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2012 Heisman Trophy Watchlist: Week 1

Each week the Athlon editors cast their ballots for college football's Most Outstanding player.

Each week, the Athlon editors vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.

Voting: Each first place vote gets five points. A second place vote gets four points. So on and so forth with a fifth place vote getting one point. The voting will expand to 10 after the first weekend of action.

USC's Matt Barkley will enter the regular season as the prohibitive favorite to win the coveted stiff-armed trophy. But when was the last time the overwhelming preseason favorite actually hoisted the trophy? Sure, Matt Leinart, Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne were high profile players with lofty preseason expectations. But were any the clearcut No. 1 choice like Andrew Luck? Or Barkley? 

Having said that, the Trojan's signal caller wasn't a unanimous choice heading into Week 1. Barkley got seven of the nine first place votes and is still clearly Athlon's top choice to win the trophy. But Geno Smith and Marcus Lattimore each got one first place vote, creating some dissention within the Athlon ranks.

My personal favorite vote of the preseason Watch List? Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones. The reigning Outland Trophy winner has played three positions for two national championship teams and is arguably the best player in the SEC. 

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (Sr., 7 first place votes)
There is no reason to think Barkley won't, at minimum, be in New York at season's end as a Heisman finalist. Much like Luck last fall, he is clearly the nation's top quarterback and plays for a team that will post huge offensive numbers. The stats, marquee primetime showdowns, national title aspirations and extraordinary off-the-field persona are all written in boldface in his current Heisman resume. Frankly, the only wart on The Golden Boy's preseason bio is that he is the definitive pick to win the award. While that may seem counter intuitive on the surface, the favorite is rarely victorious at season's end.

  Name Pos. Team Total Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
1. Matt Barkley QB USC 42 of 45 7 1 1 - -
2. Montee Ball RB Wisconsin 23 of 45 - 4 1 2 -
3. Denard Robinson QB Michigan 23 of 45 - 2 3 3 -
4. Marcus Lattimore RB South Carolina 21 of 45 1 - 3 3 1
5. Geno Smith QB West Virginia 11 of 45 1 - 1 - 3
6. Landry Jones QB Oklahoma 5 of 45 - 1 - - 1
7. Logan Thomas QB Virginia Tech 4 of 45 - 1 - - -
8. A.J. McCarron QB Alabama 2 of 45 - - - 1 -
9. Marquess Wilson WR Washington St 1 of 45 - - - - 1
10. De'Anthony Thomas AP Oregon 1 of 45 - - - - 1
11. Barrett Jones OL Alabama 1 of 45 - - - - 1
12. Aaron Murray QB Georgia 1 of 45 - - - - 1

2. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (Sr.)
It sends a great message to the college football world that the top two names on this list put the NFL on hold to return to college. And Ball did so after a historic season in Madison that will be extremely difficult to replicate. Three first-team All-Big Ten blockers, offensive wizard Paul Chryst and team leader Russell Wilson have all moved on from the Wisconsin offense. Ball should easily top 1,400 yards and 15 scores — but that would be 24 fewer touchdowns than last season. He should post huge numbers once again, but a return trip to NYC seems unlikely on a team that may lose four games.

3. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (Sr.)
The most explosive athlete in the nation under center is the Wolverines signal caller. He will have plenty of marquee match-ups to prove his Heisman mettle as Michigan faces Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State and Notre Dame this year. And staying healthy — and undefeated — against that schedule is a tall order. Shoelace is another 1,300-yards from becoming the NCAA's all-time leading rusher from the quarterback position and should be in New York at season's end. But to win the award, Michigan will likely need to win the Big Ten — and the Alabama game.

4. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (Jr.)
The most talented running back in the nation will be on full display on national TV this week against SEC opponent Vanderbilt. He has not dealt with any contact this summer, but the Gamecocks workhorse should need little time to get reacclimated with big time football. Lattimore is a special player with special talents and could be the driving force of an SEC title run by Steve Spurrier's bunch. Should Carolina make it to Atlanta – or further — then it will be on the broad and powerful shoulders of Lattimore. 

5. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (Sr.)
My first place vote went to the rifleman from Morgantown, W.Va. He has a huge arm, a crazy-deep receiving corps, a mad genius drawing up plays and a chance at putting together some huge marquee performances. Smith could lead the nation in passing yards and touchdowns should things fall right and this would all but assure him a trip to The Big Apple come December. While a Big 12 title won't be mandatory for a Heisman run, an upset win over Oklahoma and/or Texas along the way wouldn't hurt. 

6. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (Jr.)
A Cam Newton clone will have the stats and potential deep championship run to get him to NYC.

7. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (Sr.)
The numbers should be huge if the receivers are more consistent and the running game stays healthy.

8. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama (Jr.)
The offense will limit his statistical production but he could be the most important player on one of the nation's best teams.

9. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State (Jr.)
Has posted 137 rec., 2,394 yds and 18 TDs in two seasons without Mike Leach. Can you say Michael Crabtree?

10. De'Anthony Thomas, AP, Oregon (So.)
The most explosive, dynamic player in the nation should have plenty of highlights on his reel.

- by Braden Gall

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