Ohio State's Chris Wells rushed for a career-high 222 yards and two touchdowns in last season's win over archrival Michigan.
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It's May, the part of the calendar that brings us the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500 and, naturally, Heisman Trophy speculation. With less than four months remaining until the opening kickoff of the 2008 season, here's a list of players who, with a little projection on my part, will be the ones to beat for the stiff-arm statuette.
1. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State, RB, Jr.
2007 Stats: 274 rushes, 1,609 yards, 15 TDs; 5 receptions, 21 yards.
Heisman-o-meter: Last month, Wells admitted he thinks of winning the Heisman "all the time" and that he once told his father that he wanted to become the first freshman to win it. Unfortunately for Wells, he cannot be the first freshman winner, but he has a legitimate shot at being Ohio State's seventh recipient. (A message to the fact-checking police: I know the Buckeyes have won the trophy a total of seven times, but Archie Griffin won twice.) The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Buckeyes bruiser with surprising wheels had a breakthrough 2007 season despite playing much of the year with a nagging left ankle injury and a broken bone in his left wrist. With all but two offensive starters returning for the Buckeyes and Ohio State likely to again be in the national title hunt in '08, the pieces are there for Wells to win the award. The one question with him is: How long will the ankle hold up? If it doesn't slow him down, Wells could run all the way to the Heisman podium in December.
2. Tim Tebow, Florida, QB, Jr.
2007 Stats: 234-of-350 passing, 3,286 yards, 32 TDs, 6 INTs; 210 rushes, 895 yards, 23 TDs.
Heisman-o-meter: Gasp! How is the reigning Heisman winner not the preseason favorite? There are three main reasons: First, Gators coach Urban Meyer has said repeatedly Tebow will not carry the ball as much in '08. (And we saw that in the second half of '07.) Second, three running backs -- USC transfer Emmanuel Moody, sophomore Mon Williams (who was a medical redshirt last year) and spring sensation Chris Rainey -- join Kestahn Moore to give Florida the deep stable of runners it lacked last season. And finally, Tebow set the bar so high for himself last year, accounting for 55 total touchdowns, that he's in danger of, say, a 51-touchdown season in '08 being considered by voters as a sub-par year. The key to Tebow successfully repeating as Mr. Heisman could depend on his improvement as a passer.
3. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia, RB, Soph.
2007 Stats: 248 rushes, 1,334 yards, 14 TDs; 20 receptions, 253 yards.
Heisman-o-meter: He does not have ideal size (he's listed at 5-11, 207 pounds), but he's an electric runner who hits the hole quickly and can make you miss with his cutback ability. During a five-game stretch last year, the redshirt freshman rushed for 153.2 yards a contest and almost cracked this list. He should be a permanent member this season, assuming Caleb King doesn't steal too many of his carries. And don't sleep on Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford, who may just make this list at some point.
4. Chase Daniel, Missouri, QB, Sr.
2007 Stats: 384-of-563 passing, 4,306 yards, 33 TDs, 11 INTs; 109 rushes, 253 yards, 4 TDs.
Heisman-o-meter: Let's just throw the other pass-prolific Big 12 quarterbacks in here as well. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Texas' Colt McCoy and Kansas' Todd Reesing make the Big 12 the Conference of Quarterbacks, and they are all so close in ability and production that it's difficult to separate them. Daniel, a Heisman finalist last year and a regular member of this list for the last two, gets a slight edge because of his command of the offense and his ability to make plays with his feet.
5. Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech, WR, Soph.
2007 Stats: 134 receptions, 1,962 yards, 22 TDs; 1 kick off return, 16 yards.
Heisman-o-meter: Expectations are higher than ever in Lubbock, in part because of this receiving terror. A nightmare in the open field because of the way he attacks the defense with his cutback ability and separation speed, Crabtree came out of nowhere in '07 and was miles ahead of the nation's second-best receiver. He should only get better in '08. But who makes Texas Tech's offense go, Crabtree or Harrell? (I believe Harrell's the catalyst, but Crabtree's the better player.) And will that matter to voters?