Is the 2011 Heisman Trophy a Pac-12 race?

ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman made a list "dark horse" Heisman Trophy candidates this weekInsider and he included Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler.

Your first reaction: "Really?"

But your second should be, "Not unreasonable."

Why? Because the Sun Devils are expected to surge this year. They have the makings of the first Pac-12 South Division champions and could climb the Top 25 if things fall into place. And by falling into place we mean opening 3-0 with victories over Missouri and Illinois.

The Heisman Trophy is often the "best player on the the best (or very good) team" award, but that doesn't truly include defense, so linebacker Vontaze Burfict probably isn't a Heisman candidate. So then there's Osweiler.

We know that the Sun Devils are going to pass a lot in coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread scheme -- see 286 yards passing per game in 2010. And Osweiler threw five TDs with no interceptions last year, which projects to a high efficiency number, if he improves his middling accuracy (56.9 percent).

So you combine the early-season hype for a fresh team surging in the Top 25 and big numbers in the passing game, and Osweiler could become a candidate. Not saying it's likely. Only that it wouldn't be shocking.

Feldman also makes note of USC receiver Robert Woods.

But forget the dark horses for a second. Here's a near-certainty: The Pac-12 will send a candidate to New York for the ceremony again in 2011. Heck, the conference welcomes back two 2010 finalists this season: Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Oregon RB LaMichael James.

Those are two preseason, first-team All-Americans who already have name recognition. Even if Luck's numbers sag a bit, he probably gets an invite as a career achievement award if Stanford keeps winning.

Of course, winning is the thing. A player isn't going to win the Heisman with four losses.

Still, it's not hard to project six conference players as legitimate 2011 Heisman Trophy candidates (four of these guys made the Heisman Pundit's watch list).

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

3. Matt Barkley, QB, USC

4. Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon

5. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona

6. Chris Polk, RB, Washington

Luck and James are obvious. If their teams win and they match their 2010 numbers, they're going to New York. Barkley is major talent and also the USC quarterback. If the Trojans win, he almost automatically becomes a candidate. And his candidacy gets an immediate surge if the NCAA appeals committee gives the Trojans back postseason eligibility. Thomas might split the vote with James but if he improves his impressive 2010 numbers, he will be hard to ignore. Foles could put up huge numbers with one of the best groups of receivers in the nation. And Polk might get more carries than any back in the conference.

But, again, you've got to win. You'd figure, though, that at least one -- and probably two or three -- of these teams will.