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July 20, 2007

SCS.comThe college football season is still more than a month away, but the 2007 Heisman watch is already in full swing.

Many names are being tossed around as to who has what it takes to follow 2006 winner Troy Smith as the next man to hear his name called in New York in December. Quarterbacks have dominated the winners’ list in the last several years, with Reggie Bush in 2005 being the only non-quarterback to win the award since Ron Dayne in 1999. This year, there are several signal-callers with the talent to take the Heisman, led by a stat lover’s dream, Hawaii’s Colt Brennan.

But there are many runners who will have a say in whether or not a quarterback claims the nation’s top individual prize for the seventh time in eight seasons, led by the leading returning vote-getter, 2006 Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden of Arkansas.

Here’s a look at the leading contenders for the award as we look towards the month of August. They’re not in any specific order, but the most likely top candidates are the ones listed first. Pick'Em Contest

The Front-runners

Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas - McFadden is listed as a running back, but he did it all for the Razorbacks last year. As a sophomore, he ran for 1,647 yards and 14 touchdowns, caught 11 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, had a kickoff return for a touchdown, and took snaps as a quarterback in the ‘Wildcat’ formation designed especially for his talents. He ran out of the formation, handed off to backfield mate Felix Jones, and even threw the ball, completing seven of nine passes for 69 yards and three touchdowns. Incredible, to say the least.

McFadden’s exploits didn’t go unnoticed, as he collected several All-America accolades, and also claimed the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back. He was also rightfully rewarded with a trip to New York for the Heisman ceremonies, and beat out Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn for second.

Now entering his junior season, McFadden is arguably the leading candidate for the Heisman. True, he does share carries with another talented back and 1,000 yard rusher Felix Jones, but it didn’t damage his numbers or his standing with many voters last season. If Arkansas can shake off its offseason off-the-field issues and do well, McFadden just may hear his name called in New York.

SCS.comColt Brennan, QB, Hawaii - If the Hawaii hurler played at a BCS school, he might be the prohibitive favorite for the award. As is, he’s got a chance to be the first Heisman winner from a non-power conference since BYU’s Ty Detmer in 1990. Brennan had a record-breaking season as a junior, throwing for 5,549 yards while setting NCAA single-season records in touchdowns (58) and passing efficiency (186.0). Brennan has put together the best two seasons by a quarterback in NCAA history in yards (9,850) and touchdowns (93), and holds 18 I-A records. He’s going to finish as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football history, and will do so in only three seasons. If he throws at least 29 touchdown passes this season, he’ll break Detmer’s record of 121, and he has a good chance to pass Detmer for second on the yardage list (15,031).

But, will it be enough to give him the Heisman? There’s a good chance it may not. Many people are still skeptical about whether Brennan’s numbers are due to his talent as a quarterback or if he’s merely a product of another pass-happy system, and a lack of TV exposure is also an issue. However, if Brennan and the Warriors play as they’re capable of this season, the exposure will come, and the skepticism will lessen. From the Hawaii games that I’ve gotten to watch on TV, Brennan is definitely worth watching, even if it’s late at night, and if he has another record-breaking season, there won’t be any doubts about his merit and worth as a player and a serious Heisman contender. Time for your fantasy college football education - Fantasy College Blitz - because in college, everyone scores!

SCS.comJohn David Booty, QB, USC - The last two starting quarterbacks for USC were Heisman winners and first round picks, and Booty has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

After waiting behind Leinart for two seasons, Booty took the starting role last season, and threw for 3,347 yards and 29 touchdowns. He threw for three or more touchdowns seven times, and threw for at least 250 yards seven times as well. His numbers might have been considered disappointing by some standards, but leading receiver Dwayne Jarrett was less than 100 percent during part of the season, and the running game had trouble finding its footing.

But Booty had a breakout game in the Rose Bowl against Michigan, throwing for 391 yards and four touchdowns in USC’s 32-18 win over the Wolverines. That’s part of the reason he’s mentioned as a top Heisman contender despite losing his a great deal of his receiving corps and co-offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who is now the head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Junior Patrick Turner has the talent to be the next great Trojans receiver, and sophomores Vidal Hazelton and Travon Patterson are moving up on the depth chart, along with redshirt freshman David Ausberry. With all that talent Booty has to work with, along with tight end Fred Davis, he should be able to replicate and even better his 2006 numbers. And, if so, USC will have a great chance at another national title, and Booty may well earn a trip to New York.

SCS.comColt McCoy, QB, Texas - This Colt is definitely a thoroughbred. As a redshirt freshman last season, McCoy had some big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of Vince Young, who had led the Longhorns to the 2005 national title.

McCoy came through, producing one of the best seasons for any quarterback in Texas history. He threw for 2,570 yards and 29 touchdowns, and tossed only seven interceptions. He threw at least two touchdown passes in ten of Texas’ 13 games, including a Longhorn record six in a rout of Baylor on October 14. He suffered a stinger against Kansas State, and missed most of that game, which Texas eventually lost by three, and he was also hobbled in a loss against arch-rival Texas A&M. Those two losses killed off the Longhorns’ Big 12 and national title hopes, but McCoy rebounded with a 308-yard, two touchdown performance in an Alamo Bowl win over Iowa.

Texas figures to be a top-five, national title contender in 2007, and with that, McCoy figures to be in the hunt for the Heisman. Wide receivers Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman, and Quan Cosby will be McCoy’s primary targets, and if he gets the ball to them on a regular basis, big things can happen. If the ‘Horns are in the title hunt into late November, McCoy’s stock as a Heisman candidate will definitely be high.

SCS.comP.J. Hill, RB, Wisconsin - Hill had a quiet freshman season for a team that may have had the quietest 12-1 campaign in college football history.

Hill redshirted while Brian Calhoun tore it up in 2005, but ran wild when he got his chance last season. He had seven 100+ yard games in Wisconsin’s first eight contests, including a 249-yard performance against Northwestern. His production slowed down in the last five games, as he had only one more 100+ yard game, but he still finished with 1,569 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns.

The Badgers will enter 2007 as a favorite for the Big Ten title, and a potential top-five team. That means Hill will have a target on his back, and teams will be gunning to stop him. But the big back should be able to have another productive season, and if Hill can replicate his 2006 numbers, and the Badgers win the Big Ten title, Hill could be a Heisman finalist.

SCS.comBrian Brohm, QB, Louisville - If Brohm had declared for the draft as a junior, he would’ve been a top-five pick, and potentially the #1 pick. He very well could have, and he wouldn't have been faulted for leaving after coach Bobby Petrino bolted for the Atlanta Falcons. Instead, the talented gunslinger decided to stay for his senior season and play under first-year coach Steve Kragthorpe.

Despite missing two and a half games early in the season, Brohm still threw for 3,049 yards and 16 touchdowns, leading the Cardinals to their best season in school history. Louisville won the Big East title and defeated Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl. Brohm threw for 300+ yards six times in 2006.

Brohm may be working under a new coach, but that won’t deter him or the Cardinals from having a successful season. Brohm has his three top targets back in wide receivers Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas and tight end Gary Barnidge.

Brohm has battled injuries in the last two seasons, so staying healthy will be a key to his Heisman campaign and Louisville’s chances at repeating as Big East champs. Brohm may well be the #1 pick in the 2008 draft, and it’d no doubt be a good way to close out an excellent Louisville career.

SCS.comRay Rice, RB, Rutgers - Without Ray Rice, Rutgers might still be an afterthought in the Big East. But with the aid of the talented back, the Scarlet Knights have gone from doormat to winner.

Rice ran for 1,120 yards in his freshman season in 2005, as Rutgers went to a bowl game. But last season, he emerged as one of the nation’s premier backs, and was a big reason why the Scarlet Knights were one of the nation’s best feel-good stories last year as they started 9-0 and were ranked in the top ten, challenged for the Big East title until the end, and finished 11-2 with a Texas Bowl victory over Kansas State. He ran for over 100 yards ten times in Rutgers’ 13 games, and had three 200+ yard games. All told, he ran for 1,794 yards, which was second in the nation, and scored 20 touchdowns, which was also second in the States.

Rice no longer has Brian Leonard in the backfield to help pave the way, but that won’t deter him for having a third straight 1,000 yard season. The offense should be improved, as quarterback Mike Teel should better his numbers from 2006. If Teel does indeed improve, that will take some of the pressure off of Rice, and allow him the chance to shine freely. And if the offense is indeed better, Rutgers hopes at being a top-15, Big East title-contending team are all the better, and so are Rice’s Heisman chances.

SCS.comIan Johnson, RB, Boise State - Not many people knew who Ian Johnson was going into last season, but the nation knows who he is now.

The Boise State back had quite the 2006 campaign. After playing very little as a freshman in 2005, Johnson had quite a breakout season as a sophomore, playing an integral role in the Broncos busting into the BCS party. A 240-yard, five TD performance in a rout of Oregon State in the second week put him on the map, and he took off from there, and ran for at least 88 yards in each game he played, including eclipsing the 100-yard mark nine times. Along with the five TD game, he scored four touchdowns twice and three times once.

He capped off his season with a 101-yard, one touchdown performance in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, but the biggest play he made in that game was the biggest play in Boise State history, as he scored the game-winning two-point conversion in overtime to upset the Sooners 43-42. And, to put an even better capper on that wonderful New Year’s night, he proposed to his girlfriend on national TV (and she accepted, of course).

This season, the Broncos will be breaking in a new quarterback with the departure of Jared Zabransky, so Johnson will be counted on to shoulder a big workload once again. If he is to be a serious contender for the Heisman, Boise State is going to have to come close to matching their 2006 season, which might be hard with Colt Brennan and Hawaii poised to take WAC supremacy from them. Still prepping for college fantasy football the hard way? Read top insight from Fantasy College Blitz.

The duos

There are a few guys who have a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman, but have to play alongside another Heisman candidate on their team.

Steve Slaton, RB, and Pat White, QB, West Virginia - Slaton might well end up with a trip to New York either way, and has a great shot at claiming the Heisman, but his backfield mate may take a few votes away from him. Slaton ran for 1,744 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and has scored 37 touchdowns in two seasons as a Mountaineer. He should push for a 2,000 yard season this year, and if he gets close to that mark, he could win the Heisman.

But White might have a say about that, if he follows up his excellent 2006 season with another in 2007. If he was solely a running back, he would be a candidate with the numbers he put up on the ground (over 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing), but as a quarterback, he’s a question mark. He’s proved to be a decent QB, but he might have to throw it a little more to convince some voters. He threw for 1,655 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, but he’ll have to raise both of those numbers.

If he does throw more and has more success as a quarterback, it will actually not only help his Heisman candidacy, but Slaton’s as well, because Slaton will be one of his main targets as a receiver.

If the Mountaineers get themselves in position to make their second BCS bowl in three years, and even push for a berth in the national championship game, both Slaton and White could end up in New York, and one of them could walk away with the award, following in the footsteps of USC duo Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush in both 2004 and 2005.

Mike Hart, RB, and Chad Henne, QB, Michigan - You could say a lot of the same things about Hart and Henne, minus the dual-threat part for Henne, who’s not all that fleet of foot.

Hart is the more highly touted Heisman candidate than Henne at this point. As a junior, he registered nine 100+ yard games and totaled 1,562 yards and 14 touchdowns. He could’ve declared for the draft, but stayed in school for his senior season, and for good reason. The Wolverines are going to be a national title contender, and he’ll be a big part of their run.

Henne is the guy who’ll be handing off to him, but the senior will be doing a lot more than handing off. He’s been consistently good as a three-year starter, totaling 7,777 passing yards and throwing for 70 touchdowns. To become a serious Heisman contender, he’s going to have to top 3,000 yards and push for 30+ touchdowns. With talented receiver Mario Manningham and tight end Tyler Ecker, along with another talented receiver in Adrian Arrington, it’s possible. But, he still may be overshadowed by Hart, if Hart comes through with another big season.

Others to Watch For

C.J. Spiller or James Davis, Clemson - The Tigers are expected to contend for the ACC title, and these two backs make up arguably the best 1-2 punch in the country. Sharing carries may not mean eye-popping stats for either, but if either the sophomore speedster Spiller or the bruising junior Davis can somehow do that while leading Clemson to a great season, anything’s possible.

Branden Ore, RB, Virginia Tech - Ore had a breakout season as a sophomore last year, rushing for 1,137 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Hokies are poised to be in the mix for the national title, and that could be mean big things for the junior. He’s going to have to be a little more consistent with his numbers (four 100+ yard games, but four others under 70 yards) and stay healthy to make a Heisman push.

DeSean Jackson, WR/KR, Cal - If Cal beats Tennessee in their season opener, Jackson could quickly skyrocket up the list of contenders. He is the premier big-play threat in the country. As a sophomore, he racked up 1,060 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, which is nice, but it’s his skills as a return man that make him stand out. He returned four punts for touchdowns last year, and led the nation with an 18.2 yard average per return. If Cal can hang with USC this season, Jackson has a serious chance not only to contend, but win the award.

Tim Tebow, QB, Florida - It might take some people a little while to get used to seeing Tebow run the Gators this year, instead of just plain running. Tebow’s running skills make him dangerous under center, but he’s got a pretty good arm as well. And he’s also the quarterback for the defending national champions, which doesn’t hurt. If he and the Gators can defend their SEC title, he’s likely going to be in the running.

Sam Keller, QB, Nebraska - After enduring a nasty end to his career at Arizona State, Keller is looking to go out with a bang in his only year at Nebraska. He’s got as much talent as any quarterback in the country, and is capable of putting up big numbers for what will be a really good team. But, he has to secure the starting job first.

Erik Ainge, QB, Tennessee - Ainge thrived under new (old) offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe last season, and is primed for a big senior season for the Vols. He might have to put up some Peyton Manning-like numbers to be a serious contender though. Leading receiver Robert Meachem is gone, so someone’s going to have step up as his go-to guy.

Others who could pop up - Jamaal Charles, RB, Texas; Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon; Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech; Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan

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