There is one clear favorite to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy at the end of the season, and that's USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Of course, the same was true for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck last year who was also thought of as a lock to be the first pick in the NFL draft and he didn't win the Heisman so the race is not over before the season begins. Barkley comes into his senior season with a lot of talent surrounding him on offense, a team projected as a favorite to win the National title, and with the media spotlight on him; all things that will help his campaign to win the most famous trophy in all of sport. This could be the best USC offense we've seen since their title team in 2004 with two returning 1,000 yard receivers, and two 1,000 yard rushers on the team including Penn State transfer Silas Redd. All this being said, there are a lot of stars playing for a lot of good teams who also have a good chance at winning the Heisman; here are the most likely candidates.
Heisman Top Five...Plus One:
1. Matt Barkley (QB - USC) - Barkley has big time name recognition and puts up monster numbers on the field; he set the Pac-12 record last year for touchdown passes. Barkley finished 6th in the voting last season, should have finished higher, and is the favorite to win the trophy this year.
2011 Stats: 3,528 yards, 69.1% completions, 39 TD/ 7 INT
2. Montee Ball (RB - Wisconsin) - Ball is the highest returning Heisman vote getter from last season after finishing in fourth place. It'll be hard for him to top his stats from last year when he led the nation in rushing yards and tied an NCAA record for touchdowns, but even a small drop off would mean huge numbers. The Badgers will lean on Ball even more if that's possible with Russell Wilson now in the NFL meaning Ball will have every chance to put up Heisman worthy numbers once again.
2011 Stats: 1,923 rushing yards, 306 receiving yards, 39 total touchdowns
3. Geno Smith (QB - West Virginia) - Smith put up huge numbers last season in the first year of Dana Holgorsen's offense with 4,300+ yards, over 1,000 yards more than the previous season. Big numbers in the Big East against Louisville and Rutgers don't garner much attention on the national stage, but if he's able to put up similar numbers this year against Oklahoma and Texas, he'll get a trip to New York in December. It doesn't hurt that the last time college football fans and media watched him play, Smith put up 407 passing yards and 6 touchdowns leading his team to a 70-33 win over Clemson.
2011 Stats: 4,385 yards, 31 TD/ 7 INT
4. Denard Robinson (QB - Michigan) - Purely as a quarterback, he's below average at best. HIs accuracy, timing, and reads all need work in the passing game, so the question will be if what he does as a runner will make up for his deficiencies in the passing game. In particular, in their win over Notre Dame last year, several of Robinson's touchdown passes came when he threw off his back foot and were basically jump balls that his receiver won for him. He's not an efficient passer and never will be, but he's a household name in college football, he'll make electric plays that end up on SportsCenter, and Michigan is the favorite to win the Big 10; all things that give him a good chance to win the Heisman.
2011 Stats: 2,173 passing yards, 20 TD/15 INT, 1,176 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns
5. Aaron Murray (QB - Georgia) - The Bulldogs are the favorite to win the SEC east putting Aaron Murray in the spotlight. Murray posted pretty good numbers during his freshman and sophomore seasons but has never been considered for the Heisman because Georgia struggled. The Bulldogs went 6-7 during his freshman year and got off to a bad start with losses to Boise State and South Carolina last year that buried any chances he had at winning the Heisman. Murray set the school record for passing touchdowns last year at Georgia with 35, but he'll need to cut down on the interceptions and boost his completion percentage to win the Heisman.
2011 Stats: 3,149 yards, 35 TD/14 INT, 2 rushing touchdowns
6. Tyler Wilson (QB - Arkansas) - It was a tough call for this final spot between Wilson and Clemson quarterback Tajh Gibson, but I went with the Razorback. Wilson has all the tools necessary to post monster numbers, but the big question mark will be how he handles the loss of his head coach Bobby Petrino and leading receiver Jarius Wright. Wilson is a longshot, but if he can get his touchdown total over 30 and Arkansas upsets either LSU or Alabama; he'll have a shot to win.
2011 Stats: 3,638 Passing yards, 24 TD/6 INT