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Hopefuls and Has-Beens in the 2012 Heisman Trophy Race

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Heisman Hopefuls and Has-Beens

Heisman Watch
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The Heisman Memorial Trophy is the most coveted individual award in college football, but it's also the one whose winner is hardest to predict.

Unlike prestigious awards for specific position players, the Heisman goes to the year's "most outstanding college football player, whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."

It essentially goes to the player deemed the best of the best, but with 926 current voters (870 media members, 55 former winners and one overall fan vote) and 926 different perspectives, a "sure thing" is never really a sure thing, especially when there are so many exceptional football players with diverse styles of play.

So how’s a voter to choose?

A player’s position, his year in school, and how well his team is doing all factor into the decision. The majority of winners have been seniors, playing either quarterback or running back, who played on teams in the hunt for national titles or major conference championships.

Preseason Heisman watch lists can speculate, based on those factors, who the frontrunners will be, but like preseason polls, they’re poor indicators of who'll actually hoist the trophy in any given year.

Watch lists are based on past performances and future potential - two things that don't necessarily have anything to do with how outstanding a particular player is that season – but with one-third of the season in the books, we have a slightly better basis for determining who's still on track for a trip to New York in December, and who has already had their Heisman hopes dashed.

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HOPEFUL: Geno Smith, WVU


West Virginia's senior quarterback earned national recognition for his dominant performance in last year's Orange Bowl, and this season he picked up right where he left off. Through three games, Smith is completing more than 81% of his passes and has thrown for 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has 1,072 passing yards through three games, but he also took his first two sacks this season against Maryland last week. Some of his success will rely on how well he can hold up against defenses that are more stout than those at Marshall and James Madison, but West Virginia's Big XII schedule will give Smith plenty of opportunities to prove himself in the national spotlight.

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HAS BEEN: Matt Barkley, USC

Matt Barkley

Barkley, a four-year starter at USC, announced he was returning for his senior year to take care of some "unfinished business." Hopefully winning the Heisman wasn't at the top of his list. The California native finished sixth in the voting last year, just missing the final cut, but he's off to a slow start this season, completing just 64.5% of his passes. He has 12 touchdown passes, but he's also thrown five interceptions, and his average of 7.03 yards per pass attempt is his lowest in the last four years.

Barkley got better as the 2011 season went along, and he'll have opportunities to get himself back in contention with big games against Oregon and Notre Dame in November, but for now, he's no longer the frontrunner, and he'll be lucky just to get an invite to New York.

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HOPEFUL: De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon

De'Anthony Thomas

The Oregon sophomore, whom Sports Illustrated magazine recently touted as "The Fastest Man in Football," has been electrifying in his short career. He plays a hybrid receiver/running back role in the Ducks' super-uptempo offense. Last season as a true freshman, he had 605 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns, plus 595 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. This year looks to be more of the same speed and balance for Thomas. He's gained 572 yards (276 rushing, 165 receiving, and 131 on returns) and seven touchdowns despite a limited number of touches. He's had just 25 carries and 13 catches all year, but he's made them count.

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HAS BEEN: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

Montee Ball

Last season, Ball tied Barry Sanders' single-season touchdown record and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He decided to return for his senior year, and he has to be wondering if that was a smart decision. The running back missed most of fall camp due to injuries sustained when he was attacked leaving an off campus party over the summer, and he hasn't returned to his Heisman finalist form.

He's averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, the lowest average in his Wisconsin career, and last weekend, Ball lost his first career fumble before leaving the game with a concussion, his second in just a few months. It was always going to be tough for Ball to match 2011's impressive numbers, but his injuries and the Badgers' overall struggles have effectively ended his chances at another run for the trophy.

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HOPEFUL: Collin Klein, Kansas State

Collin Klein

The Kansas State Wildcats have quietly become a factor in the Big XII over the last two seasons, and Klein, their dual-threat quarterback who has been compared to former Heisman winner Tim Tebow, is a big reason they're one of the top teams in the league.

Last season, he threw for 1,918 yards and ran for 1,141 more, tying the FBS record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 27. His passing, like Tebow's, has its critics, but he's still getting the job done well in Manhattan, KS. He has 758 passing yards and 289 rushing already this season, with five touchdowns through the air and five on the ground. After last year's success, Kansas State is getting more media attention, which only helps to expose Klein's immense talent to a larger audience of Heisman voters.

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HAS BEEN: Denard Robinson, Michigan

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

"Shoelace," Michigan's senior quarterback, is one of the most talented athletes in college football, but it takes more than that to win the Heisman Trophy. Two seasons ago, Robinson became the first quarterback to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 in a single season, but disastrous showings in prime time games against Alabama and Notre Dame, including a 5-interception performance against the Irish, will keep Robinson home on Heisman weekend. Completing just over half his passes, with more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (6) this year, isn't going to be good enough to earn him a spot among the most outstanding players of 2012.

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HOPEFUL: E.J. Manuel, Florida State

Melina Vastola - US PRESSWIRE

Manuel burst onto the national scene last weekend when he led the Florida State Seminoles to a win over ACC rival Clemson. The senior quarterback out-gained the entire Clemson team, with 482 yards of total offense as he led his team to the come-from-behind win. Florida State looked like a serious contender on Saturday night, and if they keep playing that well, Manuel's Heisman hopes will reap the benefits. Showcase games against Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and Miami will give Manuel more chances to make a case for himself as a Heisman finalist down the stretch.

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HAS BEEN: Landry Jones, Oklahoma

Landry Jones
Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE

Jones broke the Oklahoma passing records set by his predecessor, Heisman winner Sam Bradford, but even though he's been a preseason Heisman prospect each of the past two years, things haven't gone as planned. Jones threw for more than 4,000 yards in the last two seasons, but his completion percentage hovered in the low 60s, with interceptions in the double-digits each year.

Jones struggled last season after his favorite target, Ryan Broyles, was lost for the year with a knee injury, and this season, he's still building up chemistry with a stable of new receivers. He's also been sacked on a greater percentage of snaps than ever before in his career. Not only is Jones' shot at the Heisman, uh...shot, his draft stock is reportedly taking a serious hit already this year.

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HOPEFUL: Aaron Murray, Georgia

Aaron Murray
Derick E. Hingle - US PRESSWIRE

Before the season, Murray was hyped as possibly the best quarterback in the SEC. The Georgia junior hasn't been at the center of Heisman discussions so far, but look for that to change as the 'Dawgs move through their conference schedule. They've scored more than 40 points in every game so far, thanks in large part of Murray, who has 1092 passing yards and 10 touchdowns through four games.

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HAS BEEN: Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

Tyler Wilson

Wilson's Heisman hopes went into the ditch along with former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino's motorcycle. The Razorbacks' season has gone downhill fast, and by extension, so has Wilson's. He was knocked out of the loss to Louisiana-Monroe with a concussion (Arkansas was leading when he left) and he was sacked on his first play back against Rutgers. His stats, surprisingly, aren't too bad - 982 yards, 8 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 11.42 yards per attempt - but the Hogs have gone so far off the rails (or the road, so to speak) that it would take out-of-this-world performances by Wilson in every remaining game for him to turn Razorbacks' season around and end up back in the Heisman conversation.

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HOPEFUL: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

Matt Cashore - US PRESSWIRE

It's rare for a defensive player to win the Heisman, but that doesn't mean Notre Dame's star linebacker shouldn't be considered. He leads the nation's linebackers in interceptions; his two in the prime time matchup against Michigan vaulted him onto many Heisman Trophy watch lists. He's second nationally in fumble recoveries and was the LOTT Impact Player of the Week two consecutive weeks. Te'o played extremely well despite recent personal tragedies, and Notre Dame's return to national significance will only help his chances of becoming a Heisman finalist.

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HAS BEEN: Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

Peter Casey - US PRESSWIRE

The Virginia Tech quarterback was a preseason favorite out of the ACC, but like the rest of the Hokies' squad, he's struggled in 2012. He has seven passing touchdowns and four interceptions, but he hasn't had much support around him. The Hokies lost their top receiver and top rusher from last season so Thomas knew he might have a heavier workload, but he simply doesn't have the talent around him this year to get the numbers he'd need to make a run for the trophy.

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HOPEFUL: Braxton Miller, Ohio State

Braxton Miller
Greg Bartram - US PRESSWIRE

Ohio State's quarterback has been one of the few bright spots in the Big Ten in the early part of the season. Miller has carried the Buckeyes to a 4-0 start, and head coach Urban Meyer, who also coached Heisman winner Tim Tebow, has already drawn comparisons between the talented players. Like Tebow, Miller can make plays with his arm or his legs. He's completing 61.2% of his passes, for 752 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, and he's also rushed for 441 yards and 7 more touchdowns. With Ohio State under sanctions and the Big Ten seemingly in a down year, it'll be tough for Miller to get enough respect from voters to win, but he's already made quite a few headlines early this season.