The top 5 Heisman candidates for the 2011 college football season

Stanford Cardinals quarterback Andrew Luck (12) completes this first half pass against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the 77th Annual Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life stadium in Miami on January 3, 2011. UPI/Michael Bush

The 2011 college football season is still a couple of months away but seeing as how we’ve reached the dead days of the sports calendar, I figured it would be okay if we took a look at this year’s Heisman candidates. Below are five players I believe have the best shot at claiming this year’s Heisman hardware.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
What to Like: Barring injury or a Jake Locker-type senior campaign, Luck could run away with this year’s Heisman. He was runner-up for the award in 2010 and was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. Most pundits believe he’ll be the top signal caller in college football this year and he’s the main reason why Stanford will be rated high in the preseason polls.
What Not to Like: He lost his top two receivers (Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen), his head coach (Jim Harbaugh), and his offensive line (which allowed only five sacks last season) is undergoing a reloading phase. Can Luck overcome all that change in one offseason?

2. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
What to Like: Jones led the nation in completions last season and put up monstrous numbers in Oklahoma’s pass-happy offense. He completed 65% of his passes while racking up 4,700-plus yards and 38 touchdowns. With WR Ryan Broyles and nearly all five starters on his offensive line returning, Jones shouldn’t miss a beat.
What Not to Like: Losing all-purpose back DeMarco Murray hurts, but the biggest worry with Jones is whether or not he can handle the expectations of Oklahoma being the top-ranked team at the start of the season. All eyes will be on the Sooners every week and just one slip up could cost OU a national title berth and Jones a shot at the Heisman.

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
What to Like: After rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman, South Carolina fans can’t wait to see what Lattimore will do for an encore. His performance last year placed him among the nine SEC players who have rushed for at least 1,000 yards as a freshman, which is a list that also includes Georgia’s Herschel Walker and Florida’s Emmitt Smith. With Lattimore set to again be the workhorse in Steve Spurrier’s offense, you can expect big things out of this sophomore in 2011.
What Not to Like: Quarterback Stephen Garcia is one jaywalking charge away from being kicked off the team for good. If Garcia flubs up again or can’t beat out sophomore Connor Shaw for the starting job this summer, then Lattimore might have too much pressure on his shoulders this season. If SC becomes too one-dimensional, Lattimore’s production will likely suffer.

Oregon Ducks running back LaMichael James (L) runs right at Arizona Wildcats defender Shaquille Richardson (5) during the first quarter of their NCAA football game in Eugene, Oregon, November 26, 2010. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

4. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
What to Like: Despite missing the first game of the season due to a suspension, James broke the Pac-10 all-time sophomore single season rushing record and led the nation in both rushing yards (1,682) and touchdowns (22). He finished third in Heisman voting and won the 2010 Doak Walker Award while leading Oregon to its first-ever national championship appearance. James is once again expected to thrive in Chip Kelly’s spread option offense.
What Not to Like: Not much really, outside of Andrew Luck, Landry Jones and Marcus Lattimore. Oregon returns 12 starters on offense and barring injury, James’ production should once again be sky high. The Ducks have a tough early-season matchup with LSU, but they should once again be in national title contention this season and James will be a big reason for that.

5. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
What to Like: He’s the only player in NCAA history to rush for 1,500 yards and pass for 1,500 yards in one season. He also holds the Division I FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback and for being the only player to rush for 200 yards and pass for 200 yards in a single game (vs. Notre Dame). If Michigan can somehow make itself relevant again with the departure of Rich Rodriguez, “Shoelace” will garner Heisman attention.
What Not to Like: Robinson almost transferred after RichRod was fired following an ugly loss to Mississippi State in the 2011 Gator Bowl. Robinson thrived in Rodriguez’s spread offense and a shift in coaches could seriously derail the signal caller’s production. If Michigan gets back to a more conventional offense under new coach Brady Hoke, Robinson’s numbers could look awfully deflated from 2010 to 2011. And if the Wolverines can’t figure out a way to beat Ohio State and the other top dogs in the Big Ten, Robinson won’t be able to separate himself from the other Heisman candidates.

Others to Watch: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama; Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State; Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas; Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma; Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State; Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor; Chris Polk, RB, Washington.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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