While it may be too early to get serious about who might win the 2012 Heisman Trophy, college football is a constantly moving machine and projecting the events of the near future can still be a fruitful exercise. That said, the PAC-12 football may already be out in the cold. However, there are three players with a good chance at appearing on the ballot with a solid 2012 campaign, along with one dark horse.
Matt Barkley, QB, USC
How he fits: Barkley made the smart decision by remaining at USC for his senior season, thus bypassing the NFL Draft. He might have supplanted Ryan Tannehill as a Top 10 pick in April but Barkley sees something special brewing under coach Lane Kiffin. Now that the Trojans are out from under the NCAA post-season ban, he has a shot at a national title. With a solid offensive line and a good cast of skill players, his chances of hoisting the hardware are excellent even now.
Best chances to impress the voters: Sure, it’s a long season, but games at Washington on Oct. 13; at Oregon on Nov. 3 and home against Notre Dame on Nov. 24 should give Barkley the spotlight he needs if he performs well.
Potential drawbacks: While the Trojans are the favorites to win the South Division, USC could be out shined by North rival Oregon by season’s end, and the other national favorites, including Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, could have bigger seasons.
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
How he fits: Oregon seen as high as No. 2 in preseason polls and the Ducks will look to the fleet and athletic Thomas as James’ replacement. He and Kenjon Barner are the keys to the Ducks speed-option offense. Thomas should emerge early as the top back for Oregon and light it up enough stay in the Heisman race.
Best chances to impress the voters: Look for Thomas to begin his Heisman run at home against a tough Arizona defense on Sept. 22. He will need to post some serious numbers on Oct. 6 against Washington and at USC on Nov. 3 to run up the charts.
Potential drawbacks: There’s a quarterback race this season between redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota and sophomore Bryan Bennett. That battle could result in an inconsistent offense early in the season, and impact De’Anthony’s numbers. That and the presence of Barkley in the Heisman conversation might leave him out of the running.
Keith Price, QB, Washington
How he fits: The dynamic Price, who was on the rise last season, could explode and emerge as one of the nation’s best and vault into the Heisman picture. He’ll have tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and receivers Kasen Williams and James Johnson catching the ball and will get help from a solid Washington Huskies running game.
Best chances to impress the voters: Last year, Oregon dropped its early-season non-conference game at LSU — this year, it is Washington’s turn to see if the PAC-12 can best the national champs in Baton Rouge on Sept. 8 and then at home against USC on Oct. 13.
Potential drawbacks: Price lost his top two receivers from 2011 in Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar. Also, Washington will have to contend with Oregon and Stanford in the North Division, which could lead to Price falling out of favor with the voters if he can’t keep their attention.
Robert Woods, USC, WR
Woods enters the season as the No. 1 receiver for a national contender with one of the top college quarterbacks in the nation throwing him the ball. If he puts up the numbers and makes it into the highlight films he’ll be in the mix.
Since he isn’t an early favorite, Woods will have to perform at a high level every week, so those games against Washington, Oregon and Notre Dame could be the lynchpins. However, his performance will depend on Barkley, and if he shines so too will his quarterback, leaving the impression that he’s only as good as Barkley makes him. Still, it’s not impossible for Woods to have a monster season for a seat in the front row on Heisman night.