Michigan improved greatly in Brady Hoke’s first season, and it would only be natural for the UM fans to think 2012 could be their year.
The odds of winning a BCS National Championship are OK, but not outstanding.
However, it would not shock many if dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson finally put together a full season of greatness and won the Heisman Trophy.
He’s not alone.
There are a number of great college football players who have a better shot at the Heisman than they do a championship.
Geno Smith, West Virginia
It’s not like Geno Smith is going to put up numbers like he did in the Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson during every game next season.
But it’s not a far-fetched idea to believe he will improve drastically on his first season in Dana Holgorsen’s system.
If WVU makes the jump to the Big 12 (like most experts believe), then Smith will get a credibility bump that he can’t earn in the Big East.
However, this also means the competition will be tougher. So it’s hard to imagine the Mountaineers can pull off an undefeated regular season and earn a spot in the championship game.
So, Smith could give the Big 12 a second straight Heisman winner.
Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Montee Ball’s great 2011 earned him an invite to the Heisman Trophy presentation, but he wasn’t really a serious contender.
That was somewhat shocking considering he amassed 38 touchdowns during the regular season. He was naturally aided by the addition of quarterback Russell Wilson.
So it’s hard to imagine Ball amassing the gaudy numbers again, but if he still gets 24 or 25 touchdowns there might be enough voters who give him an edge when looking at his two seasons together.
That doesn’t make it right, but it could happen.
As a team, the Badgers should be a competitive group but Bret Bielema has some rebuilding to do in 2012.
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
In his first season as Arkansas’ starter, Tyler Wilson made a lot of folks forget Ryan Mallett real fast.
Wilson completed 63 percent of passes for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns as the Razorbacks went 11-2.
In Bobby Petrino’s system, Wilson could elevate those numbers into Heisman-worthy stats.
Wilson won’t have all of the receiving weapons he had in the past, but a healthy Knile Davis running the ball should take some pressure off of him.
At this point, Arkansas is not good enough to win the SEC West so it’s hard to imagine the Razorbacks pulling off what Alabama did last season.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Through eight games of 2011, Sammy Watkins was actually a legitimate Heisman candidate as a true freshman.
He flashed his explosiveness as both a receiver and a returner. Heisman voters love it when a player can score from multiple positions on the field.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Watkins finished with better numbers than he had in 2011. He caught 83 passes for 1,225 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Watkins’ Heisman case will be helped if quarterback Tajh Boyd becomes more consistent. However, that could hurt him if Boyd himself becomes a serious candidate.
After that pitiful defensive performance in the Discover Orange Bowl, it’s hard to imagine Clemson could be considered a serious title contender.
James Franklin, Missouri
Heisman voters love a quarterback who can throw and run.
James Franklin has a little Cam Newton in him.
The Missouri quarterback had a strong sophomore season. He threw for 2,872 yards and rushed for an additional 981 yards.
Franklin accounted for 36 touchdowns, as the Tigers went 8-5 and closed the season with four straight wins.
Missouri is heading to the SEC East, which is a division the Tigers could actually compete for in 2012.
That will help Franklin’s case, but it doesn’t seem likely Missouri would have enough to win the SEC and win a championship.
Aaron Murray, Georgia
Hey, it’s another SEC East quarterback.
But Aaron Murray is more of a traditional drop-back passer with a rocket arm.
Murray proved to be a real leader for Georgia, and he guided the Bulldogs to 10 straight wins in 2011. Of course, that was sandwiched by two two-game losing streaks.
The bowl loss to Michigan State was a huge hit, but Murray should excel for Mark Richt again.
The schedule has plenty of wins on it, and if Georgia makes the SEC Championship game again, Murray might play his way into a Heisman Trophy.
The Bulldogs would like to think they are a BCS sleeper, but right now they aren’t in the same class as LSU and Alabama. Georgia may not be better than Arkansas and Auburn, either.
Keith Price, Washington
A lot of college football fans did not see Washington’s Keith Price play much this season.
Then came his performance in the Alamo Bowl against Baylor. The Huskies lost, but Price outplayed Heisman winner Robert Griffin III.
He threw for 438 yards and four touchdowns in a wild game that Washington lost.
Price finished the year with 3,322 passing yards and 32 touchdowns. He should easily put up those type of numbers again.
While Washington has improved under Steve Sarkisian, no one is going to confuse the Huskies with USC or Oregon.
Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
Forget Taylor Martinez, Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead is a better Heisman candidate for the Cornhuskers.
Burkhead could be a Ron Dayne-type Heisman winner.
He’s sort of a battering ram with nice speed.
Nebraska will give him the ball between 275 and 325 times next fall, and that should equate to about 1,800 rushing yards and a whole bunch of touchdowns.
Martinez actually hurts his candidacy a bit since he’ll score a lot of touchdowns also.
The Cornhuskers took a step back last year just when it looked like Bo Pelini’s team was ready to take the next step.
Right now, Nebraska must focus on Big Ten play before becoming a serious title contender.
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore was a Heisman contender before he went down with a knee injury in the seventh game of the season.
As long as he returns this fall at 100 percent, Lattimore should be an immediate front runner.
He should get around 300 carries this fall, and he could put up 1,600 to 1,800 yards.
If he can maintain or improve his 116 yards-per-game average, Lattimore should at least get an invite to New York for the trophy presentation.
The Gamecocks have stockpiled some talent the past few years with Steve Spurrier, but it’s hard to see South Carolina making a serious run at a BCS title.
Denard Robinson, Michigan
Michigan’s Denard Robinson has been in the Heisman mix the past two seasons, but he can’t seem to put together a complete campaign.
Robinson is such an exceptional athlete you can’t take your eyes off of him when he’s playing. When he breaks off one of those special runs he just makes everyone else look like high school players.
Robinson still lacks a great passing arm and he has accuracy issues, but he’s good enough to have thrown for 2,173 yards last year.
He also had 15 interceptions.
Michigan reached the Sugar Bowl in 2011 and knocked off Virginia Tech, but it’s hard to imagine the Wolverines making the leap to a national title contender.