Terrelle Pryor? Overhyped. Mark Ingram? Old news. Jake Locker, Dion Lewis and numerous other BCS stars? Blah, blah blah. These names are familiar to most college football fans as they have been bandied about and relentlessly hyped as the Heisman Trophy frontrunners as the 2010 season draws near. While they are undoubtedly among the nation’s elite players, the relentless praise they draw often overshadows others.
What is designed to go to “The outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity” has clearly become “The best quarterback, running back or wide receiver from a BCS school who had a winning season and benefitted from plenty of media attention”. While a reality of today’s game, it overshadows some deserving players whose performance on the field is worthy of genuine consideration for college football’s most prestigious honor.
Here are ten players who are not yet receiving a lot of Heisman hype but should:
Ricky Dobbs – Quarterback, Navy
It’s been since 1963, when Navy’s Roger Staubach took home the hardware, that a service academy player has won the Heisman, but the Midshipmen’s current quarterback aims to end that dry spell. Dobbs was sensational in 2009. He set the NCAA record for touchdowns scored by a quarterback (27) while rushing for 1,203 yards and adding 6 passing touchdowns while leading Navy to a 10-4 record and a Texas Bowl victory. He’s well equipped to replicate that success in 2010, as he goes into his senior season with his top running back and three linemen returning. The key will be their manageable schedule. If Navy can get a season opening win against Maryland, the table is set for the Middies to be undefeated heading into October 23rd’s game against Notre Dame. Should Dobbs engineer an upset, as he nearly did a year ago against Ohio State, the hype will begin in earnest.
Andy Dalton – Quarterback, TCU
When your name sits atop an all-time record list next to Sammy Baugh, you must be doing something right. Dalton heads into 2010 tied with the legendary Slingin’ Sammy for the most wins in school history with 29. Dalton has matured greatly in his three seasons, growing from a caretaker to a playmaker. He threw for 2,756 yards with an impressive 23-8 touchdown to interception ratio and added another 512 yards and 3 scores on the ground, which earned him the 2009 Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year award. More importantly, he led the Horned Frogs to a 12-1 record and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. TCU faces a major hurdle in their opener facing Oregon State, with other big games against BYU and Utah later in the season. A sweep of the three would give Dalton’s resume multiple signature wins which are crucial to any candidacy.
Jacquizz Rodgers – Running back, Oregon State
There are few players in the country more exciting than Jacquizz Rodgers. The versatile junior tailback is coming off a tremendous 2009, rushing for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns and hauling in 78 passes for 522 more yards. With the graduation of star quarterback Sean Canfield, how the lightning quick Rodgers’ diminutive 5’7”, 191 pound frame holds up under the heavy workload will certainly determine the Beaver’s legitimate Rose Bowl hopes. The schedule will be brutal, with non-conference games against TCU and Boise State before the always tough Pac-10 slate.
Jerrod Johnson – Quarterback, Texas A&M
After a shaky 2008, Johnson came back focused and it translated into a scintillating junior year. He threw for 3,579 yards with 30 touchdowns and only 8 picks, and showed off his impressive athleticism with 506 rushing yards and 8 more scores. At 6’5”, 245 pounds, another top notch season could make Johnson a top NFL pick. As for his Heisman candidacy, all the pieces are in place with 16 returning starters. If he holds form and can beat Oklahoma at home on November 6th, the Aggies first major test, Johnson will be among the Heisman leaders heading into the brutal ending pair of games against Nebraska and Texas.
Prince Amukamara – Cornerback, Nebraska
A year after Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh sacked college football convention by making it to New York as a Heisman finalist, another member of the Black Shirts could do the same. Senior cornerback Prince Amukamara is cut from the same playmaking mold as Charles Woodson was when he became the only defender in history to win the Heisman. Amukamara was a first-team All Big-12 selection in 2009, when he registered 5 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles on the nation’s top scoring defense, and has been named to numerous 201 pre-season first-team All American lists. He’s a physical corner with a great size and speed combination, and has become a leader on arguably the nation’s top defense. Should Nebraska make a run at the Big-12 title aided by some highlight reel plays from Amukamara, he could find his way to New York.
Landry Jones – Quarterback, Oklahoma
Thrust into the lineup due to Sam Bradford’s opening day injury, the then redshirt freshman Jones did an admirable job holding together the Sooner’s crumbling and injury-riddled 2009 season. He made plenty of plays, including a 6 touchdown game against Tulsa, and his 3,198 yards and 26 touchdown passes led all freshman quarterbacks in the nation. As you’d also expect from a freshman, he made plenty of mistakes, tossing 14 interceptions, and the five losses were the most for Oklahoma since 1999. The coaching staff believes that hardship served as an invaluable learning experience for their quarterback. The offseason reports out of Norman have been glowing, and with 16 returning starters, the Sooners are poised to return to title contention. The schedule is heavily front loaded, with key games against Florida State, Cincinnati and Texas in the first five weeks. A 5-0 start would put Jones in the national spotlight.
Ricky Stanzi – Quarterback, Iowa
The stat line looks pedestrian – 2,417 yards, 17 touchdowns – but all Ricky Stanzi does is win football games. In two seasons, he’s 18-4 as a starter including a win in last season’s Orange Bowl. He may also be the most clutch quarterback in the nation. Over the course of four straight games last season, Stanzi led the Hawkeyes to victory after trailing in the 4th quarter. That being said, it was often his propensity for mistakes that put Iowa behind in the first place (his 15 interceptions were tied for most in the Big 10). If he can limit the turnovers and the four new starters on the offensive line play well, he is in line for a Brad Banks-type senior season. With its typical abundance of talent, Iowa is a legitimate threat to Ohio State in the Big 10. Greatly aiding his chances is the fact that all three of the season’s major challenges – Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State – are at home.
Michael Floyd – Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
Don’t think that without head coach Charlie Weis and quarterback Jimmy Claussen that Notre Dame’s prolific offense will slow down. In fact, it may get faster. New coach Brian Kelly’s offense relies heavily on an up-tempo approach, generating more plays and opportunities in space. That should suit Floyd perfectly. He started 2009 on fire, hauling in 4 passes for 189 yards and 3 scores in the season opening win against Nevada, but missed 5 games in the middle of the season due to a shoulder injury. Despite the missed time, he still posted 795 yards and 9 touchdowns. If talented quarterback Dayne Crist remains healthy and assimilates Kelly’s offense, Floyd’s numbers should skyrocket.
Josh Nesbitt – Quarterback, Georgia Tech
Similar to Dobbs, Nesbitt is a dynamic operator of the triple-option offense who is far more dangerous with his feet than his arm. Entering his third season as starter, Nesbitt is coming off a banner year in which he lead Georgia Tech to an ACC championship and an Orange Bowl berth. His rushing numbers were impressive as he scored 18 times and topped 1,000 yards, and added 10 more touchdowns on the rare pass attempts, although his accuracy (46.3%) left much to be desired. Repeating that success will be difficult with his top playmakers, running back Jonathan Dwyer and receiver Demaryius Thomas both heading to the NFL. However, the offensive line is skilled and experienced, and a berth in the ACC title game while improving on 2009’s numbers should get Nesbitt some consideration.
Colin Kaepernick – Quarterback, Nevada
Kaepernick may be the most versatile quarterback in the nation. At the helm of a record setting Wolfpack offense that boasted three 1,000 yard rushers, Kaepernick was a fantasy owner’s dream. He passed for 20 touchdowns (and remarkably only 2 interceptions during the season’s final 11 games) and ran for 1,183 yards and another 16 scores. He even caught a 6 yard touchdown pass. Should he eclipse 1,000 yards in both rushing and passing, he’d become only the second player in history to top 4,000 yards rushing and 8,000 passing (Brad Smith – Missouri). With Nevada returning 9 starters on offense and an ole style defense, Kaepernick will get plenty of chances to put together the eye popping numbers that will catch the voter’s attention. The big challenge will be if he can augment those statistics with wins. The viability of his candidacy will be decided in late September, when the Wolfpack face Cal and BYU. Should they start 4-0, they will be in excellent shape to set up an epic showdown November 26th when they host Boise State.