Heisman hopefuls emerge through halfway point of season

Now that we’re approaching the midway point of the college football season and we’ve been able to dip our toes into a few conference games, it’s time to compile some Heisman contenders.

As is always the case, Heismans are won and lost in crucial November and December games, when the weather gets colder and conference championships hang in the balance. Still, Heisman candidacies are born with astonishing performances in the months of September and October.

With a month’s worth of football under our belts, several candidates have emerged as contenders for the Heisman crown. These players (three RBs and three QBs) are household names playing for ranked teams in major conferences — the precise formula for cultivating a Heisman winner. Whether their production falls off in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but through consistency and highlight reel plays, these are the current Heisman frontrunners.

Note: Though our 5-0 Illini don’t have a legitimate Heisman candidate at this point, two players are deserving of national notoriety based on their performances in the first month of the season. Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins has amassed 633 receiving yards on a mere 40 catches and should continue to be heavily targeted if the Illini want to put up points against the Big Ten’s better defenses (aka not Northwestern). Not to be outdone, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has the eighth-best passer rating in the country and is sporting a 69.4 completion percentage while throwing for 1,028 yards. Not too shabby for a sophomore quarterback at puny Illinois, right? Keep an eye on these guys and their numbers as the season progresses.

*LaMichael James (RB), Oregon*

The Doak Walker Award winner in 2010 started slow this season against No. 1-ranked LSU and Nevada, but made his presence known the past two weeks with back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances. Any doubt of James’ ability after the LSU game was erased last Saturday when James rushed for 288 yards on 23 carries against Arizona. James hasn’t accumulated many touchdowns yet, but that shouldn’t necessarily count against him, since the Oregon offense doesn’t rely on him in goal-line situations. With Oregon vying for a Pac-12 title, look for James’ name to hang around in the Heisman discussion all year.

*Andrew Luck (QB), Stanford*

James’ Pac-12 counterpart and future No. 1 NFL draft pick, Luck hasn’t put up gaudy numbers yet, but that’s not what you get from Luck in the first place. The junior quarterback is going to throw for 250-300 passing yards every game, pick apart the opposing defense and will his team to victory. The consistency and the desire to win sets Luck apart from other quarterbacks and is what will keep him in contention for the Heisman this year. Luck, the 2010 Heisman runner-up hasn’t faced a decent team yet, but will get his shot in November with a road game at Oregon and home game against Notre Dame. If Luck prevails against the Ducks on Nov. 12, look for him to represent the Pac-12 at this year’s Heisman ceremony.

*Marcus Lattimore (RB), South Carolina*

As fellow DI columnist Gordon Voit has articulated numerous times, Lattimore is the best pound-for-pound running back in college football. His combination of speed, power and stature is unparalleled and, keep in mind, he’s massing these statistics against SEC defenses. Lattimore has rushed for 677 yards thus far (second in the nation) and his size is perfect for goal-line situations, which has helped him notch nine touchdowns. The Gamecocks might not be national title contenders, but if Lattimore can come up big in games against No. 10 Arkansas and No. 8 Clemson later in the season, the sophomore running back could be bringing home some hardware early in his collegiate career.

*Trent Richardson (RB), Alabama*

Richardson might have been the best running back on the Tide’s roster last year, but since that backfield included 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Richardson’s carries were limited. Now as the featured back, Richardson is putting up big numbers and is the ideal Heisman candidate. Alabama is ranked No. 2 in the country and is one home victory over LSU away from another BCS national championship game. Richardson’s rushing numbers and nose for the end zone will continue throughout the season, but the being the No. 1 team’s best offensive weapon might be the distinguishing factor in Richardson bringing a Heisman back to the Tide.

*Russell Wilson (QB), Wisconsin*

The North Carolina State transfer has been the best-kept secret in college football the past three years. Consider his career statistics: Wilson is 64 passing yards away from 10,000 in his career and is 11 passing touchdowns away from 100 in his career. Wilson finally escaped mediocrity at NC State and landed in one of the best possible situations in Wisconsin for his senior year. With running backs Montee Ball and James White serving as equal parts workhorses and decoys, Wilson is able to pick his spots against defenses loading up to stop the run. Wilson has struggled a bit the past two years with interceptions, but through maturity and head coach Bret Bielema’s guidance, Wilson has accrued a 74.8 completion percentage and has thrown only one interception with 13 touchdowns. After the beat down they administered to Nebraska on Saturday, I don’t see where Wisconsin trips up the rest of the season. If Wisconsin rolls through the season undefeated, Wilson will be the leading Heisman candidate going into December.

*Robert Griffin III (QB), Baylor*

What RG3 is doing this year for the Baylor Bears is nothing short of astonishing. The trendy statistic in the college football world heading into last weekend was that Griffin had thrown for as many touchdowns as he had incompletions through three games. Griffin almost kept that rate going Saturday in a loss against Kansas State, notching five passing touchdowns while going 23-31 for 346 yards on the day. For those keeping track at home, that’s an 82.3 completion percentage through four games. The problem for Griffin’s Heisman hopes lie with Baylor’s miserable defense. They’ve given up more than 30 points in three of Baylor’s four games and will ultimately lead them to more losses in the remainder of their schedule. Griffin might be the rare anomalous Heisman winner that achieves the honor despite not being on an elite team. If Baylor continues to lose football games, however, it will become increasingly difficult for Heisman voters to vote for the most exciting college player in the country.

_Thomas is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch._