I've always loved the Heisman, as in spite of all its warts and blemishes, it remains the most recognized and arguably the most-cherished individual award in any sport. I began doing a weekly Heisman top-10 on my nationally-syndicated radio show ("Bally's Sports Central") in the early to mid-90s and have continued it on the internet since (my weekly Heisman update was available online every Monday during the CFB season). It's that time of year again to take a look at the 2010 Heisman favorites.
Heading into last year I noted that the 2008 Heisman was won by Oklahoma's Sam Bradford with Colt McCoy (Texas ) finishing second and Florida's Tim Tebow (the 2007 winner) finishing third, despite garnering more first-place votes than either Bradford or McCoy. With all three players back for the 2009 season, it would be a year like no other in Heisman history. Tebow became the first sophomore to win the award in 2007 and Bradford became the second to do so in 2008. Never before had a college football season opened a year in which two Heisman winners were active. Throw in McCoy and it was a clear-cut three-man race in 2009.
While I noted in last year's preview that while one can never say "no one else has a chance to win," it was highly unlikely any player outside of last year's "Big Three" had much of chance to win the 2009 Heisman. Phil Steele’s 2009 CFB annual (page 328) listed nine Heisman favorites, 11 more “contenders,” 28 “possibilities” and 19 “dark horse” candidates, yet none of those 66 players were named Mark Ingram or Toby Gerhart. In case you don't remember last year's final tally, Ingram became Alabama's first-ever Heisman winner and Gerhart was the runner-up.
Ingram was just the second RB to win the Heisman over the previous decade (Reggie Bush of USC in 2005 was the other and his win is under some dispute due to NCAA sanctions handed down against USC), as QBs have won eight of the 10 Heismans from 2000-2009. Ingram was also the third straight sophomore to win the award, after not a single sophomore had won it prior to 2007 (first award came back in 1935), and will now attempt to win a second straight Heisman (a feat Tebow and Bradford failed to accomplish). Most people know that the only two-time winner of the Heisman is Ohio State's Archie Griffin, who won in 1974 as a junior and again in 1975 as a senior.
My 2010 Heisman preview features the 'defending champ' (Ingram) plus four challengers, all of whom play QB. While it's understandable that Ingram is "the betting favorite," it seems highly improbable that Alabama would go its entire history without a Heisman winner until last year and then win back-to-back awards in 2009-2010. As for Ingram, could the player who was on absolutely no one's 'Heisman radar' entering 2009, actually join Archie Griffin as the award's only two-time winners, by capturing a second consecutive Heisman in 2010? As for listing four QBs as his top challengers, why not? As noted in the above paragraph, QBs have captured eight of the past 10 Heismans.
MARK INGRAM (Alabama): I don't have a Heisman vote but in my 'Heisman ballot' I placed Stanford's Toby Gerhart No. 1 but predicted that Ingram would likely win. Ingram's Alabama team was 13-0 and No. 1 in the nation plus set to play No. 2 Texas in the BCS title game at the time of the award, while Gerhart's Stanford team had four regular season losses. I also believed that since Alabama's storied program had never previously won a Heisman, Ingram would get some "sentimental votes." Did that happen? Who knows? Ingram played behind Glen Coffee (1,383 YR) in 2008 as a freshman, gaining 728 yards (5.1 YPC / 12 TDs), topping more than 100 yards just once (113 yards vs Arkansas St). He became a star in 2010 though, reaching 100 yards (or more) in eight of 13 games, including a career-high 246 yards vs South Carolina. His 1,542 yards (6.2 YPC / 15 TDs) in 2009 broke the Alabama single-season record held previously by Bobby Humphrey, who ran for 1,471 yards in 1986. Ingram also added 30 catches with three more TDs. After winning the Heisman, Ingram ran 22 times for 116 yards (two TDs) in helping Alabama win its first national title since 1992 by beating Texas 37-21. Alabama opens No. 1 in both major polls (is the AP's preseason No. 1 for the first time since 1978) but history tells us that just 10 of the previous 60 AP preseason No. 1 teams have been able to still be No. 1 come year's end. Saban is not the kind of coach who favors "individual over team" plus Ingram's 2010 numbers could easily fall short of his 2009 stats with the very talented Trent Richardson (751 yards / 5.2 YPC / 8 TDs as freshman) getting more "PT" this year. While Ingram is "the betting favorite," I say it would be an 'upset' if he wins it again this year.
TERRELLE PRYOR (Ohio State): QB Troy Smith took home a Heisman for the Buckeyes in the 2006 season, bringing Ohio State into a tie with Oklahoma and USC for most Heisman winners. Each school has won seven trophies but Reggie Bush's win in 2005 could be in some dispute due to recent revelations and penalties handed down by the NCAA against USC (Heisman trust has failed to make any kind of ruling at this point). Pryor could give the school it's eighth winner and he enters the 2010 season as one of the favorites, off his Vince-Young like performance in last year's Rose Bowl. Pryor was one of the nation's most highly-touted freshman in 2008 but opened the season No. 2 on the depth chart behind OSU senior Todd Boeckman. However, in the wake of an 'ugly' 35-3 defeat at top-ranked USC in the Buckeyes' third game of 2008, head coach Jim Tressel inserted Pryor into the starting role in OSU's September 20 game at home vs Troy. He became the first true freshman to start for the Buckeyes in 30 years (since Art Schlichter in 1978) and he threw four TD passes in a 28-10 victory. Ohio State would win eight of its final nine regular season games but then lose 24-21 to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl (school's third straight BCS bowl loss, including two national championship games). Pryor led Ohio State to a fifth straight Big 10 championship last year and then a 26-17 win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl. It was his performance in that game, 23-of-37 passing for 266 yards with two TDs and one INT (plus 72 yards rushing), that has Pryor's name among the "Heisman favorites" in 2010. He is 19-4 as a starting QB and while his passing totals are rather modest (58.0 percent / 3,405 yards / 30 TDs and 15 INTs), it's his versatility (1,410 rushing yards / 4.7 YPC / 13 TDs) which has tongues 'wagging.' Ohio State will host Penn State but must play at Wisconsin and Iowa (the three other top schools in the conference). Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in both major polls and a perfect season will assuredly get them an invite to the school's fourth national title game in nine years. If that happens, Pryor would be the main reason and he could walk away with a Heisman as well.
CASE KEENUM (Houston): You think Keenum can't win? You are probably right, as he plays in C-USA but remember Andre Ware won this award in 1989 for Houston (Ty Detmer would win it in 1990, playing for BYU). The Cougars were a member of the SWC back then (a major conference at the time), something Keenum's Houston team doesn't benefit from. However, Ware would become the first black QB to win the Heisman back in 1989 (no small deal at the time) plus he did it in a season in which his Houston team was on probation, meaning the Cougars of 1989 never once played on TV. Admittedly, Keenum needs help to win (off years from his "big boy" competitors) but if he replicates his last two seasons, his name will be "all over" the NCAA record books, owning the No. 1 spot in almost every major category. Here's the 'dope.' Keenum finished with under 300 yards passing in just one of Houston's 13 regular season games last year (had 233 yards in Houston's 38-15 win over SMU). However, he no doubt finished the season on a 'downer.' His team was beaten 38-32 in the C-USA championship game by East Carolina (despite his 527 YP and 5 TDs) and then in Houston's 47-20 bowl loss to Air Force, Keenum was held to just 222 YP with six INTs and just one TD. However, here's what Keenum's accomplished at Houston as he enters his senior year. He's passed for 12,950 career yards, which ranks him eighth all-time. The all-time leader is Timmy Chang (Hawaii) with 17,072 but considering Keenum has passed for 5,020 (2008) and 5,671 yards the last two seasons (joining Texas Tech's Graham Harrell as the only players with multiple 5,000-yard passing seasons during their careers), the fact that Keenum needs "only" 4,123 yards this season to catch Chang, owning the all-time record come season's end seems a given (barring injury). His 102 career TD passes (just 36 INTs) leaves him eighth all-time as well and he's a mere 32 shy of catching Harrell's all-time mark of 134. I say a mere 32 because Keenum has tossed 44 TD passes in each of his last two seasons. He's got 122 TDs accounted for (passing and rushing), and Dan Lefevour's (Central Michigan) record of 150 TDs has virtually no chance of 'standing up.' Keenum enters the season having topped 300 yards passing in 25 of his last 28 games and owns a school-record 12, 400-yard games, four of which he's surpassed 500 yards in (all came in 2009). He's thrown at least one TD pass in a school-record 30 consecutive games, which is also the longest active streak in college football. Houston has to win the C-USA tile this year plus Keenum must play well in games at UCLA, home to Mississippi State and at Texas Tech (which is the team's final regularly scheduled game before an expected C-USA title-game appearance), if he's going to sway enough voters. I find it hard to believe Keenum won't get an invite to New York come early December but winning the Heisman is another story.
KELLEN MOORE (Boise State): Boise State's current head coach Chris Peterson has put up a remarkable 49-4 (.926) record in his first four seasons with the Broncos (2005-09), as Boise ended the decade as college football's winningiest program (112-17, .868). Petersen's starting QB these last two seasons is now-junior, Kellen Moore. Moore's led the Broncos to a 26-1 record in 2008-09, including a 17-10 Fiesta Bowl win over TCU which gives the WAC school (soon to be MWC school) its second BCS bowl win since 2006. Think that's not impressive? In comparison, the entire ACC owns just two BCS bowl wins since 1998! The Broncos finished last season ranked 4th in the AP poll and have opened at No. 3 in its preseason poll, the school's highest preseason ranking ever. Moore's led an offense which has averaged 37.6 and 42.2 PPG these last two seasons, completing 66.7 percent of his throws for 7,022 yards with 64 TDs and only 13 INTs (39-3 ratio in 2009). Boise State has established an amazing football presence and its season-opener vs No. 10 Virginia Tech (at FedEx Field, home of the Redskins) will be the biggest regular season game in school history. If the Broncos win, they will likely "run the table" in 2010, meaning they'd be 12-0 after the season's final regular season weekend, as well as be the owners of a 26-game winning streak. Moore would be 38-1 as a starter and assuming he matched last year's stats of 64.3 percent completions, 3,336 passing yards, 39 TD passes and a QB rating of 161.7, how couldn't he be a Heisman finalist? Then again, a loss on September 6 (Labor Day evening), and Moore's on "the outside looking in" all year (as will be his Broncos).
LANDRY JONES (Oklahoma): Jones is the last of my four QBs on this list, winning out over fellow QBs Jake Locker of Washington (who many think could be the first QB taken in next April's draft), Ryan Mallet of Arkansas (30-7 ratio last season) and Christian Ponder of Florida State (averaged 301 YPG passing his last four starts with 10 TD passes, before his season-ending injury). Jones was not expected to play much last year as a freshman for the Sooners with Heisman-winner Sam Bradford coming back for his junior season. However, everyone knows Bradford was hurt in Oklahoma's opening game against BYU and was done for the year after a brief appearance vs Texas on October 17. Jones played some terrific games in the second half of last year (70.3 percent completions with four TDs and zero INTs vs KSU, 392 YP with five TD passes vs A&M and 418 YP and three TD passes in Oklahoma's bowl win over Stanford) but it's hard to forget his five-interception game in the team's 10-3 loss to Nebraska. However, I'm giving him my final spot because I believe there's an excellent chance that this year's Oklahoma team will be the Big 12's best team and have a realistic shot at going from 8-5 to a spot in the BCS title game. Jones is pretty talented and he's surrounded by outstanding talent. Working against his chances is head coach Bob Stoops. "Big Game Bob" hasn't won one of those "big games" in almost a decade!
My weekly Heisman report will be available every Monday, except the 2010 season's first one, which will be posted Tuesday, September 7, a day after that Boise State/Virginia Tech game.