The Heisman turns 75 this year, and what a birthday present it's about to get. For the first time in history, two players -- Tim Tebow (2007 winner) and Sam Bradford (2008) -- stand a chance to win a second Heisman. And, for the first time since 1946, the top three vote getters from the previous season -- Bradford, Tebow and 2008 runner-up Colt McCoy -- return. Still, it would be false to assume one of that trio will surely win the 2009 trophy. Here are the top 10 contenders prior to Week 1. Check in each Monday for an updated look at the race.
Heisman-o-meter: The Watch begins 2009 where it ended 2008 -- with McCoy on top. In reality, any of the top three quarterbacks could have landed here, but this passing and running Longhorn will be saddled with the Menez curse. (No player who has appeared No. 1 in the first Watch of the season has gone on to win the Heisman. Granted, that only goes back to 2005.) McCoy, however, has enough working in his favor to reverse the curse. Virtually all of his receiving weapons and offensive linemen return, the Longhorns are a contending team and McCoy will once again be the catalyst for a high-powered offense.
Heisman-o-meter: Tebow may go down as the most decorated player in college football history, thanks largely to his throwback running style and in-your-face leadership. Now he's working with new quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler to tighten up his throwing motion, which, if successful, would make him difficult to beat in this race. But one question lingers: With a nasty defense leading the charge and the coaching staff trying to keep Tebow healthy, will he run the ball as much as he has the past two seasons? In 2005 the Texas coaching staff told Vince Young, "Don't run. Throw the ball away. Don't scramble," and that may have cost him the Heisman. Keep an eye on whether Tebow (and for that matter, McCoy) keeps the wheels in the garage.
Heisman-o-meter: You know you've got competition when as the reigning Heisman winner you begin the following season No. 3 on The Watch. Bradford's last two losses came against McCoy and Tebow. That said, Bradford's snap release and accuracy will translate well at the next level, and he's certain to put up stats in the Sooners' up-tempo spread offense. (And Heisman voters love their stats.) Still, with Oklahoma having to replace four starters on the offensive line, Bradford may face more pressure this season, something he rarely had to deal with during his 50 TD campaign last season.
Up next: Sept. 5 vs. No. 20 BYU in Arlington, Texas
Heisman-o-meter: The most common question The Watch has received in the offseason has been: "Can anyone other than Bradford, McCoy or Tebow win the Heisman?" The answer is a resounding yes. While the top three have built up much credibility with voters, this will not be a three-man race, and Dwyer could be the most likely challenger. At 6-feet, 235 pounds and with excellent speed, he's essentially a Sunday back playing on Saturdays. Now, with one more year in coach Paul Johnson's option offense under his belt, Dwyer should be even more productive in 2009.
Heisman-o-meter: If you can't stay up to catch those late-night Pac-10 games, do yourself a favor and at least record The Quizz Show. This 5-7, 191-pound mighty mite produces must-see TV, with his ankle-breaking direction changes and surprising pile-pushing power. The Pac-10 may be loaded with running backs (namely Cal's Jahvid Best, Oregon's LeGarrette Blount, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and the USC triplets), but Rodgers returns as reigning Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year after becoming the first freshman to earn the honor. As long as his surgically repaired left shoulder, which kept him out of the final two-plus games in '08, holds up, he'll force voters to take notice.
Heisman-o-meter: No one in the college game is more capable of scoring from anywhere on the field than the electric Best, the nation's leading returning rusher from last season. Best possesses crazy speed; he hits the hole, and he's gone. That said, his '08 stat line is a tad misleading. Best racked up 511 rushing yards (almost a third of his season total) and seven TDs (almost half) against the two terrible Washington schools. In contrast, he managed just 30 yards against USC. That'll have to change for him to be the Best of the Best come December.
Heisman-o-meter: As good as Michael Crabtree was last season, one could argue this 6-2 jumping jack was the better receiver because of his ability down the field and contributions on special teams. (To be fair, Crabtree played hurt part of last year.) Teammates Kendall Hunter and Zac Robinson are Heisman contenders in their own right, but Bryant is the most valuable Cowboy. We saw that in the Holiday Bowl when Oklahoma State lost momentum after Bryant went down with a left knee injury. He underwent minor surgery to fix that knee in January and should be ready for the opener.
Heisman-o-meter: Ranking Pryor this high may be premature, especially considering he was still learning the passing game at the end of last season. But he's already on another level running the ball (Pryor, Tebow and Baylor's Robert Griffin are probably the three most dangerous running quarterbacks), and all the reports out of Columbus say he has made strides with his arm. After completing 13 of 18 passes for 191 yards and two long TDs with no interceptions in the spring game, Pryor said, "You saw it today. The world saw it today. I can throw the ball." He may need to in order to become the third straight sophomore to win the Heisman.
Heisman-o-meter: Some people automatically eliminate defensive players for the Heisman, and that's their prerogative, but it wasn't that long ago Charles Woodson took down Peyton Manning. With that in mind, The Watch remains defensive-friendly. If any defender has a chance to do it this year, it's Berry. He's a dynamic ball hawk and he knows what to do with the pigskin when he gets it. The main problem for him will be that, unlike Woodson, Berry likely will not be playing for a national title contender. That means another defender, namely USC's Taylor Mays, could have a better chance at being in New York in December.
Heisman-o-meter: The Watch could have played it safe with the No. 10 spot and gone with a more popular name like West Virginia's Noel Devine, Mississippi's Jevan Snead or Clemson's C.J. Spiller, but the spot goes to Masoli, who's come a long way from last preseason, when he entered camp as the fifth-string QB. This 5-11, 214-pound fire hydrant of a quarterback plows over helpless defenders and already runs the spread option offense as well as Dennis Dixon ever did. Masoli has a chance to make a big, immediate impression on voters in Week 1 when he faces a tough Broncos team on the blue turf in Boise.
Up next: Sept. 3 at No. 14 Boise State
For more Heisman thoughts, follow Gene on Twitter at SI_GeneMenez.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.