Early Heisman Trophy talk often leaves out a winner


LITTLE ROCK — Names omitted from Heisman Trophy watch lists in 2009 and 2010 provide perspective for 2012.

Arkansas, with quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis, is one of three schools with two players each among the 18 named recently by Heismanpundit.com. Inclusion on the list is a compliment for accomplishments, but guarantees nothing in 2012.

For either one to be a Heisman finalist, Arkansas must win at least 10 games, maybe 11, and the personal leaning is that 10 is the max. Much like preseason prognostications, talking Heisman in mid-May is a giant guessing game.

In 2009, the Heismanpundit most-likely-to-win list was topped by Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. He was followed by 2008 winner Tim Tebow, Jahvid Best of California, Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State, Daryll Clark of Penn State, Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame, Max Hall of BYU, Jevan Snead of Ole Miss, Noel Devine of West Virginia and Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State.

And, the winner was Mark Ingram of Alabama. Stanford running back Toby Gerhart was second and Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh was fourth. Note their absence from the early list.

The next year, more of the same, with Pryor identified as the early leader. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett was among others in the top 10. Although another half-dozen players were tacked on to cover all bases, eventual winner Cam Newton of Auburn was nowhere to be found. Also missing from the preseason top 10 were No. 2-4 finishers, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Oregon’s LaMichael James, and Boise State’s Kellen Moore.

Last year, the list was expanded to more than 20 and, instead of starting with the favorite, the names were alphabetical. Eventual winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor was right behind Arkansas’ Davis and Auburn’s Michael Dyer. Davis didn’t play a down because of an ankle injury and Dyer, suspended for violation of team rules, transferred to Arkansas State after the season.

There were other disappointments.

This year, USC quarterback Matt Barkley is the preseason favorite, a role he assumed in mid-January when, flanked by the school’s six Heisman trophies, he announced he would return for his senior season. The fact that USC is a trendy pick to come off probation and compete for the national championship makes him No. 1 on the high-profile list.

If USC loses, all bets are off.

As a Heisman voter, the idea is to keep an open mind. That said, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is situated to become a leading candidate. The Mountaineers’ move to the Big 12 will do wonders for his exposure and the league’s quarterback spotlight is available.

Gone is Heisman winner Griffin and NFL first-round draft choices Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. Talented Missouri quarterback James Franklin moved to the Southeastern Conference. The best of the others are Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, who completed less than 55 percent of his many passes in four of the Sooners’ last six games, and Kansas State’s Collin Klein, who was very ordinary against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. In addition, Texas again begins the summer without a starting quarterback.

Smith also has the impetus from the Mountaineers’ 70-point eruption against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Smith completed 31-of-42 for 401 yards and six touchdowns, breaking Tom Brady’s bowl record of 396 yards and Matt Leinart’s BCS mark for TD passes.

Smith first got my attention when he completed 38-of-65 for 463 yards in a 47-21 loss to LSU in the fourth game of the 2011 season. Circumstances were different in the season finale, but Wilson was 14-of-22 for 207 vs. the Tigers. If Wilson is a viable candidate deep in the season, he could earn a trip to New York against LSU on Nov. 23.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.