An early look at the 2012 Heisman race

This past season, it was certain the Pac-12 would have a Heisman Trophy candidate, considering the conference welcomed back two 2010 finalists: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Oregon running back LaMichael James.

Next year? Not so certain.

Of course, if USC quarterback Matt Barkley opts to return for his senior year, he'll instantly become the favorite. But who's betting he'll return? James also could return, but that seems unlikely. The same could be said for Washington running back Chris Polk.

After that?

USC receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee? Washington quarterback Keith Price? Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler? Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen? Washington State wide receiver Marquess Wilson? Utah running back John White?

My take: Woods and Oregon's multipurpose threat De'Anthony Thomas are the Pac-12's top candidates, as of today.

But this uncertainty is not just a Pac-12 thing. As the venerable Heisman Pundit points out, it should be a wide open race nationally. It's quite possible that the preseason list of Heisman candidates won't include the eventual winner (and, really, who had Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in their Heisman pool in August?).

The race for the 2012 Heisman appears to be wide open, especially assuming you can cross the following names off this year’s top 10 in the voting list due to either early entry into the NFL draft or expiration of eligibility:

1. Robert Griffin III

2. Andrew Luck

3. Trent Richardson

4. Montee Ball

5. Tyrann Mathieu

6. Matt Barkley

7. Case Keenum

8. Kellen Moore

9. Russell Wilson

10. LaMichael James

Whereas this past season had five of the top six finishers in the Heisman race returning, it’s very likely that nine of 10 from this season will not return (something that hasn’t happened since 2005). That means the race for the 2012 Heisman is likely to be wide open, with no real front runner in place.

And HP is not a believer in Mathieu coming back and winning next fall.

He does, however, make his own list, which includes Thomas but not Woods. He also includes USC running back Curtis McNeal.

On Thomas: "An electric will o’ the wisp who can score on the ground, in the air or by returning kicks and punts. Should be the star of yet another fine Oregon team."

On McNeal: "The USC running back position is a favorite of Heisman voters. McNeal averaged 120 yards per game and nearly 7 yards per carry in his last six games, which could point to an even bigger season in 2012."

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson likely starts out the 2012 season as the favorite, which probably means he won't win -- see Luck. After that, everyone is just going to list returning offensive players who had good numbers in 2011.