By Dylan Davis

There are moments in sports that we remember as if they happened to us personally instead of to strangers in places not including our living room couches. For me, the list includes Donovan scoring against Algeria, Adam Wainwright striking out Brandon Inge to win the 2006 World Series and the greatest play in the history of sports. For fans, we don’t need affirmation from sports writers to know that those moments were incredible or memorable; we know as knowledgeable human beings that those moments in time will always be remembered and cherished.

While these types of moments are special in one way or another, they were only one play in the midst of thousands throughout their respective seasons (or tournaments). One moment, no matter how large in our memory, does not ultimately decide the outcome of a game. Landon Donovan did score a memorable goal, but if Clint Dempsey hadn’t been called for a bogus offside in the first half, it would have been a historical footnote. If Wainwright hadn’t struck out Carlos Beltran to end the NLCS, the Cardinals may not have even been in the position to win the World Series. If the stellar Steelers defense hadn’t given up two second-half touchdowns to Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh would have been kneeling on the ball instead of throwing for the endzone in the final minute.

The point I’m trying to make is this: while one specific play does not change the outcome of a game as much as we think, it does change the perception of a player or event more than we can imagine. So while championships are won and lost over the long course of a season and playoffs, individual awards that are chosen subjectively by humans can be influenced by single moments. No award encapsulates this way of thinking more than the John Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

The Heisman is annually given to the best college football player in the country, and the recipient earns recognition and praise that usually turn him into an icon in the sports world. While statistics and wins certainly help a player vault into consideration for the trophy, he needs one or two moments that stick in the minds of the voters as they put pen to paper on their ballot. Moments such as this return by Desmond Howard , this run by Cam Newton and this play by Reggie Bush (oops, according to the NCAA that never happened) are what make Heisman winners. Any player can have the numbers, but to be the recipient of the Heisman, you have to have a moment (or moments) that will live on in the minds of fans everywhere. This season promises to be a tight race, and five of the top six finalists from last season return to strut their stuff on the gridiron.

Without further ado (or Adu), here are the top-ten Heisman finalists for the 2011 season.

10. Denard Robinson (QB Michigan)

2010 Review – For anyone who watched the Wolverines early last year, two things were immediately evident within five minutes of viewing. One, their defense was one of the most putrid units to ever stumble onto the gridiron and two, Denard Robinson looked like the second coming of Michael Vick and Barry Sanders rolled into one. In the second week of the season, Robinson absolutely lit up Notre Dame Stadium with 244 yards passing and a whopping 258 yards on the ground to go along with three touchdowns and no turnovers. Those numbers extrapolated over the course of a 13 game season (including the bowl) would be 3,172 yards passing, 3,354 yards rushing (which would be a single season record for a college player) and 39 total touchdowns with no turnovers. Unfortunately for Wolverines fans, Michigan only got to play the horrid Notre Dame defense once, and Shoelace was “only” able to total 2,570 yards passing, 1,702 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns. Injuries and better defenses in the Big Ten made Robinson human over the course of the season and he slipped down the Heisman list to finish sixth in the race by seasons end.

2011 Preview – This season brings a new coach, a new offense and a brighter outlook for Michigan fans. Brady Hoke was able to revive a dormant San Diego State program and jumped ship for the greener pastures (football wise) of Ann Arbor. With him, he brought a pro-style offense to replace the spread-option days of Rich Rodriguez. Moving forward, the Wolverines look to be in better hands with Hoke, but this is not good news for Robinson’s Heisman candidacy. Robinson’s dual-threat abilities were perfectly suited for the Rodriguez offense, and the horrible defense of Michigan means that Robinson played many snaps even against inferior opponents. I expect the Michigan signal caller to lead a better Michigan team in 2011, but his overall numbers will be less than spectacular.

 

9. Robert Griffin (QB Baylor)

2010 Review – For almost all of last season, Griffin was Denard Robinson-lite. He had a very similar skill set to Robinson’s, but he wasn’t asked to do as much in the Baylor offense, and coming off a major knee injury, he didn’t put up the massive numbers that Robinson did. He finished the year with 3,501 passing yards, 635 rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns, but his turnover numbers were considerably less than his counterpart up north. Griffin did lead Baylor to a rare bowl berth and he set the stage for an impressive 2011 season

2011 Preview – Griffin will have a slight edge over Robinson not only because of an offense more suited to bigger quarterback numbers, but because Baylor lost its leading rusher from last season. While this may hurt the Bears in the wins column, it should help Griffin rack up more yards on the ground due to an increased workload. If Baylor can start out strong with an upset over ranked TCU, I could see Griffin vaulting up Heisman leader boards early in the season.

 

8. Case Keenum (QB Houston)

2010 Review – Because Keenum was injured for much of the 2010 season, looking back at his 2009 numbers should give a much better indicator for projection. In 2009, Keenum threw for a ridiculous 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns as he led the nations best passing offense. Even though he was saddled with the perception of being a “system quarterback”, the Houston signal caller finished in the top-ten in the Heisman voting against a very strong class that included Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart, Ndamukong Suh and Kellen Moore.

2011 Preview – As we have seen with pass heavy offenses in the past, senior quarterbacks tend to put up other worldly stats in their final year on campus; Graham Harrell at Texas Tech and Colt Brennan and Timmy Chang at Hawaii posted their best numbers in their final year. If Keenum can continue this trend, 6,000 yards and 60 total touchdowns is not out of the question. Obviously those numbers by themselves would be enough to lock up the trophy for Keenum, but Houston would most likely have to win every game by a fair margin for him to even have a chance. The first game of the season against UCLA could do a lot for his national credibility.

 

7. Marcus Lattimore (HB South Carolina)

2010 Review – Straight up, Lattimore was an absolute beast as a freshman last year. The South Carolina native bulldozed SEC defenses for 1,600 total yards and 19 touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Mark Ingram totaled less than 800 yards and only 12 touchdowns the year before he took home the stiff-armed trophy. Lattimore’s national credentials were heightened by the fact that South Carolina was able to capture its first SEC East division crown.

2011 Preview – The South Carolina offense looks like a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode and blow points all over the SEC’s proverbial face. The Gamecocks return their starting quarterback in Stephen Garcia and preseason All-American wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Their non-conference schedule is laughable and they manage to avoid Alabama and LSU until a possible SEC title game. This all adds up as a recipe for Lattimore to possibly break through as South Carolina’s first Heisman winner in over 30 years. If he can reach 1,700 rush yards and 20 touchdowns (not far-fetched), while leading the Gamecocks to a BCS game, expect to see Lattimore in New York in December.

 

6. Justin Blackmon (WR Oklahoma State)

2010 Review – Dez who? After Dez Bryant left early to join the NFL’s most overrated team, it seemed as if Oklahoma State was doomed to be Kendall Hunter and 10 random dudes. Blackmon had other plans. He was able to snatch at least 100 yards and a touchdown in every single game last year and finished with an inhuman 111 receptions for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns. That was more receiving yards than every single running back had on the ground in 2010 and was more touchdowns than all but two running backs had on the ground. He rode those numbers to a fifth place finish in voting for the Heisman. Simply put, Justin Blackmon was a MAN last year.

2011 Preview – This year looks to be another insane season from the best receiver in the country. Oklahoma State welcomes back starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, who will keep bombing away to Blackmon, while the Cowboys schedule includes exactly one top-30 defense from last season (Texas). Joseph Randle should be enough of a ground game to keep defenses at bay, but no matter what, I expect Blackmon to continue his dominating run and be a potential Heisman finalist in 2011.

 

5. Kellen Moore (QB Boise State)

2010 Review – Last season, Moore led a prolific Broncos offense with 3,845 yards and 35 touchdowns against only six interceptions. He capped it off by completing a mind-boggling 71% of his pass attempts. I bet most people reading this can’t hit a stationary person 71% of the time, yet Moore did it against ferocious blitzes and coordinators focusing on his big-time game. Boise did lose one game last year, and that hampered Moore’s chances to be top dog in college football, although he was a finalist in New York and finished fourth.

2011 Preview – This season will be a completely different animal for Moore and the Boise team. Not only did they lose two NFL caliber receivers in Austin Pettis and Titus Young, but they also moved from the paper-thin WAC, to the much more competitive Mountain West Conference. They will have to sneak by TCU and San Diego State if they want a shot at another BCS game. This does two things for Moore: It raises the profile of his games and allows him to showcase his talent to a larger audience, but it also makes the games a tougher proposition. Losing Pettis and Young hurts, but a better ground game should open up defenses and allow Moore ample time in the pocket. A stellar defense should give Boise the wins it needs to keep Moore in the limelight. Expect the lefty senior to be among those being interviewed by Chris Fowler and Lee Corso at the Best Buy Theater after the season.

 

4. Andrew Luck (QB Stanford)

2010 Review – Luck has long been considered one of the best NFL prospects in the entire country and he will more than likely be the number one overall pick for the Washington Redskins in next year’s NFL draft (any team with Sexy Rexy at quarterback has to be favored to suck). While all of the hoopla has been surrounding Luck’s pro future, he put up a pretty dominant sophomore season in leading Stanford to one of its best seasons ever and finishing behind only (S)Cam Newton in the Heisman poll. Luck passed for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns while almost matching Kellen Moore with a 70.7% completion percentage. The QB also showed a mobile side by rushing for 453 yards and doing this and this. A horrible second half collapse at Oregon was the only thing keeping Luck and the Cardinal from reaching the BCS title game.

2011 Preview – Everyone with a Heisman poll and a brain seems to be picking Luck to take the trophy in 2011, but I’m not buying it. Yes, he will only get better this season, but his team will not get better. Outstanding coach John Harbaugh committed career suicide by becoming the head coach of the 49ers, leaving behind the program he built from virtually nothing. Luck will also not benefit from as strong of a defense, as they lost many players to the NFL and graduation. If Luck is able to keep the Cardinal on track this season with slightly improved statistics and an undefeated record, he will be the runaway winner, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Regardless, I expect Luck to be a finalist come December.

 

3. LaMichael James (HB Oregon)

2010 Review – James led the country in rushing last year with 1,731 yards on the ground and 21 touchdowns, while his Ducks played in the national title game against SEC power Auburn. Even though the Ducks weren’t able to pull out a victory, James still had a phenomenal season as the leading offensive weapon in Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense. James only dipped under 100 yards twice during the regular season and scored in every game but one while finishing third in the Heisman voting.

2011 Preview – On the surface, this season looks like another runaway success waiting to happen in Eugene, but just as with Andrew Luck and Stanford, the closer you look, the uglier it gets. The Ducks lost most of its staring offensive line from last season and will be thrown into the fire for their first game of the season against top-five ranked LSU. The way that James and the Ducks handle that match up will tell us a lot about how their seasons will unfold. If James is able to get 100 yards and a few scores, I expect him to be in the top-three all season on Heisman lists, but if the Ducks falter and James struggles, look for him to have a tough time repeating his success from last year. With all that being said, his blinding speed and the Ducks high-octane attack will always make James a contender for breakout performances.

 

2. Trent Richardson (HB Alabama)

2010 Review – The Crimson Tide halfback had to share the load with 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram, but this year Richardson will have the entire offense to himself. In limited duty last year, the sophomore was able to rack up 966 total yards and ten touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He only got 112 rushes, but as his workload increases, so should his productivity.

2011 Preview – Of all the players poised to breakout this season across the country, Richardson may be in the best situation. He benefits from an Alabama offensive line that is studded with highly sought after recruits and veteran stars. He will play in Nick Saban’s run-first offense and will be the feature player after the departures of Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Greg McElroy. I expect Richardson to exceed Ingram’s senior season and if the Tide finish the season were they start it (top three in most polls), Richardson could bring home make it three years in a row for the state of Alabama.

 

1. Landry Jones (QB Oklahoma)

2010 Review – If it’s possible to be under the radar while throwing for 4,700 yards and 38 touchdowns, that’s what Landry Jones accomplished last year. In Oklahoma’s explosive spread offense, Jones piloted the Sooners to a BCS bowl win over Connecticut and put up gaudy stats, yet was not even a top-ten Heisman finalist.

2011 Preview – Oklahoma returns most of its offensive line intact as well as Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, two of the best receivers in the nation. A stacked defense should lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 crown and if they can reach the National Title game, those same numbers that Jones put up last year should lead him to a Heisman trophy. The reason that I believe he is a favorite over Trent Richardson is simple: history. Ten of the past 12 seasons have seen a quarterback take home college’s top award. I look for that trend to continue in 2011.

 

That’s all the time for this week; check back next Friday for a look at this seasons best match-ups. Have a great weekend.

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