Jimmy Clausen, Heisman contender?

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

The 2009 Heisman Trophy discussion begins and very nearly ends with Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy this preseason.

But things rarely go according to plan in the Heisman race. All three will be held to extremely high -- maybe impossibly high -- standards this season, and darkhorse candidates are sure to emerge.

So why not Jimmy Clausen?

Yes, the Notre Dame quarterback has been up and down his first two years in South Bend. But consider the factors in Clausen's favor this season:

• He's a junior and a three-year starter who should now have a great handle on Charlie Weis' offense. He did throw for 3,172 yards and 25 touchdowns last season (albeit with 17 interceptions), and those numbers should only improve.

• He's got a terrific receiving corps, including Golden Tate, Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph. (Tate himself could be a Heisman candidate, but it's very difficult for receivers to win the award; Tate would have to make highlight plays on kick returns a la Tim Brown and Rocket Ismail to stand out).

• The Irish have a schedule that's set up for them to win at least eight games and maybe make a run at a perfect season. Clausen will have a showcase game against USC at home.

• He's the Notre Dame quarterback. There are few positions in college football that offer more exposure. Publicity and hype won't be a problem if he plays well.

To be clear, Clausen is still a longshot for the Heisman race. But don't count him out completely.