CLA Sports 2012 Preseason Heisman Top 5 List

2012 Preseason Heisman Top 5 List

The lists for preseason Heisman candidates are in full circulation. The process of eliminating candidates has already begun, thus we have assembled the “CLA Sports Preseason Heisman Top 5 List.”

Of the 25-30 NCAA FBS college football players to be listed as preseason Heisman hopefuls, roughly 60% of the field consists of quarterbacks, with the remaining percentage overwhelmingly favoring running backs. The great thing about some of the names on this list has to be the fact that a few candidates grew up close to CLA’s headquarters in Los Angeles, CA, which has allowed us to follow the progression of these student-athletes since their youth and prep football days.

There’s no such thing as an East Coast bias, right? To even the playing field, we’ve thrown a little West Coast bias into our preseason Heisman hopeful breakdown.

1. Matt Barkley (QB, USC, Senior)

– One of the reasons we like Barkley as a front-runner is because of the fact that he’s delivered above expectations for his entire career. After being ranked as the number one overall prospect in the football recruiting class of 2009, Barkley has lived up to every bit of the hype by shattering several USC single-season and career passing records through his junior season as the Trojans signal-caller.

Aside from the fact that Barkley was on the fringe of making last season’s list of Heisman Trophy finalists, he has several motivating factors that no other candidate possesses.

Barkley leads the Trojans into their first BCS-eligible season in three years, and his hunger for a National Title may translate well into the Heisman voting at the end of the 2012 season. In addition, Barkley will step into the huddle with arguably the best wide receiving tandem in all of college football with Robert Woods (First team All-American) and Marqise Lee (Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshmen of the Year). Considering another preseason Heisman hopeful De’anthony Thomas (Oregon) was the other Pac-12 frosh to win the award alongside (Marqise) Lee, Barkley is in good hands.

With the chance to cement his place in college football history if he can lead USC to a BCS title and take home the Heisman hardware, watch out for “Matt Barkley for Heisman in 2012.”

2. De’anthony Thomas (ATH, Oregon, Sophomore)

– Prior to 2006, there were no sophomore Heisman Trophy winners in the history of the award. Tim Tebow broke that mold, which led to three consecutive years of super sophs being immortalized alongside past Heisman greats. Mark Ingram and Sam Bradford were the only two other sophomores to win the Heisman.

Returning for his sophomore season, the electric De’anthony “Black Mamba” Thomas is ready to become a household name. Thomas captivated the nation by breaking the record for the longest run from scrimmage in the history of the Rose Bowl earlier this year on blazing 91-yard touchdown sprint.

Furthermore, Thomas broke the Oregon Ducks freshman scoring record and finished the season ranked #46 overall in the NCAA FBS with 108 points. Thomas attended Crenshaw High School and College Level Athletes was fortunate enough to watch De’anthony play several times as a prep, and if anyone will challenge Barkley for this year’s Heisman Trophy, it will be Thomas.

3. Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson, Sophomore)

– Another sophomore sensation on our list is Clemson wideout and ridiculous playmaker Sammy Watkins. As a freshman, Watkins averaged over 15 yards per catch and was good for 16th in the NCAA FBS in receiving yards per game.

The term “all-purpose” is synonymous with describing a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Watkins is all that and three bags of potato chips. Watkins finished the season ranked #4 in the all of college football with nearly 2,300 all-purpose yards, and it must be noted that Watkins finished behind the likes of upperclassmen Tavon Austin and LaMichael James on that list.

If there is anything such as an East Coast bias in the Heisman race, look for Watkins to benefit from that push. However, we don’t advise attaching the East Coast bias label to Sammy’s candidacy. Watkins is the “Real deal Holyfield” when it comes to 2012 Heisman Trophy candidates and he doesn’t disappoint.

4. Robert Woods (WR, USC, Junior)

– A product of Gardena Serra High School in Southern California, Robert Woods has developed into the best wide receiver in all of college football. We may need to check Woods’ gloves for the infamous stickum that Raiders legend Lester Hayes made famous with the silver and black. In 2011, Robert broke the USC single-season receptions record with 111, and finished #4 in the NCAA FBS in receptions per game.

Although you could classify Woods as a possession receiver due to the fact that he can snag any football thrown within his radius, his speed is unmatched. A former CIF State Track & Field champion on the 4x400 relay team, Woods has a stride that can create separation from any defensive back at the collegiate level.

Look for Woods to make a strong case for himself in the Heisman race if Barkley decides to go to the well often. It was difficult to give Watkins the nod over Woods, but unless Lane Kiffin gives Woods a more prominent role in the return game, Sammy is the wide receiver front-runner at the moment.

CLA interviewed Woods during his prep days at Serra, and in addition to being one of the top recruits in the nation at the time, Robert already possessed character and maturity beyond his years. Woods is a hard-worker on and off the field.

Woods’ high school QB Connor Preston (SMU) said this about his former prep star wide receiver: “I think Robert is an incredible football player. I can’t say I’m surprised at all though. He’s a great player, a great teammate and a great person. I’m really happy for all of his success. He deserves it.”

5. Tavon Austin (ATH, West Virginia, Senior)

– Closing out our CLA Sports Top 5 Preseason Heisman candidates is Tavon Austin. The University of West Virginia athlete has to be one of the more dynamic players in all of college football. Last season, Austin returned two kicks for long touchdowns, and we all know that highlights such as those are what stick in the minds of the Heisman voters.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy race features several top athletes for the first time in many years. Although Tavon Austin led the list of returning all-purpose Heisman candidates in the statistical sense last season, Thomas and Watkins get the nod due to their underclassmen status.

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Aaron Plunkett (Publisher)