Our preseason look at the award, with a few twists
Posted: Friday August 22, 2003 2:14PM
By Luke Winn, SI.com
All those who had Carson Palmer in their Heisman top five at this point last year, raise your hands.
Anyone? Anyone? Exactly.
In August, a list like this is a pure crapshoot. Heck, our first No. 1, Maurice Clarett, is already on the verge of elimination. And as much as Philip Rivers perfectly fits that Heisman mold, as much as Cody Pickett picks apart Pac-10 secondaries like nobody's business ... others are bound to emerge. A fresh new runner will take the nation by storm. A once-average veteran passer will become dominant. And maybe, if the stars are aligned, a two-way player will captivate the country.
So we're taking the liberty to make three lists: The first, the guys we like now; the second, the guys on the fringe; the third, the darkhorses.
THE EARLY TOP TEN, minus one
1. Philip Rivers, QB, N.C. State, Sr.
2002 stats: 216-of-418 passing (62.8 percent), 3,353 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs
Straight off the assembly line, he's the prototype Heisman candidate. Senior QB, golden arm, top 10 team, mature beyond his years. The family man's (married, with a child) trophy campaign is no secret, either -- the 'Pack's publicity machine was already in motion in 2002.
2. Cody Pickett, QB, Washington, Sr.
2002 stats: 365-of-612 passing (59.6 percent), 4,458 yards, 28 TDs, 14 INTs
Perhaps the most overlooked stat from last season: Pickett actually threw for more yards than Palmer. Too bad for Pickett that Washington ended up 7-6 while USC was 11-2. Now, with the turbulence of Rick Neuheisel's late-summer firing, can the Huskies put up enough W's to keep the West's top passer in the race?
3. Kevin Jones, RB, Va. Tech, Jr.
2002 stats: 160 carries, 871 yards (67.0 yds./game), 9 TDs
Ah yes, a classic case of a star "emerging from the shadow of his predecessor." Jones had to wait his turn behind touchdown-maker Lee Suggs for two seasons; now, getting a full share of handoffs from Bryan Randall, there's no telling how much KJ can produce.
4. Roy Williams, WR, Texas, Sr.
2002 stats: 64 catches, 1,142 yards (95.1 yds./game), 12 TDs
He stayed in Austin to take a final shot at that elusive national title -- but you know he wanted a chance to win this trophy, too. A lingering hamstring injury hobbled Williams for six of the 'Horns' 13 games and kept him off SI.com's Preseason All-America Team. When healthy, however, he looked like a superstar. Now all new QB Chance Mock needs to do is get him the ball.
5. Frank Gore, RB, Miami, Soph.
2001 stats: 62 carries, 562 yards (46.8 yds./game), 5 TDs
Granted, he didn't step on the field last season. But we know this about Gore: Before his knee injury, Miami considered him better than Willis McGahee; and when he did play, in 2001, he averaged nine-plus yards per carry. And that's enough for us.
6. David Greene, QB, Georgia, Sr.
2002 stats: 218-of-379 passing (57.5 percent), 2,924 yards, 22 TDs, 8 INTs
This big southpaw already has credibility, with an SEC title ring (he kept his) and a Sugar Bowl win to his name -- but lost most of his offensive line and his running game to graduation or the NFL. Greene will have to battle this season -- and hope D.J. Shockley doesn't infringe too much on his playing time -- but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
7. Ell Roberson, QB, Kansas St., Sr.
2002 stats: 91-of-175 passing (52.0 percent), 1,580 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs, 202 carries, 1,032 yards (86.9yds./game), 16 TDs
The top running quarterback in the country is a capable passer, too, but his real work is done on the ground. If the Wildcats find themselves in the thick of the national title hunt, Ell could be in the thick of things -- as long as he isn't overshadowed by his equally talented backfield mate, RB Darren Sproles.
8. Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss, Sr.
2002 stats: 279-of-481 passing (58.0 percent), 3,401 yards, 21 TDs, 15 INTs
What's in a name? When it's "Manning," quarterbacking genes, and enough instant recognition to put you on a short list in the Heisman race. Like Roy Williams, Eli eschewed the NFL for his senior campaign, and it's likely his TD-to-INT ratio will get better with age. Last season's was a measly 22:15.
9. Reggie Williams, WR, Washington, Jr.
2002 stats: 94 catches, 1454 yards (111.9 yds./game), 11 TDs
R-Will could have a "sharing" problem. When he racks up yards and TDs, which he undoubtedly will do, half of the spotlight will be on the man delivering the ball, Cody Pickett, who's already No. 3 on this list. Still, Williams can flat-out play; don't discount his ability to make highlight-reel catches and bring his name to the forefront.
OUT, for now: Maurice Clarett, RB, Ohio State, Soph.
2002 stats: 222 carries, 1,237 yards (112.5 yds/game), 16 TDs
We called him the front-runner just four days ago, but then the NCAA stepped in. Unless he returns with heroics by Week 2 or 3, Clarett is all but out of the running. To win this award, one generally needs to be eligible for the duration.
FIVE ON THE FRINGE
1. Rashaun Woods, WR, Oklahoma State, Sr.
2002 stats: 107 catches, 1695 yards (130.4 yds./game), 17 TDs
Could be the best wideout in the nation -- he just needs to make the nation realize it.
2. Brad Smith, Missouri, QB, Soph.
2002 stats: 196-of-366 yards (53.6 percent) 2,333 yards, 15 TDs, 6 INTs 193 carries, 1179 yards (85.8 yds./game), 7 TDs
Prolific athlete could be better than early 2002 darling Seneca Wallace ... and if Clarett's a sophomore, then why not Smith?
3. Andrew Walter, QB, Arizona State, Jr.
2002 stats: 274-of-483 passing (56.7 percent), 3,877 yards, 28 TDs, 15 INTs
Capable of putting up massive numbers; could lead the Sun Devils to a surprise Pac-10 title.
4. Steven Jackson, RB, Oregon State, Jr.
2002 stats: 319 carries, 1690 yards (130.0 yds./game), 15 TDs
Remember what happened to Ken Simonton when the hype hit Corvallis? Let's hope Jackson doesn't share the same fate.
5. Darren Sproles, RB, Kansas State, Jr.
2002 stats: 237 carries, 1,517 yards (112.7 yds./game), 17 TDs
The biggest "little guy" in the nation has the speed and skills to outshine QB Roberson.
1. Anthony Davis, RB, Wisconsin, Jr.
2002 stats: 300 carries, 1,555 yards (119.6 yds./game), 13 TDs
The Badgers wouldn't be the Badgers without a 1,000-yard rusher. Davis may be able to push the total closer to 2K.
2. John Navarre, QB, Michigan, Sr.
2002 stats: 248-of-448 passing (55.4 percent), 2,905 yards, 21 TDs, 7 INTs
The Wolverines' running game is suspect; if they win the Big Ten, it'll be on the senior's shoulders.
3. Matt Schaub, QB, Virginia, Sr.
2002 stats: 288-of-418 passing (68.9 percent), 2,976 yards, 28 TDs, 7 INTs
He managed to complete an amazing 69 percent of his passes in '02, but will need to lift Wahoos past N.C. State, FSU and Maryland, a daunting task.
4. Chris Gamble, DB/WR, Ohio State, Jr.
2002 stats: 31 catches, 499 yards (35.6 yds./game), 4 INTs
Mr. Brains, Craig Krenzel, should probably be on this list. But how can you not like a guy who plays both ways AND returns kicks?
5. Brock Berlin, QB, Miami, Jr.
2001 stats (at Florida): 36-of-60 passing (60.0 percent), 483 yards, 9 TDs, 1 INT
This transfer could make the 'Canes forget about Ken Dorsey in a heartbeat, and he doesn't have to worry about lack of national exposure.
Luke Winn covers college football for SI.com.