It's May, the part of the calendar that brings us the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500 and, naturally, Heisman Trophy speculation. With less than four months remaining until the opening kickoff of the 2008 season, here's a list of players who, with a little projection on my part, will be the ones to beat for the stiff-arm statuette.
2007 Stats: 274 rushes, 1,609 yards, 15 TDs; 5 receptions, 21 yards. Heisman-o-meter: Last month, Wells admitted he thinks of winning the Heisman "all the time" and that he once told his father that he wanted to become the first freshman to win it. Unfortunately for Wells, he cannot be the first freshman winner, but he has a legitimate shot at being Ohio State's seventh recipient. (A message to the fact-checking police: I know the Buckeyes have won the trophy a total of seven times, but Archie Griffin won twice.) The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Buckeyes bruiser with surprising wheels had a breakthrough 2007 season despite playing much of the year with a nagging left ankle injury and a broken bone in his left wrist. With all but two offensive starters returning for the Buckeyes and Ohio State likely to again be in the national title hunt in '08, the pieces are there for Wells to win the award. The one question with him is: How long will the ankle hold up? If it doesn't slow him down, Wells could run all the way to the Heisman podium in December.
2007 Stats: 234-of-350 passing, 3,286 yards, 32 TDs, 6 INTs; 210 rushes, 895 yards, 23 TDs. Heisman-o-meter: Gasp! How is the reigning Heisman winner not the preseason favorite? There are three main reasons: First, Gators coach Urban Meyer has said repeatedly Tebow will not carry the ball as much in '08. (And we saw that in the second half of '07.) Second, three running backs -- USC transfer Emmanuel Moody, sophomore Mon Williams (who was a medical redshirt last year) and spring sensation Chris Rainey -- join Kestahn Moore to give Florida the deep stable of runners it lacked last season. And finally, Tebow set the bar so high for himself last year, accounting for 55 total touchdowns, that he's in danger of, say, a 51-touchdown season in '08 being considered by voters as a sub-par year. The key to Tebow successfully repeating as Mr. Heisman could depend on his improvement as a passer.
2007 Stats: 248 rushes, 1,334 yards, 14 TDs; 20 receptions, 253 yards.Heisman-o-meter: He does not have ideal size (he's listed at 5-11, 207 pounds), but he's an electric runner who hits the hole quickly and can make you miss with his cutback ability. During a five-game stretch last year, the redshirt freshman rushed for 153.2 yards a contest and almost cracked this list. He should be a permanent member this season, assuming Caleb King doesn't steal too many of his carries. And don't sleep on Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford, who may just make this list at some point.
2007 Stats: 384-of-563 passing, 4,306 yards, 33 TDs, 11 INTs; 109 rushes, 253 yards, 4 TDs. Heisman-o-meter: Let's just throw the other pass-prolific Big 12 quarterbacks in here as well. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Texas' Colt McCoy and Kansas' Todd Reesing make the Big 12 the Conference of Quarterbacks, and they are all so close in ability and production that it's difficult to separate them. Daniel, a Heisman finalist last year and a regular member of this list for the last two, gets a slight edge because of his command of the offense and his ability to make plays with his feet.
2007 Stats: 134 receptions, 1,962 yards, 22 TDs; 1 kick off return, 16 yards.Heisman-o-meter: Expectations are higher than ever in Lubbock, in part because of this receiving terror. A nightmare in the open field because of the way he attacks the defense with his cutback ability and separation speed, Crabtree came out of nowhere in '07 and was miles ahead of the nation's second-best receiver. He should only get better in '08. But who makes Texas Tech's offense go, Crabtree or Harrell? (I believe Harrell's the catalyst, but Crabtree's the better player.) And will that matter to voters?
2007 Stats: 144-of-216 passing, 1,724 yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs; 197 rushes, 1,335 yards, 14 TDs.Heisman-o-meter: No quarterback -- and few players period -- are as dynamic in the open field as White. But the question is, Will the passing skills catch up with his running prowess? White will be forced to improve on his aerial ability because there are hints coming out of Morgantown that those bubble screens he threw often last year will be replaced by more vertical patterns in new offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen's scheme. He'll also miss receiver Darius Reynaud and running backs Owen Schmitt and Steve Slaton, but especially Reynaud.
2007 Stats: 121 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 interceptions. Heisman-o-meter: Will he win it? Considering only one primarily defensive player (Michigan's Charles Woodson) has earned the Heisman, it's a safe bet that he won't, but that's no reason to leave the Butkus winner off the list. This linebacking animal has a knack for always being around the football, and he's the best player on what should be the nation's best defense on a team that should again be in the hunt for the BCS title. Another defensive player to consider is USC linebacker Rey Maualuga.
2007 Stats: 94 rushes, 540 yards, 3 TDs; 23 receptions, 203 yards, 1 TD; 19 punt returns, 160 yards. Heisman-o-meter: I realize I'm going out on a limb here, but what fun would this list be if it was just chalk, chalk, chalk? McKnight was USC's third-leading rusher last year, but when he got the ball, particularly in the Rose Bowl victory over Illinois (10 rushes for 125 yards and a touchdown), he was special. Stafon Johnson, who could be a Heisman candidate himself, may very well be the starter, but this is looking like another Reggie Bush-LenDale White situation, with McKnight in the role of Bush.
2007 Stats: 83 rushes, 764 yards, 6 TDs; 59 receptions, 858 yards, 4 TDs.Heisman-o-meter: I toyed with adding Harvin to the list many times last year because he has a skill set that's Sunday-ready. Defenses must account for him all over the field, as he can beat teams either running or catching the ball. Last month, Harvin underwent minor surgery to correct the right heel pain that has plagued him since high school. He's expected to be full speed come fall practice though, and with that injury under control he should only be better in '08. But as is the case with Tebow, running backs Moody, Williams and Rainey will likely steal many of Harvin's carries.
2007 Stats: 282-of-433 passing, 2,991 yards, 27 TDs, 6 INTs; 71 rushes, minus-89 yards, 3 TDs. Heisman-o-meter: Many were considered for this last spot (Rudy Carpenter, James Davis, Ian Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray and Curtis Painter, among others), but I went with Harper, who arguably had just as good a season as Matt Ryan last year. He has all his important skill-position weapons back. The problem is the Tigers must replace four starters on the offensive line. If the line holds up, Harper is a longshot special in '08.