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2008 Heisman Preview

   by Larry Ness - 08/25/2008

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. I didn't do one last year but I've had a number of requests to revive it this year, so I will. After a brief intro, my Heisman preview appears below. My weekly top-10 will be available right here every Monday, beginning on September 1.


The number seven is 'wild' when it comes to Heisman winners with Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC all tied with seven career Heismans. However, Notre Dame hasn't had a Heisman winner since Tim Brown in 1987 and he was the school's first winner since John Huarte won in 1964. USC became known as "Tailback U" as Mike Garrett (1965), OJ Simpson (1968), Charles White (1979) and Marcus Allen (1981) captured four awards in a 17-year stretch. Then QB Carson Palmer won in '02, QB Matt Leinart in '04 and RB Reggie Bush in '05. However, neither school figures to have a 'dog' in this year's Heisman 'hunt.'


Six players have won Ohio State's seven Heismans, as the Buckeyes own college football's only two-time winner, Archie Griffin (1974-75). OSU's first winner was Leslie Horvath in 1944 and its most recent winner was Troy Smith in 2006. RB Chris "Beanie" Wells is in my preseason top-five this year and QB Todd Boeckman is one of a trio of QBs I have ranked in the No. 8 spot (see below). Ohio State has lost back-to-back BCS titles games but is among a handful of favorites to return for a third consecutive try in '08. For that to happen, the Buckeyes will likely need to beat USC on September 13 in the Coliseum, where the Trojans have won 38 of their last 39 games.


It may come as a surprise to some that neither Alabama with 787 all-time wins (7th all-time) nor Tennessee with 771 wins (9th) have ever had a Heisman winner. Alabama has never had a player finish higher than fourth in the voting (most recently, Johnny Musso in 1971) while Tennessee has had four players finish second in the balloting. Hank Lauricella in 1951, Johnny Majors in 1956, Heath Shuler in 1993 and Peyton Manning in 1997.
In comparison, SEC rival Florida has had three winners, Steve Spurrier in 1966, Danny Wuerffel in 1996 and last year's winner, Tim Tebow. Tebow became the first sophomore to win the award in 2007, while becoming the first player to ever have 20 or more TD passes (32) and rushing TDs (23) in the same year. Can Tebow pull an "Archie Griffin" and win it again this year?


It should be noted that two of previous four winners (prior to Tebow), each returned the following year only to fall short. Oklahoma's Jason White won the Heisman in his junior year of 2003 but finished third in the 2004 voting behind teammate Adrian Peterson (a freshman!) and USC's Matt Leinart, who won. Leinart returned for his senior year as well in '05 but like White, finished third in the voting that year, behind Vince Young (Texas) and teammate Reggie Bush, who became USC's seventh Heisman winner. However, Tebow's the "defending champ," so he'll begin the year atop my poll.


HEISMAN TROPHY PRESEASON TOP-10 POLL


1) Tim Tebow (Florida): Tebow helped the Gators win the national title in his freshman year (2006), offering a "change of pace" to Florida's starting QB that year, Chris Leak. Tebow attempted just 33 passes in '06, throwing five TDs with only one INT. However, in a sign of things to come, ran 89 times for 469 yards (5.3 YPC) while scoring eight TDs. He led a young Florida team a 9-4 mark in 2007, becoming the first player in NCAA history to pass (32) and run (23) for 20 TDs or more in the same season. He completed 66.9 percent of his 350 attempts, while throwing just six INTs (finished second in passing efficiency with a QB rating of 172.47). His 210 rushing attempts were more than double the number of any other player on the team, as he ran for 895 yards (4.3 YPC). He set an NCAA record for rushing TDs by a QB (23), an SEC record for TDs accounted for (55) and a school-record for total offense (4,181 yards). He accomplished all this despite suffering a bruised shoulder in the middle of the season and playing with a fractured right hand in Florida's regular season finale vs Florida St. The Gators return all but two offensive starters this year, from a team which finished third in the nation in both scoring (42.5 PPG) and total offense (457.2 YPG) in '07. However, Tebow is not expected to run as much this year, so his numbers could be down. The Gators have a typically tough SEC schedule, visiting Tennessee and Arkansas, while playing in Jacksonville against preseason No. 1, Georgia. They also must visit Tallahassee on November 29 plus host LSU (defending national champs) and Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks on November 15, who almost beat the Gators in "the Swamp" in '06 (Florida won 17-16). I don't expect Tebow to repeat but he deserves to begin the year in the No. 1 spot.


2) Pat White (West Virginia): White returns for his senior year with quite a resume as West Virginia's starting QB. Unlike Tebow, don't expect his rushing attempts to be down this year. In fact, with RB Steve Slaton leaving school early, his opportunities may even increase. The Mountaineers went 11-2 last year, with White being hurt in both losses. He was injured in the late second quarter (and never returned) of a 21-13 loss at USF on September 28. Then, in the team's regular season finale at home vs Pitt (when a win meant a spot in the BCS title game), White dislocated his thumb in the second quarter and while he returned in the fourth quarter, he was not able to do much. However, he returned a month later to lead the Mountaineers to a 48-28 win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, completing 10-of-19 passes for 176 yards and two TDs (no INTs), as well as rushing 20 times for 150 yards. It marked his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the year, giving him 15 in his career. He'll enter this year having won Big East POY the last two seasons, with 4,207 career passing yards (64.2 percent), 35 TDs and 16 INTs. He's added 3,506 rushing yards (7.1 YPC) and scored 39 rushing TDs. He's a perfect 3-0 in bowl games in his career, leading West Va past Georgia 38-35 in the Sugar Bowl in his freshman season and beating Ga Tech (also 38-35) in the Gator Bowl as a sophomore. His three-year bowl record is very impressive, as he's completed 30-of-48 passes (62.5 percent) for 427 yards (5 TDPs / 0 INTs), while rushing 66 times for 372 yards (65.6 YPC) and one TD. West Virginia has a realistic shot at going unbeaten in '08, which sure wouldn't hurt White's chances of winning the Heisman.


3) Chase Daniel (Missouri): Daniel completed 63.5 percent of his passes in 2006, throwing for 3,527 yards with 28 TDs and only 10 INTs. His 28 TD passes shattered Missouri's single-season mark, as it had been held by Terry McMillan, who had 18 back in 1969. Even more noteworthy that year was that Daniel led the Tigers to an 8-5 record, just the second time Missouri had won eight games in the previous 25 seasons. However, Daniel was just "warming up." Daniel was terrific last year, topping 300 yards passing eight times in 14 games (owns 12, 300-yard games in his career), with a career-high 421 in a 55-10 with at Colorado on November 3 in which he also matched a career single-game high of five TD passes. He finished the season by completing 68.2 percent of his passes for 4,306 yards while throwing 33 TDs and only 11 INTs. However, Daniel and the Tigers lost twice to Oklahoma in '07, 41-31 in Norman on October 13 and 38-17 in the Big 12 championship game on December 1. In those two losses, Daniel threw just one TD pass and was intercepted three times. However, the team's 12-2 finish after a 38-7 win over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, allowed the Tigers to finish No. 4 in the final AP poll, the school's highest-ever final ranking. Missouri is ranked No. 6 in the AP's preseason poll (also the highest ranking ever for the school) and the good news is, the Sooners are not on the Tigers' regular season schedule this year. Expect Daniel to have another great year and if the Tigers can meet and beat the Sooners in this year's Big 12 championship game, Daniel is likely to wind up in New York as one of the Heisman finalists.


4) Chris Wells (Ohio State): Wells is the first RB on my list and I'm rating him one spot ahead of Georgia's Knowshon Moreno only because I believe the Buckeyes have a much easier overall schedule than the Bulldogs. Wells ran for 576 yards as a freshman (2006) and followed with an impressive 1,609 yards last year as a sophomore (averaged 5.9 YPC and scored 15 rushing TDs). After not topping 100 yards in any game in '06, Wells topped the 100-yard mark nine times in 2007, including 221 yards at home vs Michigan State, gaining a school-record (which is obviously a career-high for Wells) 222 yards in the regular season finale at Michigan plus gaining 146 yards on 20 carries in the BCS title-game loss to LSU, where he set a BCS record for the longest TD run (65 yards) in that game's 10-year history. Wells accomplished all this, while suffering with bone spurs the entire year. If the Buckeyes can win at USC on September 13 (no small feat), Ohio State just could reach the BCS championship game for the third consecutive year. If that's the case and Wells improves on last year's stats (which is hardly far-fetched), he's a legitimate Heisman threat.


5) Knowshon Moreno (Georgia): After losing 35-14 in Knoxville to the Vols on October 6 of last year, the Bulldogs record was a disappointing 4-2. True freshman RB Knowshon Moreno was held to just 30 yards in 13 carries (2.3 per) in that game and had hardly resembled Jamaica's Usain Bolt, "coming out of the blocks!" However, the Bulldogs would not lose again, finishing the year with seven straight wins. Moreno turned into a star in the first five games of that season-ending run by Georgia, gaining 766 yards or 153.2 YPG. He finished his freshman season with 1,334 yards rushing (5.4 YPC) and 14 TDs. Georgia finished the '07 season at 11-2, with a final ranking of No. 3 in the coaches' poll and No. 2 in the AP poll. To begin '08, the Bulldogs have opened as the No. 1 team in the nation in both the coaches' and AP preseason polls, marking first-time the school has topped either of those polls in the preseason. Georgia is seeking its first national title since Herschel Walker's freshman year (1980) and Moreno is seeking the school's third Heisman (Frank Sinkwich won in 1942 and Herschel in 1982). The problem that both Georgia and Moreno will face in 2008, is that the Bulldogs must survive a brutal schedule. The SEC placed five other schools along with Georgia in the AP's preseason top-25 and all five are on Georgia's schedule this year, plus the Bulldogs must visit No.15 Arizona State on September 20. In all, the Bulldogs will face eight teams which feature head coaches who have won national titles on some level (for a complete list, see my article entitled, "CFB '08: Lucky No. 11").


6) Grahan Harrell (Texas Tech): After two RBs, I'm back to the QB position for the next three spots in my poll. After all, QBs have dominated the Heisman contests lately, winning seven of the eight awards this decade (Reggie Bush in '05 is the lone interloper). Harrell began the '06 season (his sophomore year) at Texas Tech as the school's starting QB. It marked the first time since 2001 that the Red Raiders did not open the year with a senior at that position. All Harrell did in '06 was complete 412-of-617 passes (66.8 percent) for 4,555 yards with 38 TDs and 11 INTs. All he did last year as a junior, was to improve on those numbers! Harrell completed 512-of-713 passes in '07 (71.8 percent) for 5,705 yards with 48 TDs and 14 INTs. His 646 yards passing at Oklahoma State was the fourth-highest single-game mark in NCAA history and by year's end he had become just the fifth QB in NCAA history with two 4,000-yard seasons on his resume. If he continues to improve, what can we expect this year? The Red Raiders are really a well-kept secret, as Texas Tech enters the '08 season with a run of 13 consecutive winning seasons (starting in 1994). The Big 12 was formed the following year and Tech is the only Big 12 team to post a winning season in each of that conference's 12 years. Now here's the rub. I earlier mentioned that Harrell had 646 yards passing at Oklahoma State on September 22 (also had five TDs and no INTs) but I didn't mention that the Red Raiders lost that game, 49-45. Tech stood at 6-1 through seven games last year but then Harrell had back-to-back four-interception games at Missouri (a 41-10 loss) and at home to Colorado (a 31-26 loss as a 13 1/2-point favorite). Harrell will put up huge numbers again this year (he owns 22 games of 300 passing yards or more, including 14 games of 400-plus) but any chance (outside at best) of him winning the Heisman will likely need Texas Tech to be 10-0 when the Red Raiders visit Norman on November 22.


7) Sam Bradford (Oklahoma): Bob Stoops won a national title in just his second year as Oklahoma's head coach. In '08, Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford will try to give his head coach a second title, in Bradford's second year in Norman. Bradford was spectacular as red-shirt freshman last year, throwing for 3,121 yards (69.5 percent) with 36 TDs and eight INTs. His 36 TD passes were a new NCAA freshman single-season record and his QB rating of 176.52 led the nation last year. Bradford was brutal (8-of-19 with 112 yards / 1 TD and 2 INTs) in a 27-24 loss at Colorado (OU was favored by 23 points) on September 29 and at Texas Tech on November 17, he suffered a concussion very early (had attempted just three passes), as the Sooners lost their second regular season game of the year, 34-27. Bradford did come up big in Oklahoma's two wins over Missouri, completing 42-of-60 passes for 475 yards with four TDs and one INT, but he couldn't turn around Oklahoma's recent failures in BCS bowl games, as the Sooners were blown out 48-28 by West Va in the Fiesta Bowl, the school's fourth consecutive BCS bowl loss. Oklahoma is again a legitimate national title-game contender and Bradford, a legitimate Heisman contender.


8) Todd Boeckman (Ohio State) / Cullen Harper (Clemson) / Matthew Stafford (Georgia): I'd be shocked if any of these three QBs were to win but all three are the starting QBs on teams destined for excellent seasons. Boeckman entered last year with just 10 passing attempts in his first two years at Ohio State (backing up Troy Smith, who won the Heisman in '06) but led the Buckeyes back to the title game in '07. His stats weren't overwhelming in '07 (2,379 yards / 63.9 percent / 25 TDs and 14 INTs) but if the Buckeyes were to go unbeaten and return to the BCS championship game for the third straight year, who knows? Georgia's Stafford had the most modest stats of this "group of three" last year (55.7 percent / 2,523 yards / 19 TDs and 10 INTs) but many experts feel this guy could be the top QB taken when he enters the draft. Georgia won its lone national tile with Buck Belue as its QB in 1980, so anything is possible! Cullen Harper entered last year with just 22 pass attempts on his college resume but completed 65.1 percent of his passes in '07, throwing for 2,991 yards with 27 TDs and just six INTs (led ACC in passing efficiency). He's got a great RB tandem behind him in Davis and Spiller and just maybe, this is Clemson's year?


9) Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech) / Percy Harvin (Florida) / Jeremy Maclin (Missouri): Only three WRs have won the Heisman in its history. Johnny Rodgers (Nebraska) won in '72, Tim Brown (Notre Dame) won in '87 and Desmond Howard (Michigan) won in '91. The one thing all of these three winners had in common was their ability to return kicks. If that's the 'deciding vote,' then let's first discuss Jeremy Maclin. Maclin was superb last year for the Tigers, catching 80 passes for 1,055 yards (13.2 per) with nine TDs. All this, despite the fact that Missouri owned a "two-headed monster" at the TE position with Rucker (84 catches) and Coffman (52 catches) plus Maclin also ran for 375 yards (7.4 YPVC) and for four TDs plus returned two punts for TDs as well. However, my favorite of the three is Florida's Percy Harvin. What a unique team the Gators had last year, with QB Tim Tebow leading the team in rushing and WR Harvin finishing second, with 764 yards (9.2 YPC) and six TDs. He also had 59 catches for 858 yards (14.5 per) with four TDs, which led the team despite the fact that Harvin missed two games. Last, but certainly not least, it's Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech. Crabtree finished with 134 receptions for 1,962 yards and 22 TDs. All were single-season freshman NCAA records. He became the first freshman to win the Biletnikoff Award and who knows what he may accomplish in '08?


10) Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan). Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech) / Percy Harvin (Florida) / Jeremy Maclin (Missouri): Only three WRs have won the Heisman in its history. Johnny Rodgers (Nebraska) won in '72, Tim Brown (Notre Dame) won in Now everyone outside of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan knows a player from the MAC can't win the Heisman. However, Chippewas fans will point out the similarities of Dan LeFevour's 2007 stats to that of Heisman winner Tim Tebow's. Tebow had a TD-to-INT ratio of 32-6 and LeFevour had one of 27-13. Tebow threw for 3,286 yards while completing 66.9 percent and LeFevour threw for 3,652 yards while completing 65.4 percent. Tebow ran for 895 yards (4.3 YPC) with 23 TDs and Lefevour ran for 1,122 yards (6.0 YPC) with 19 TDs. Now all the Chippewas need to do is go 13-0 in the regular season (which would include a win in the MAC title game) and for LeFevour to greatly improve on his 2007 stats for him to even be considered as a Heisman finalist!


Good luck, Larry

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