The Heisman Trophy may be the most coveted trophy in all of sports.
Ten of the last 11 winners of this priceless award have been quarterbacks. And since 1950, only one time has a non-offensive skill player — e.g., quarterback, running back or wide receiver — claimed the historic award (Charles Woodson, 1997). Yes, the quarterback is the most important position on the field. Yes, few players touch the ball more than a workhorse running back. But just because big uglies, heavy-hitters and pass rushers don't often get the famed trip to Radio City Music Hall in New York City, it doesn't mean they don't deserve it.
So expect to see more than just signal callers, pass-catchers and tailbacks on Athlon Sports' conference-by-conference Heisman Contenders.
The Big East's Top 10 Heisman Trophy Contenders:
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (SO)
The true freshman built his confidence week upon week and now enters his second year as the top Heisman contender in the league. He trailed only Geno Smith in completion percentage last year (64.5%) and posted the Big East’s No. 2 passer efficiency (132.44) mark. Most importantly, he has added bulk and strength to his frame after playing his best ball down the stretch. He posted a career high 274 yards in the bowl loss and chucked five touchdowns in the final two games.
2. Ray Graham, RB, Pitt (SR)
This talented tailback was on a tear when four plays into the primetime showdown with UConn, his season ended with a torn ACL. He had posted 939 yards rushing and nine scores in the first seven games of the year prior to the injury. If fully healthy, Graham could easily be the Big East’s top Heisman candidate now that offensive genius Paul Chryst is calling plays in the ‘Burgh.
3. B.J. Daniels, QB, USF (SR)
Daniels’ raw explosiveness and athleticism have always been obvious, but he has yet to put his whole game together for a full season. However, he came close in 2011 with his best year to date: 2,604 yards, 13 TD, 7 INT, 601 yards rushing, 6 TD. The Bulls must improve on their 1-6 league record (which they should) for Daniels to have a chance at the stiff-armed trophy of Ed Smith.
4. Lyle McCombs, RB, UConn (SO)
Under Randy Edsall the Huskies churned out highly productive runners so McCombs would have done the current Maryland head coach proud in Year 1. The redshirt freshman posted six 100-yard efforts in his first season and finished second in the league in rushing. Three starters and a stud tight end are back to pave the way for the studly sophomore.
5. Matt Brown, RB, Temple (SR)
As a back-up to Bernard Pierce, Brown still finished eighth in the MAC in rushing with 916 yards. He has shown to be a tremendous second option in three seasons with the Owls, but now gets the spotlight to himself in Steve Addazio's system. Defenses will be tougher in the Big East, but Brown should be plenty capable.
6. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers (SR)
Greene should be the front-runner to claim Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors…again. He led the league in tackles with 141 stops and is the heart and soul of what should be the league’s best unit…again. Fans should expect big things from Ray Graham’s brother. A broken leg sustained in the bowl game a year ago seems like a distant afterthought.
7. Justin Pugh, OL, Syracuse (SR)
An All-Big East first-team selection a year ago, Pugh enters this season as a preseason Athlon Sports All-American and the top blocker in the conference. He paved the way for one of only three 1,000-yard Big East runners a year ago and will now be responsible for protecting senior quarterback Ryan Nassib.
8. Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville (JR)
One of the nation’s top safety prospects, the junior is poised for a huge season after leading the Cards in tackles last year (6.5/game). If the Cardinals are going to win 10 games and earn a Big East championship, it will be on the shoulders of the talented Smith.
9. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse (SR)
In his third year in the system, Nassib could be poised for his best year. He increased his touchdown passes, yardage totals and completion percentage from 2010 to 2011. With Pugh watching his back, one of the few pro-style passers in the league should continue to develop.
10. Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati (JR)
Has loads of upside with a tremendous throwing arm and athletic ability. He also is the leader in the clubhouse in terms of game experience for the Bearcats. The leash will be short with Legaux, but should things fall into place, he has the upside to win games and post big numbers.
Other Names to Watch:
Devin Street, WR, Pitt (JR)
Keystone product could explode after a very productive 53-754-2 stat line a year ago.
Demetris Murray, RB, USF (SR)
Will take over for Darrell Scott but will also lose time to Lindsey Lamar.
Tino Sunseri, QB, Pitt (SR)
Struggled mightily last year with Todd Graham. Should be that much better with Chryst.
DeDe Lattimore, LB, USF (JR)
Finished 6th in tackles and played behind enemy lines all year: 7.0 sacks, 13.0 TFL.
Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse (SR)
Leading returning receiver should build on 68-834-6 stat line.
Rushel Shell, RB, Pitt (FR)
Elite level talent who will complement Graham perfectly for Chryst.
Jawan Jamison, RB, Rutgers (SO)
Will split time with talented sophomore Huggins but will build on 897-yard 2011 season.
Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers (SO)
Way too talented to be kept off the field. Is slated to split carries with Jamison.
Dominique Brown, RB, Louisville (JR)
Needs to break off bigger chunks but has chance to be feature back for top team.
Jarred Holley, S, Pitt (SR)
Does a bit of everything (67 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) and is the leader of Panthers’ D.
Athlon's 2012 Big East Team Previews
-by Braden Gall