The Pac-12 Conference doesn’t win a lot of Heisman Trophies, but when it does, it dominates.
Over the last 30 years, the league has just three such stiff-armed awards, but USC won those three Heisman in a four-year span from 2002-05: Carson Palmer (2002), Matt Leinart (’04) and Reggie Bush (’05). That said, the Pac-12 has been close recently with Heisman finalists LaMichael James, Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart coming extremely close to winning the trophy.
On top of that, recent trends are pointing toward another potential Heisman run for the Pac-12. An influx of elite offensive coaches and a dearth of electric underclassmen gives this conference as good a chance as any to win sports most prestigious award.
Here are the Pac-12’s top Heisman contenders for 2013 (complete with updated Vegas odds):
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (16/1)
Manziel gets most of the love as a redshirt freshman, but Mariota wasn’t far behind. Thanks to big leads by Oregon, he didn't see a ton of action deep into most second halves and still led the nation in road passing efficiency. Overall, he led the Pac-12 in passer rating and scored 37 total touchdowns. He plays with poise and confidence well beyond his years. The big question mark will be the loss of head coach Chip Kelly. The last time Oregon switched head coaches internally, there was little drop off, but one has to think this offense will take a small step back. Yet, as the leader of Oregon's offense, the supremely gifted 6-foot-4, 200-pound second-year starter should be destined for at least one trip to NYC in his career.
2. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (40/1)
Carey was the most underrated player in the nation last fall. He led the nation in rushing (148.4 ypg, 1,929 yards), set the Arizona single-season rushing record and the Pac-12 single-game rushing record (366 yards). He scored 24 times and helped turn the Wildcats from a four-win team in 2011 to an eight-win, zone-read monster. And he did all of this as a sophomore. With spread guru Rich Rodriguez calling the shots, the tough-nosed workhorse has a chance to post huge numbers once again in 2013. Charges were recently dropped concerning Carey’s domestic dispute and he has been punished internally by RichRod, so all signs are go for a huge 2013 campaign… as long as he walks the straight and narrow.
3. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon (14/1)
An elite big-play machine, Thomas’ biggest weakness is actually one of his biggest strengths. The Oregon scheme lends itself to huge numbers but it also distributes the football. Simply, he needs more than 137 touches on offense to get to New York. The change in head coach will also play a role with Thomas' campaign like it will Mariota's. That said, few players in the nation are as captivating and explosive as Thomas. His 18 rushing touchdowns, 14 receiving touchdowns and four return touchdowns in just two seasons prove that pretty clearly.
4. Marqise Lee, WR, USC (14/1)
With a proven commodity at quarterback coming back, Lee might be a Heisman frontrunner nationally. But with Matt Barkley — and counterpart Robert Woods who drew plenty of defensive attention — leaving for the NFL, Lee’s numbers will almost assuredly go down. Those numbers, however, were extraordinary a year ago as he was No. 2 in the nation in receptions per game (9.1) and yards per game (132.4) and he scored 15 times. He is an elite player who may not have the supporting cast to get to Radio City Music Hall.
5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (25/1)
The Bruins finally found a quarterback. The redshirt sophomore-to-be threw for three 300-yard efforts in his first four career games. He then led his team to the Pac-12 title game, scored 38 total touchdowns and produced nearly 4,100 yards of total offense in just his first year under center. The show will be all his in Westwood now that Johnathan Franklin is gone.
6. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
In just his first year under center, Kelly finished No. 2 in passing efficiency in the Pac-12 and averaged more than 273 yards of total offense per game. He also threw at least four touchdowns in a game four times in the final eight contests. With a host of talented surrounding cast, the efficient Sun Devils passer could easily push for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.
7. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
The Huskies tailback and his 1,439-yard, 16-TD sophomore season flew well under the national radar a year ago. But with four starters back along the offensive line and his quarterback entering his third season as the starter, Sankey has a great chance to earn national acclaim as a junior. Even just a slight increase in production would place Sankey among the nation’s best.
8. Silas Redd, RB, USC
Redd scored in seven of his first nine games as a Trojan and posted three 100-yard efforts in his first five. But he slowed over the course of the year and dealt with small injuries late in the year. Still, he posted 1,018 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns in his first season in L.A. With a new quarterback, he should now be the focal point of the offense.
9. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
It took eight games but David Shaw found his replacement for Andrew Luck when he inserted the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder into the lineup a few plays into the Colorado game. Hogan proceeded to lead the Cardinal to a 6-0 record to end the season — including the school’s first Rose Bowl win since 1972 — with efficient and dynamic play under center. He passed for 1,096 yards (71.7%) with nine touchdowns while providing a spark on the ground with 263 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. Look for much bigger things in ’13 from the Cardinal signal caller.
10. Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Now that C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele have departed the backfield and Keenan Allen is in the NFL, Bigelow becomes the main offensive weapon in Berkeley. And few players nationally have as much upside as the electric tailback (see Ohio State game). He has big-play ability and will be right at home in Sonny Dykes high-octane offense.
11. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The next dynamic, versatile all-purpose type for Mike Riley. Extremely explosive.
12. Keith Price, QB, Washington
Look for the Husky's QB to return to his record-setting form in 2013.
13. Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State
Should build on solid freshman season: 940 yards and 13 TDs.
14. Arizona’s Quarterback
Anu Solomon would post much bigger dual-threat numbers while Jesse Scoggins might win the most games. But both players are chasing B.J. Denker entering fall practice.
15. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
The nation's top tight end is in store for a huge (and final) year in Seattle.
16. USC’s Quarterback
Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will battle for one of the most Heisman-worthy positions in the nation.
17. Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon
Marshall will fill the Kenjon Barner role and could see more touches than DAT.
18. UCLA’s Running Back
Jordan James and Paul Perkins will battle for touches in void left by Franklin.
19. Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State
Year No. 2 under Mike Leach has to better than Year No. 1, right?
20. Anthony Wilkerson, RB, Stanford
Will get the first crack at taking over for Stepfan Taylor. Tyler Gaffney and Barry Sanders will play too.
2013 Pac-12 Team Previews
Best of the Rest:
21. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
22. DJ Foster, RB, Arizona State
23. Christian Powell, RB, Colorado
24. Zach Kline, QB, California
25. Travis Wilson, QB, Utah
26. Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
27. Kasen Williams, WR, Washington
28. Shaquelle Evans, WR, UCLA
29. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
30. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
10 Defensive Players to Watch:
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
Dion Bailey, S, USC
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
Morgan Breslin, DE, USC
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