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Mel Kiper's story archive

Thursday, August 23

Top 15 Heisman candidates

Here's my list of the top 15 Heisman candidates; after the first four, the field levels off.

Eric Crouch
Eric Crouch ran for 22 TDs last year (and threw 13 TDs).
1. Eric Crouch, Senior QB, Nebraska
Crouch is at the top because he is the QB for a high-profile program that has a chance, because of its schedule, to be in the thick of the national championship hunt. The Cornhuskers open the season with four straight home games, and their two toughest tests come later in the season, both at home (Oklahoma and Kansas State). If the 'Huskers play to their potential and run the table, Crouch has a better chance to win the Heisman. Crouch has proven his ability as a QB over the years, but this year it doesn't look like he has a dominant tailback -- a Mike Rozier, Jarvis Redwine or I.M. Hipp. So teams might be able to key on Crouch a bit more, which could hurt his Heisman chances. Plus, the offensive line lost center Dominic Raiola to the NFL. For Crouch to win, he must also improve his passing accuracy.

2. Woodrow Dantzler, Senior QB, Clemson
Some people were outraged when I didn't have Dantzler in my top 30 earlier this year, but I was waiting to see if he was fully recovered from a leg injury which limited his production and availability last year. What will help Dantzler is that the Tigers have one of the best offensive lines they've ever had, plus a strong running game. But Clemson doesn't have dynamic WR Rod Gardner this year. Someone will need to emerge at WR to enhance Dantzler's ability. Dantzler is not an accomplished pure passer, but he's better than Crouch -- and he has dynamic running skills. He's an unbelievable running threat. Clemson's early schedule should allow Dantzler to get off to a great start. But you wonder about his durability, because his style opens him up to punishment.

3. Ken Simonton, Senior RB, Oregon State
Simonton has put up big numbers and is a key reason the Beavers have been able to rise to a new level (until two years ago, Oregon State had 28 straight losing seasons). What will hurt Simonton is that the Beavers also have another outstanding running back, senior Patrick McCall, who ran for 700 yards last season. McCall also helps Simonton by taking the focus of the defense off him, but he does take away some of yardage. Oregon State also lost its three top receivers, so the backs will be looked to more in the passing game this year. Plus, Beavers QB Jonathan Smith is also a Heisman candidate, which will take some of the spotlight off Simonton.

4. Chris Simms, Junior QB, Texas
Texas has the best wide-receiver corps in the history of college football (led by Roy Williams). When you have that kind of skill-position talent around you, you're going to be able to throw the football effectively. The Longhorns also have three strong tight ends and a top-flight offensive line. And this year, Simms should feel more free since the quarterback controversy of last season is past and he's the clear No. 1. With the receivers he has at his disposal, his numbers should be incredible. Besides that, Texas has a chance to win the national title, which would certainly boost his chances.

5. T.J. Duckett, Junior RB, Michigan State
Duckett is a big back who has good quickness and changes direction well for a big guy. Michigan State is a dark horse in the Big Ten. Duckett is one of the best big backs in country, if not the best.

6. George Godsey, Senior QB, Georgia Tech
I thought Godsey should have gotten more Heisman attention last year. He did a phenomenal job picking up where Joe Hamilton left off. He has outstanding wide receivers to throw to and has recovered from a knee injury. His challenge will be to avoid the rust and start the season in Heisman form.

7. Lee Suggs, Junior RB, Virginia Tech
With Michael Vick gone, Suggs will be the focal point of the Hokies offense. Suggs was a touchdown-scoring machine last year, and he'll have more opportunities, but this positive could also be a negative. Why? Because teams will be able to focus on Suggs. Besides having an unproven QB, there are four new starters on the offensive line. If teams stack eight men in the box and key on Suggs, his Heisman chances could be shot. But a favorable schedule should be a plus.

8. DeShaun Foster, Senior RB, UCLA
Foster has had injury problems, but when he's healthy, he's as good as it gets at running back. The key is that you have to play a full season to win the Heisman. UCLA has a pretty good offensive line and good receivers. The Bruins open up with Alabama; if Foster can put up some numbers in that game and keep it going, he'll be in the hunt.

Ken Dorsey
Ken Dorsey threw for 3,000-plus yards last season.
9. Ken Dorsey, Junior QB, Miami
Miami's offensive line is excellent, which will certainly help Dorsey, who is a basically a drop-back, pocket passer. The running game is strong and Dorsey has a great pass-receiving tight end in Jeremy Shockey. But the question is how Dorsey and the 'Canes deal with the loss (to the NFL) of top-flight wide receivers Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss and Andre King. Last year, Dorsey threw 28 TDs and just seven interceptions (including Miami's bowl win over Florida). If his new receivers can step up, Dorsey can equal those numbers and vie for the Heisman.

10. Kurt Kittner, Senior QB, Illinois
Illinois is an underrated team, and having talented WR Brandon Lloyd back from the injury list will help Kittner. With Lloyd as the go-to guy, Kittner has the potential to return to his form of two years ago. And Illinois could be a factor in the Big Ten.

11. Roy Williams, Sophomore WR, Texas
It's tough for a wide receiver to win the Heisman unless he's also a return man. Remember, WR Tim Brown won the Heisman and Raghib Ismail finished second because they returned punts and kickoffs too. What also hurts Williams' Heisman chances is that he shares the spotlight with QB Chris Simms and three other excellent receivers. Still, Williams is the best player in college football. He's an awesome talent with his size and pass-receiving skills and is the best NFL prospect in college right now.

12. Joey Harrington, Senior QB, Oregon
Oregon has a great history of developing quarterback going back to Dan Fouts, and the Ducks are hyping Harrington as a Heisman candidate at QB. Harrington has good skill-position talent around him. But to win the Heisman, he has to increase his completion percentage, which was at 52 percent last year; to win, a QB needs to be at about 60 percent.

13. Damien Anderson, Senior RB, Northwestern
With Northwestern's spread offense, gaping holes can open up, allowing Anderson to run free and hit the jets for long runs. If he gets a couple of long runs, he can be over 100 yards in two or three carries, which gives him a chance to post huge rushing numbers overall. It helps Anderson that Northwestern is one of the favorites in the Big Ten. Plus, the entire offensive line returns.

14. Jonathan Smith, Senior QB, Oregon State
Smith lost his top three receivers, though the line is solid and the Beavers are one of the favorites in the Pac-10. Like Harrington, Smith needs to increase his completion percentage. This won't be easy without the likes of Chad Johnson, who is demonstrating his exceptional talent in the NFL preseason with the Bengals.

15. Jason Thomas, Junior QB, UNLV
Thomas is a remarkable college QB and a terrific athlete. UNLV isn't the high-profile national power you usually associate with a Heisman winner, but as a talent, Thomas is top-notch.

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