5. Oregon – RB De’Anthony Thomas
Thomas isn’t even the leading returning rusher for the Ducks, but he will receive his fair share of touches as Oregon attempts to replace the production of LaMichael James. Thomas is a blur on the field, one of the fastest players in the country. He had 600 yards and 7 touchdowns last year, but it wouldn’t surprise anybody if he doubled — or even tripled — those numbers, this year.
4. Oklahoma – QB Landry Jones
Landry Jones elected to skip the NFL Draft and stay for his senior season in Norman. As a junior, he completed over 63% of his passes while throwing for 29 touchdowns. There’s uncertainty for the Sooners as they recently lost two starting offensive linemen for the season, and Bob Stoops has yet to reinstate several indefinitely suspended wide receivers. That being said, Jones is still capable of winging it all over the field, and plans on showcasing that ability in just a few short weeks.
3. USC – QB Matt Barkley
Matt Barkley is not only the preseason favorite for the Heisman Trophy, he is the favorite to go No. 1 overall in next year’s NFL Draft too. Barkley has the chance to lead one of the most explosive offenses in college football history as the Trojans boast two 1,000 yard receivers and two 1,000 yard backs. Also, with USC now returning to bowl-eligibility after its NCAA sanctions, look for the Trojans, and Barkley, to be extra-motivated.
2. Alabama – QB A.J. McCarron
A.J. McCarron’s 2,600 yards and 16 touchdowns from last season won’t impress anyone. But the national championship ring that he wears on his finger will. McCarron is a safe, game-managing quarterback who knows how to lead his troops. While he will have to put up much loftier numbers to actually win the Heisman, he will be in contention all year purely based on Alabama winning, and rightfully so.
1. LSU – CB Tyrann Mathieu
The Honey Badger. Widely known for his moniker, his performance on the field is outstanding too. He only had two interceptions and zero forced fumbles last season, but there was a reason for that — teams were terrified to throw in his direction. That could be the case again in 2012 for the junior, as there is no denying that he is the leader for arguably the nation’s top defense. Expect the Honey Badger to be sitting at the Heisman Ceremony this year.