Spring's Top 10
For players whose names have appeared in the top five of a Heisman vote count -- and especially for those who happen to already own a trophy -- the 2005 edition of spring football was largely a spectator sport.
Last year's frontrunners, USC's Matt Leinart and Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, spent the spring recovering from offseason surgeries while second-, third- and fourth-stringers battled for supremacy among the backups. So while we've gleaned little new information about the lead dogs, we do know this: the '05 Heisman race, save for Jason White, could look a lot like '04's. To fill the void until fall, here's an early top 10:
2004 Stats: 269-of-412 passing (65.3 percent) 3,322 yards, 33 TDs, 6 INTs
Prognosis: Leinart has one trophy in the bank, and there's no reason another can't be on the way. (Well, except that Norm Chow, the architect/guru of the offense in which Leinart flourished for the past two seasons, left for an NFL gig, and LenDale White, USC's workhorse running back, and Dominique Byrd, the top tight end, are in danger of being academically ineligible for the fall ... )
In the springtime: He was nursing his throwing elbow (after surgery), and hitting the books (quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian made Leinart break down the defenses of every NFL team, which, USC's BMOC told the Los Angeles Times, "Will make analyzing defenses [in college this season] look real easy").
2004 Stats: 339 carries, 1,925 yards (148.1 ypg), 15 TDs
Prognosis: Leinart outshined Peterson in the Orange Bowl, but based on each player's regular season, Peterson should have won the trophy in '04. The question for '05 is, with OU's passing attack bound to be down post-White (three QBs are still competing for the starting job and the receivers are equally inexperienced), will AD's production drop as opposing defenses key on him? Peterson will have to use the summer to acquaint himself with the Sooners' revamped O-line -- which hasn't been stellar thus far -- and new quarterback, whoever that may be.
In the springtime: Peterson was resting after surgery on his left shoulder -- which meant running laps around Owen Field while his teammates practiced. His stats in OU's April 16 spring game were far from Heisman-like: 0 carries, 0 yards, 0 steps on the field.
2004 Stats: 179.2 all-purpose yards per game; (143 carries, 908 yards, 6 TDs; 43 catches, 509 yards, 7 TDs; 24 punt returns, 376 yards, 2 TDs; 21 kick returns, 537 yards; 1-for-1 passing, 52 yards, TD)
Prognosis: Bush is the most exciting player in the college game -- his personal highlight tape would trumps a compilation of every other player in the NCAA combined -- but he happens to share a backfield with the Heisman incumbent. If voters are still enamored with Leinart, then Bush's chances are slim; if voters feel compelled to spread the wealth among the Trojans, then Bush in '06 is a plausible scenario.
In the springtime: Amazingly, no surgery. Bush's doctor's note for missing USC's spring scrimmage said "jammed toe."
2004 Stats: 167 carries, 1,079 yards, 14 TDs; 148-of-250 passing (59.2 percent), 12 TDs, 11 INTs
Prognosis: Following the Rose Bowl, the phrase "2005 Heisman candidate" was officially appended to Young's name. His performance in Pasadena is now legendary: 29 carries, 192 yards, four TDs; 16-of-28 passing, one TD as Texas won the most exciting bowl game in years, 38-37 over Michigan.
In the springtime: He played? What a concept. Young went 8-of-14 passing for 115 yards and carried seven times for 24 yards in Texas' spring game. The 'Horns found Young a backfield companion in running back Ramonce Taylor, and the receiver spots -- with the sizable Limas Sweed and Jordan Shipley -- are filling in nicely. "I'd give the receivers an A," Young told the Austin American-Statesman after UT's final scrimmage. Which is a good sign, seeing that the passing game has not been Young's strong point.
2004 Stats: 309-of-462 passing (66.9 percent), 4,002 yards, 41 TDs, 4 INTs,
Prognosis: The man was robbed! How else to explain the lack of Heisman attention surrounding Jacobs' 41-TDs-against-just-four-INTs showing in '04? (Ed. Note: "Three losses" and "Plays in MAC" are also acceptable answers.) Jacobs is still far from a household name, but he'll begin 2005 on the radar as the top non-BCS-conference candidate. That should help.
In the springtime: Notice the "increased-participation" trend as we make our way down this list? Jacobs tore up the Falcons' spring game on April 16, completing 24 of 38 passes for 441 yards and a sextet of TDs. Nevermind that BGSU lost a trio of receivers to graduation -- freshman wideouts Corey Partridge and Luke Alexander combined for five TDs in the scrimmage. Jacobs' message to the younguns', as told to the Toledo Blade: "Just get open, and I'll find you."
2004 Stats: 238-of-399 passing (59.7 percent), 3,197 yards, 29 TDs, 12 INTs
Prognosis: This is a speculative pick (as if a Heisman Watch on April 27 is anything but), under the assumption that Leak will thrive in Urban Meyer's spread-option offense -- the system that turned Alex Smith, a relatively unknown QB before '04, into the No. 1 pick in the '05 NFL Draft. Now we'll see what it can do for the nation's biggest blue-chip QB in years, who passed for more than 3,000 yards last season but had too many INTs (12) and failed to complete 60 percent of his throws. Leak isn't a guaranteed contender, but all the right ingredients are present ...
In the springtime: Leak already has two years under his belt as a starter, but this was not a spring for fine-tuning. He had two substantial assignments: 1) Learn Meyer's offense (not an easy task -- the QB told SI that, "Meyer is a man who wants perfection") and 2) Learn a new definition of leadership -- Meyer's -- which required dishing out more verbal reinforcement (see: scolding) for his teammates, rather than simply guiding by example. Leak closed the camp with a four-TD, 221-yard afternoon in the Orange & Blue Game on April 9 -- which, by most indications, was a good start in the spread-option.
2004 Stats: 313 carries, 1,948 yards (162.3 ypg), 22 TDs; 18 catches, 210 yards, TD
Prognosis: Williams is the back -- along with OU's Peterson -- who has the best shot at rushing for 2,000 yards in '05 (Williams fell only 52 yards short of the mark in '04, when he was the nation's No. 3 rusher). Only two of his games this season are on national TV -- the season opener vs. Ole Miss and a Nov. 1 matchup with UAB -- but the fact that Williams is viewed as an '06 NFL first-rounder will ensure him a fair share of name recognition in the Heisman race ... or at least more than the average C-USA standout.
In the springtime: He took the field for just three plays in the Tigers' Blue-Gray Game -- and finished with a Peterson-esque double-zero (yards, carries). Coach Tommy West has good reason to protect his star, who broke his right fibula in the GMAC Bowl, seeing that Memphis' starting quarterback from '04, Danny Wimprine, and top receiver, Tavares Gideon, are now gone. "I understood where the coaches were coming from," Williams told The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal of his spring orders. "There were times when I'd walk up to coach [West] before a scrimmage and before I could say anything he'd say, 'No.' Then he'd call me back over and say, 'You know I still like you, don't you?'"
2004 Stats: 282 carries, 1,455 yards (121.3 ypg), 9 TDs
Prognosis: Hart was the nation's 10th-leading rusher as a freshman, despite only carrying the ball eight times in his first two games. He averaged 27.4 carries in the 10 games after that (the last eight of which he started), including a 40-carry, 234-yard afternoon at Illinois on Oct. 16. Expect Hart to become even more of a workhorse back in '05 -- to the tune of at least 30 carries per game -- and carry the Big Ten banner as its No. 1 Heisman candidate (right ahead of Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. and UM teammate Steve Breaston).
In the springtime: Hart was a participant in the Wolverines' notoriously secretive spring camp -- citing injuries as the reason, coach Lloyd Carr didn't even hold a traditional scrimmage for the final practice. Hart was not among the injured, and reportedly continued to impress in the backfield.
2004 Stats: 13 rushes, 113 yards, 2 TDs; 25 catches, 359 yards, 2 TDs; 15 punt returns, 384 yards (25.6 ypr), 4 TDs; 2 kick returns, 40 yards
Prognosis: Ginn was the nation's No. 1 punt returner in '04, but this season coach Jim Tressel intends for the speedster to be all of the following: a cornerback (in man-to-man situations in the red zone); a wide receiver (he caught 25 balls in '04 but could see twice that in '05); a tailback (he's harder to cover out of the backfield); and finally, a shotgun quarterback (seriously). Should Ginn do everything -- or at least most of those things -- in standard, highlight-reel fashion, he will be in the thick of the Heisman hunt.
In the springtime: Ginn was a No. 1 draft pick. Not by the NFL -- he was the first wide receiver chosen by the Scarlet team for the Buckeyes' spring game. While he saw limited action -- just one catch and one carry -- he gave the nearly 23,000 fans on hand a taste of things to come by scampering for a 13-yard gain on a reverse on the team's first play.
2004 Stats: 66-of-98 passing (67.3 percent), 819 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs
Prognosis: No longer handicapped by the non-BCS label, Louisville's offensive stars are now prime candidates for major national awards. Brohm is not yet a star, nor is he even a returning starter -- but he was no normal reserve in '04, playing exceptionally in relief duty of the No. 1-rated QB in the nation, Stefan LeFors. The reins are entirely in Brohm's hands in '05, and the super-soph could post huge numbers as the high-powered Cards make a run at the BCS.
In the springtime: Brohm was laughing -- at the Cards' defense, while he completed 23-of-29 passes (that's 79.3 percent) for 390 yards and six TDs on them in the spring game. Be very afraid, Big East.
If only the list were bigger, it would include: Steve Breaston, Jr., WR/R, Michigan; Tyler Palko, QB, Jr., Pitt; the two-RB combo of Jamario Thomas and Patrick Cobbs, North Texas (if such a split were possible).