2009 Heisman Candidates: Top 15 Plus 5 Sleepers

Chris DomschkeCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2009

Last year we gave you some of the earliest predictions for the 2008 Heisman candidates. So early that one of my predictions was no longer enrolled in his current school (Ryan Mallet - Michigan), Ryan Perriloux was given a decent chance, and one of the candidates was "USC QB", since both Mitch Mustain and Mark Sanchez were in a position to take the helm and both could have been considered at that point last year.

Well this year I held back as long as I could and managed to wait until after players declared for the NFL draft, but alas I couldn't wait any longer. Spring Ball is right around the corner and it's about time to start hyping next year's Bronze Stiff Arm Hopefuls. This year should be interesting as we will have two returning Heisman winners, as well as another of the finalists. Last year's top three vote getters could very well be this season's top three vote getters. I'm willing to bet that has never happened before.

So 4Real and I decided to each put a list together of 15 potential Heisman candidates as well as five possible sleepers. Sleeper being either players who A) didn't play last year, B) play at small or Non-BCS schools, C) true freshman, D) anyone else who wasn't already on anyone's radar at the end of last season.

No. 15 Noel Devine, RB - West Virginia
2008 Stats:1289 Rush Yds, 185 Receiving Yds, 1537 AP Yds, 4 TDs, 99.15 Yds P/G

Why: When I wrote this column last year I had Mountaineer faithful taking time out of mourning/bad mouthing Rich Rod and burning couches to tell me that Devine was going to win the Heisman. According to them his name had already been etched onto the Bronze Stiff Arm. 2008 didn't turn out exactly as he, or they, had planned. But Devine still has the talent that got the Mountaineer fans so amped up. His numbers are good and without Pat White being the one man show, Noel Devine is bound to get more carries, yards, and TDs. The Big East might be having a down year this year leaving room for West Virginia and Devine to put up some gaudy numbers.

Why Not: 4 TDs doesn't scream Heisman. West Virginia won't finish the season in the Top Ten, and let's be honest, players on the #22 team in the country don't typically get a lot of run when it comes time to Heisman voting. It's no coincidence that the Heisman winner has played in the National Championship Game six of the last seven years.

No. 14 Ryan Mallett, QB - Arkansas
2008 Stats: Did Not Play

Why: I thought he had it going into 2008, and 2009 is no different. I thought he was poised to make a run in the defense heavy Big Eleven and I don't think it will be any different in the SEC. Arkansas had a down year in 08 under new coach Bobby Petrino, but should be on the way up in 09. Petrino's system has been in place now over a year, and Mallett should be as familiar with it as anyone, at least on paper.

Why Not: No one knows how much rust is there, he hasn't seen game action since Lloyd Carr's last win over Florida. While the Big Eleven D is tough, the SEC is full of fast defenses. Arkansas has a lot of ground to make up in the SEC West.

No. 13 Zac Robinson, QB - Oklahoma State
2008 Stats:562 Rush Yds, 3,064 Pass Yds, 8 Rush TDs, 25 Passing TDs, 10 INTs, 235 YPG Passing, 166.84 QB Rating

Why: Oklahoma State is going to get their chance to overcome Texas Tech this year as the Red Raiders lost their QB and Top WR. They would be my pick for Big XII North champs if they were in fact in that division. Zac Robinson has had a statistically successful career for the Cowboys and has thrown for over 20 TDs in each of the last 2 seasons. Dual threat to run when necessary and has his top receiving threat, Dez Bryant returning.

Why Not: In the same conference as Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, and others, and frankly past numbers don't compare. Could potentially be Top 5 QB in the country but won't be Top 2 in his own Conference.

No. 12 Demarco Murray, RB - Oklahoma
2008 Stats: 1,002 Rush Yds, 395 Rec. Yds, 774 Ret. Yds, 2171 AP Yds, 18 TDs, 5.6 Yds Y/C

Why: The Oklahoma offense was just shy of prolific in 2008, about 1 game shy. With a Heisman Winner at QB and a pair of 1,000 yd rushers in 2009 it looks to be no different. He's a triple threat. Four of the team's five top receivers from last year (1-3, 5) have all departed which means that there will be added pressure on the run game if Bradford and his targets can't match up. Defenses will focus on Bradford and the 50 TDs he threw last year.

Why Not: There is a second 1,000 yard rusher in the Sooner backfield and if the Bradford led aerial attack isn't the same in '09 as it was in '08, expect the Big XII defenses to crack down on the Sooner backs.

No. 11 Todd Reesing, QB - Kansas
2008 Stats: 3,880 Passing Yds, 4,104 Total Yds, 4 Rush TDs, 32 Passing TDs, 13 INTs, 298.5 YPG Passing, 148.39 QB Rating

Why: Late in 2007 when Kansas was making a run, some people suggested Reesing could be in contention for the Heisman. His 2008 rating was almost identical and yet he wasn't mentioned in any Heisman talks. The difference was that he threw for about 400 more yds in '09 he threw one less TD and six more INTs. Kansas has turned around their football program over the last few years and a lot of that falls on Reesing's shoulders. A little more accuracy in '09 and increased leadership role could have him making lists in December.

Why Not: Not Since Doug Flutie has there been a QB under 6' who won the Heisman and if Reesing is listed at 5'11" you know he can't be taller than 5'9". Like Robinson, he won't even be the best player in his conference, the Heisman will be just out of reach for his short arms, unless Kansas makes a big run.

No. 10 Golden Tate, WR - Notre Dame
2008 Stats:1,080 Rec Yds, 637 Ret. Yds, 11 Total TDs, 18.62 Y/C

Why: As a sophomore Golden Tate began to make a name for himself and the Irish. Three of his biggest games came against some in some of Notre Dame's biggest games. Including a three TD, 177 yd performance in the Hawaii Bowl. Jimmy Claussen is starting to show flashes of what was once considered the best ND QB commit since Joe Montana and Tate is his #1 Target. Monster ypc numbers, plus he takes the field for kick and punt returns. 2,300+ all purpose yard potential.

Why Not: Even as the No. 1 threat, he only barely topped the 1,000 yd mark. Notre Dame, might get extra Heisman votes when they are undeserved (Tim Brown) but Notre Dame has not yet made the triumphant return to greatness we were promised back in '05.

No. 9 Chris Brown, RB - Oklahoma
2008 Stats:1,220 Rush Yds, 21 Total TDs, 5.62 Y/C

Why: Oklahoma's Top Back rushed for 1,220 last year and could easily top that this year. Much of the same reasons Demarco Murray was on the list. Not the triple threat that Murray is, but will continue to be the #1 guy in the backfield. Will get extra touches since 4/5 top receivers are gone.

Why Not: Same as Murray, splitting the load, extra defensive focus.

No. 8 Evan Royster, RB - Penn State
2008 Stats:1,236 Rush Yds, 160 Rec. Yds, 12 TDs, 6.47 Y/C

Why: Look at those numbers, in the Big XII he would be a top back, in the Big Eleven where final scores like to hang out below 20, those numbers are even more impressive. A 6.47 Yards per Carry in the Big Eleven is nothing to shake a stick at. Penn State looks to come back in '09 just as strong as they did in '08. If late season letdowns can be avoided the Nittany Lions might have a shot at the National Championship and that will land squarely on Royster's shoulders.

Why Not: The Big Eleven is getting knocked down more and more in everyone's eyes and some voters might see numbers in the Big Eleven as being less significant than in other conferences. Penn State might win the Big Eleven again this year, but voters are getting sick of the Big Eleven no shows in bowl games and even a perfect season might see them on the outside looking in.

No. 7 Dez Bryant, WR - Oklahoma State
2008 Stats:1,480 Rec. Yds, 405 Ret. Yds, 21 Total TDs.

Why: He's a scoring machine and Zac Robinson's (#13) Top Receiving Threat. Another triple threat guy who is capable of peaking over 2300 yards of all purpose yardage.

Why Not: Just like Robinson he's going to eventually get over looked by another receiver, running back, or quarterback in the Big XII. The Heisman voters look at numbers, and the Big XII is so inflated that even a 1,500 yd and 23 TD season will most likely get over looked unless the Cowboys are in the National Championship.

No. 6 Jacquizz Rodgers, RB - Oregon State
2008 Stats: 1,253 Rush yds, 247 Rec. yds, 12 Total TDs, 113.91 Y/G

Why: Everyone loves the little guy and, at 5'7" it doesn't get much smaller. If Oregon State is still in the national spotlight come December that means that another upset over USC is probable. Voters will take into account Rodgers' 186 yd game against USC in '08 even if it is the '09 award because it was that remarkable. His adjusted Y/G (not including his early exit from the Arizona game) puts him at over 123 Y/G.  It will be interesting to see how much his game improves from year 1 to year 2.

Why Not: He's on every radar in the country ever since the USC game. While he eats up yardage he has a problem converting those into long TD runs. His yards per carry is just under five. He's effectively useless inside of the Red Zone because of his size which means he's missing out on anywhere between 7-15 TD's next season.

No. 5 Terrelle Pryor, QB - Ohio State
2008 Stats:631 Rush Yds, 1,311 Passing Yds, 6 Rush Tds, 12 Passing TDs, 4 INTs, 1 Receiving TD, 145.62 QB Rating

Why: He started 2008 as a gimmick the vest would use to mix things up. He ended up unseating incumbent starter Todd Boeckman who had 2 National Championship appearances under his belt. He finished last season with 100.8 Y/G Passing. Way too low for a Heisman QB. Then again, while he appeared in all 13 games, he was splitting time in 8 games, and only the starter for 10. Those numbers will increase. Plus he's a 6'6" monster who's got wheels. Could tear apart the Big Eleven next year worse than everyone has in BCS games recently. If the Ohio State we saw in the Fiesta Bowl takes the field next year, they should be a lock for the Big Eleven Championship and in BCS contention.

Why Not: He still needs to prove he can be a pass first quarterback and that he can sit in the pocket to find the open man instead of running first. It's going to mean Ohio State has to get back to being the Ohio State of old, and not the one who lays down in big games. BCS voters are still sour on the Big Eleven.

No. 4 Jahvid Best, RB - California
2008 Stats:1,580 Rush Yds, 246 Rec Yds, 2,247 AP Yds, 16 Total TDs, 131.7 Rush Y/G, 8.14 Y/C

Why: Best was by far the Top RB in the country in 2008 in my opinion (sorry Shonn) and will be coming out trying to prove something in '09. He had 4 games with over 185 Yds Rushing. Cal's QB situation is unclear, and is likely to change at least once during the season. This means that the Running Game is key to Cal's success. If Best has a good season, the Bears will have a good season. He is the heart and soul of the team, could reach 2,500+ All Purpose Yards if he stays healthy.

Why Not: The Pac-10 got a lot closer recently and teams are going to be knocking each other off until they have effectively killed any chance of having more than one BCS game. Cal isn't going to beat USC. The QB instability will give Best more carries and better numbers, but ultimately will mean too many L's on the board in Berkley.

No point in going into detail over the Top Three. There's no surprise here. This is how I had it in my book from day one last season and the same will be true for this season.

No. 3 Tim Tebow, QB - Florida
No. 2 Sam Bradford, QB - Oklahoma
No. 1 Colt McCoy, QB - Texas

My 5 Sleeper Picks. Chances are these guys won't be in the final tally, but they're name might be mentioned once or twice on the ESPN Heisman Watch Page, in no particular order.

Damaris Johnson, WR - Tulsa
Austin Collie, WR - BYU
MiQuale Lewis, RB - Ball St.
Shun White, RB - Navy
Dan LeFevour, QB - Central Michigan.


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