This is an article from the April 9, 2012 issue
RB, Wisconsin, Sr.
He was fourth in the voting last season, when he tied Barry Sanders's record with 39 total TDs and led the nation with 1,923 rushing yards. Though the Badgers must replace three offensive linemen, the arrival of veteran QB Danny O'Brien from Maryland should only benefit Ball's campaign.
QB, USC, Sr.
The spotlight will be on Troy once again with Barkley most likely entering the season as the Heisman favorite. No returning QB threw for more TDs than his 39 in 2011. In putting off the NFL to return for his senior year, Barkley could deliver the program its record-tying seventh Heisman winner.
QB, Oklahoma, Sr.
He's the nation's active leader in career passing yards (12,379) but regressed in 2011. Yards, TDs and completion percentage all fell, and he threw a career-worst 15 picks. His hopes hinge on finding a go-to receiver after the departure of Ryan Broyles.
QB, Kansas State, Sr.
This banger and bruiser plays the position with the toughness of a fullback. He ran for 27 TDs (the most of any FBS quarterback) and 1,141 yards in 2011, his first year as a starter. But he'll need to improve in the passing game to have a shot.
RB, South Carolina, Jr.
The 2010 national freshman of the year is still rehabbing from surgery on a torn left ACL and MCL, which ended his '11 season after seven games. If he returns to his workhorse form, he may be the SEC's best shot at a fourth Heisman in six years.
CB, LSU, Jr.
The Honey Badger took the nation by storm in 2011, producing game-changing plays and earning a trip to New York. He'll have (nick)name recognition on his side, but the fact remains that no player has won the trophy without playing some offense.
QB, Georgia, Jr.
In his second year as a starter in 2011, he led the SEC with 35 TD passes, a school record. The Bulldogs will have a deep and talented receiving corps, but for Murray it's paramount that he cut down on his interceptions (14 last year) if he's to have a real shot.
QB, Michigan, Sr.
His interceptions ballooned to a career-worst 15 in 2011, and he completed just 55.0% of his passes, but few can match what Shoelace does with his legs. He needs to be a more consistent passer if he's to become the fourth dual-threat QB to win since '07.
QB, West Virginia, Sr.
Smith excelled in his first year in coach Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid attack. He threw for 4,385 yards (the second most of any QB who is returning in 2012) and 31 TDs. If he can approach those numbers as the Mountaineers move to the Big 12, he'll be a contender.
RB, Oregon, Soph.
The Black Mamba is a multipurpose monster—he had 18 combined rushing, receiving and returning TDs while earning Pac-12 co-offensive freshman of the year honors. So he should have no problem supplying highlight-reel moments for a potential Heisman ceremony package.
WR, Clemson, Soph.
As a freshman the receiver-returner ranked fourth in the FBS in all-purpose yards (176.0 per game), which was the best for a first-year player since 2008. Recent Heisman history hasn't been kind to receivers, but winners Tim Brown and Desmond Howard were, like Watkins, threats in the return game.
QB, Arkansas, Sr.
Wilson led the SEC in passing yards (3,422) and total offense (283.4 per game) in 2011, his first year as a starter, and did so without the benefit of a running game. Knile Davis's return to the backfield could free up the passing attack—but could also split votes between the two.