark horse candidates, but I went with Jahvid Best, Jacquizz Rodgers, Eric Berry, and Dez Bryant as out my outside contenders.
By now you know what happened, Bradford was out of the running with an injury by late-September while Tebow and McCoy bounced along among the favorites, never taking a commanding lead. Ultimately, in a huge upset relative to expectations, McCoy finished the highest of the quarterbacks at three, while Tebow fell to fifth. Instead, three men who entered the 2009 season as unknown quantities stormed the leaderboard: Ingram, Toby Gerhart of Stanford, and Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska.
Now, as FanHouse enters the long college football offseason, we're bringing you a collection of 12 SEC Heisman contenders who may be this year's Mark Ingram.
First, as a preliminary, in order to win the Heisman Trophy your team has to win nine games. That's a prerequisite for the reward. The reality is that the award has become a lazy exercise where we pick the best player on the best team. That's how Mark Ingram became the worst Heisman Trophy winner, statistically, in thirty years. So some of these "contenders" we're offering with a grain of salt, since, for instance, Tennessee and Kentucky have about as much chance of winning nine games as Lane Kiffin has of being elected Governor of Tennessee.
That's why Alabama is dominating our list.
Having said that, here goes:
1. Greg McElroy, quarterback, Alabama
Call it the reverse USC. College football fans will remember Reggie Bush won the Heisman the year after Matt Leinart won. USC went on to lose to Texas in the national title game, but Heisman fatigue led another stellar player on the same team to the award.
The same could easily happen at Alabama, only in reverse -- the quarterback supplants the running back this time.
Particularly since Ingram is likely to, at best, share many more carries with Trent Richardson this season.
As such, McElroy is likely to become much more of a force in the passing game, and his name will be a relatively new one on the Heisman front, something that's always important when it comes to nabbing the lazy Heisman voters attention.
2. Cam Newton, quarterback, Auburn
Star this pick, because Newton has the potential to be the most exceptional new quarterback in college football this season.
And a lot of that has to do with Gus Malzahn.
In the offensive system of coordinator Malzahn, Cam Newtown, a former Gator quarterback who was kicked off the team by Urban Meyer, has the chance to be something special.
Don't believe me?
Go back and look at what Malzahn did with the weak-armed and immobile Chris Todd as his signal caller. Todd threw for 22 touchdowns against just six interceptions and racked up more than 2600 yards.
Can you imagine what Malzahn is capable of doing with Newton?
I can't wait to see.
Newton has a chance to be the most electric playmaker in the league.
3. Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama
It's unlikely that Nick Saban will replace a healthy Ingram with Richardson, but many, believe Richardson (above right), a rising sophomore, is the more talented of the two running backs.
As is, both backs will be so good that neither is likely to accumulate the 2010 statistics to justify the Heisman. But, and here's the wild card, if Ingram were to be injured early in the season, like Bradford was last year, then Richardson is more than capable of stepping into the starting role and winning the Heisman.
4. John Brantley, quarterback, Florida
Florida is still going to be good, the best of a bad SEC East. And John Brantley will attempt to become the Jesus to Tebow's God.
The one thing that Urban Meyer has not gotten enough credit for is his ability to adjust his offensive game plans according to the talent he has on the field. Meyer, one of the coaches who popularized the spread, won a national championship in his second season at Florida running a mostly pro-style offense with Chris Leak. All you need to do is look north to the Michigan Wolverines to see how well other coaches have adapted when the offensive players aren't there to run their systems.
With Tebow, Meyer's spread attack flourished. But now with Brantley, Meyer is returning to a more pro-style offense.
Can that lead a fourth Gator quarterback to the Heisman?
5. Julio Jones, wide receiver, Alabama
Is this the year when Julio Jones finally lives up to the hype that has followed him since he signed with Alabama in 2007?
Last year Jones significantly underperformed his freshman season, finishing with just 43 catches for 596 yards.
Jones( right) went over 100 yards receiving just once last season -- 102 yards against LSU -- and even that wasn't a dominating performance. Instead Jones caught a screen pass and went 73 yards for a touchdown. Otherwise he was absent from that game as well.
In fact, Jones' best performance all season came against Auburn, when he caught 9 passes for 83 yards, several of them key third down conversions on the drive that won 'Bama the game.
On an individual level, 2009 was a disappointment for Jones. Because entering the 2009 season, there was a legitimate argument over who was the best sophomore receiver in the SEC, Jones or Georgia's A.J. Green. By the end of Jones' 14-game season during which he averaged just 3 catches and 42.5 yards a game, Green had won in a landslide.
In fact, I'll even make this argument: If Julio Jones' first name was Chris, instead of Julio, no one in the SEC would even know who he was.
6. Patrick Peterson, defensive back, LSU
The nation's best returning defensive back in 2010, Peterson has a chance to do special things in John Chavis' second full season as LSU defensive coordinator. Can he become the nation's second defensive back to win the Heisman Trophy?
But is there any player in the nation with more natural talent and ability than Peterson?
I don't think so.
Especially since this year the SEC officials have HD in the booths so they can actually see his feet when the lightning quick Peterson snatches interceptions before stepping out of bounds.
7. Stephen Garcia, quarterback, South Carolina
I know, I know, it's amazing to think about, isn't it? That Stephen Garcia (right) could win something other than a no contest plea in Columbia courtroom.
But at some point Steve Spurrier has to win nine games at South Carolina, right?
This is the last, best chance for Spurrier to take the South Carolina Gamecocks to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, a place they've never been..
Garcia is going to be a redshirt junior.
He's had three seasons to learn Spurrier's system and this has to be the year that he turns into a top quarterback in the league. As is, he has more starting experience than any returning quarterback in the SEC.
It's his chance to take charge of an SEC East title run.
6-2 with a win over Florida gets it done.
7-1 makes him a legit Heisman contender...maybe.
8. Marcell Dareus, defensive end, Alabama
The best returning defensive player in the SEC, and a defensive lineman capable of putting together the highlight reel plays that captivate a nation, can make a run at the Heisman Trophy.
We learned that last year with Nebraska's Suh.
And Suh made his campaign despite playing for an average Nebraska team. Dareus will have the opportunity to play on national television every week of the season.
If you doubt Dareus' ability to make highlight reel plays, go back and watch his interception return against Texas in the national championship game that basically slammed the door on the Longhorns.
Dareus is for real.
9. AJ Green, wide receiver, Georgia
He's the best receiver in the league, but remains a bit under the national radar. Now, the only question is, can Georgia consistently get him the football with a first-year starter under center?
Recall that last season, A.J. Green almost single-handedly kept the Bulldogs bad season from becoming an awful one.
Without Green, Georgia starts 0-4 in 2009. In those first four games -- the Bulldogs won three -- Green went for 376 yards, five touchdowns and one blocked field goal that helped beat Arizona State.
One can argue, and I will, that no wide receiver had a greater impact on last season's games than A.J. Green.
And now he's back with the third different starting quarterback of his career.
If things click, Green could go to New York. If they don't, he'll still go to New York for the draft.
10. Randall Cobb, playmaker, Kentucky
No player in the SEC is capable of scoring in more ways than Randall Cobb.
Be it punt return, throwing the football at quarterback, rushing it from the wildcat or catching passes at wide receiver, Cobb is a dynamic playmaker who is the only offensive player that opposing defenses really have to game plan for when they take on the Wildcats.
Yes, he plays for Kentucky, but is there a way that Cobb could string together enough highlight-reel plays to gain attention in this, his junior season?
Probably not since the Wildcats have virtually no shot at nine wins and won't play on CBS's national telecast very often, but Cobb still deserves a nod for being the SEC's most dangerous playmaker from the most different places on the field.
If the Cats started off 3-0 and then...okay, this is ridiculous.
He's not winning the Heisman.
Unless he transfers to Alabama.
11. Ryan Mallett, quarterback, Arkansas
Will Mallett be this year's Jevan Snead, a Heisman front-runner from an SEC program that is typically outside the power six teams and collapses under the weight of preseason expectation, or will Mallett take the Razorbacks to new heights?
You know the numbers will be there in the Bobby Petrino offense.
Speaking of which, this year may be every bit as big for Petrino as it is for Mallett. Win big at Arkansas this season and he can jump ship to a bigger program. Hell, maybe even LSU after it fires Les Miles.
Fail to win and taking a gander at Arkansas's recruiting classes, it's hard to see how the Razorbacks are passing Alabama, Auburn, or LSU in the near future.
12. Tauren Poole, running back, Tennessee
Okay, okay, Tennessee is going to be awful, and there will be five new starters on the offensive line and a mediocre quarterback throwing the ball.
But everything I'm hearing from Knoxville is that Poole has a chance to be a special offensive player.
He was buried by Lane Kiffin behind Montario Hardesty and freshman recruit Bryce Brown, a player who many on Tennessee's team felt Poole had beaten out in fall practice. Now Poole, a redshirt junior, thinks this is his season to demonstrate he's a special back.
Can he come in and put together one of the best running seasons in Vol history?
Is Tennessee going to win nine games?
Maybe...if it plays three seasons.