Where Are All the Big Ten's Heisman Trophy Candidates?

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor ISeptember 17, 2013

Troy Smith—that name conjures up smiles amongst the Ohio State fanbase, but has acted as the albatross hanging around the neck of the Big Ten in more ways than one ever since his crazy 2006 season. 

Ohio State got back to the national championship game the next year and since then no one has been back from the Big Ten. Additionally, not a single Big Ten player has taken the walk up to the podium in New York to claim a Heisman Trophy since Smith in 2006.

This was supposed to be the year the Heisman drought for Big Ten teams ended, and it was another OSU player that was supposed to do it. 

Braxton Miller was named to nearly every preseason front-runner list imaginable, and dark-horse names like Devin Gardner, Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Taylor Martinez were all being talked about as potential candidates for the Heisman Trophy. 

They arguably were all the biggest returning names in the Big Ten as well. But after three weeks all five of those players have taken themselves out of contention for the Heisman Trophy in one way, shape or form. 

Injuries have brought any hopes of the Heisman coming to Evanston to a grinding halt for Colter and Mark, both of whom have missed the better parts of two games so far this season. 

The biggest hope of the conference, Braxton Miller, has also missed most of the last two games and his candidacy is likely over as well. 

For Devin Gardner and Taylor Martinez, any slim hopes whatsoever are gone thanks to weak performances personally and for their teams in Week 3. 

It leaves one to wonder if the Big Ten will even send a guy to New York this season, especially given stellar performances from A.J. McCarron (Alabama), Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) early on. 

As we've seen over the last three years, however, the winner has come out of nowhere. So could some extreme Big Ten dark horse have a shot in 2013? 

Early projections show there are three names creating enough of a buzz to make an outside run to the most famous statue in sports. 

First, there is Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Gordon has put up 477 yards (good enough for third nationally) on just 37 carries for an average of 12.9 yards a carry (the best in the country for a player with at least 20 carries). 

Interestingly, the loss this past weekend helped and hurt his chances at the same time.

Gordon racked up a season high 193 yards rushing and went off for a memorable 80-yard touchdown scamper, but his team lost. We all know it takes your team winning a ton and you doing something special to get your name out of the dark-horse area. 

Luckily, games against Ohio State, Northwestern and Penn State should provide him with opportunities to make up for the crazy loss against Arizona State last weekend. 

However, there is also the fact that James White is going to get his share of touches in the Badger backfield. But for me, that argument is negated by Gordon's crazy average (it is 10.1 yards a carry for his career, so it's less of an aberration and more of a trend) and his home run hitting ability (he's had a 60-plus-yard run in four of his last five games).

What about another running back tearing it up so far in Ohio State's Jordan Hall? He's got some good numbers himself with 402 yards to his name, a 6.3 yards per carry average and a Big Ten best six rushing touchdowns. 

He could be the guy Ohio State puts their Heisman hopes behind, especially if they keep winning and he keeps racking up the big plays.  If Ohio State goes 25-0, and he's their X-factor, Hall could be a viable candidate.

How about Penn State? They've got two guys ripping up the charts at positions that have won Heisman Trophies in the past. 

First there is wide receiver Allen Robinson, who has 23 receptions (first in the Big Ten and just six off the national lead) for 403 yards (first in Big Ten, fourth nationally) and a per game average of 135 yards (first in Big Ten, fourth nationally). 

The guy throwing him the football also happens to be a heck of a quarterback.  Last season a freshman QB won the award, so why not a second straight year? 

PSU's Christian Hackenberg has won the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award in all but one week so far and has racked up 851 yards passing while completing a Big Ten best 71 percent of his passes. Not too shabby. 

Unfortunately, he's a frosh and he's made mistakes, having four touchdowns and four interceptions through three games—that right there eliminates him from consideration given the quarterbacks we've already mentioned nationally. 

Of course, there are problems with putting hopes on any Penn State player because the Nittany Lions have fallen off the national radar thanks to the Sandusky scandal (however unfair it is to the players, it is a reality) and a loss last week to UCF. 

So while the hopes for a Big Ten player to rise to the top of the country appeared gone with injuries to most of the preseason hopefuls, all is not lost. 

The Big Ten's best hopes just happen to rest on a pair of running backs that weren't totally on the national radar, and we just so happen to get a matchup between Wisconsin and Ohio State in two weeks time.

Perhaps following that matchup the Big Ten will have one prime candidate to put its hopes behind, whether it's Jordan Hall or Melvin Gordon. 

Look for the winner of that game to have its candidate vault into the national discussion for the Heisman Trophy, especially because a win for their team is likely to mean they've had a good-to-great game themselves. 


*Andy Coppens in the Big Ten Lead Writer. Continue the B1G conversation by following Andy on Twitter @andycoppens.