The 2012 Heisman Trophy field is wide open, but not for a lack of talent. With a great crop of returning stars potential winners of the most prestigious individual award in college football will have to come right out of the gate this season with big performances. And if they want to be the ones holding the heavy bronze trophy in NYC on December 8, like past winners Robert Griffin III and Tim Tebow, they'll need to play consistently all season. Here are the four players we think will be at the Heisman Ceremony at the end of the season.
Senior, Quarterback, USC
When Barkley announced his decision to return to USC for his senior season, he immediately became the favorite to win the 2012 Heisman. The 21-year-old has improved on his touchdown passes, passing yards, and quarterback rating in each of the past two seasons, and his 39 TDs in '11 set a Pac-12 single-season record. Barkley has it all going for him: He plays for a big-name school, will throw to an elite group of receivers, and his team is a national title contende
Key Game: November 3 vs. Oregon
You can count on the points piling up in this Pac-12 showdown. If USC wins, it could clinch the Heisman for Barkley.
Senior, Running Back, Wisconsin
In 2011, Ball quietly had one of the best seasons ever by a college running back. He led the nation in rushing yards (1,923) and tied Oklahoma State legend Barry Sanders's NCAA single-season record for total touchdowns (39). Ball enters 2012 just 18 touchdowns away from breaking the NCAA record for career scores. There's no doubt that the 5'11", 212-pound Ball will put up eye-popping stats again this season, especially since Wisconsin won't be playing any BCS contenders.
Key Game: November 17 vs. Ohio State
Ball must impress voters in this late-season game against the Badgers' toughest opponent.
[Photo Gallery: Preseason All-Big 10 Team]
Senior, Quarterback, Michigan
Robinson is as likely to rush for a 60-yard touchdown as he is to throw a perfect pass to the corner of the end zone. He holds the NCAA single-season record for rushing yards by a QB (1,702, in 2010) and is the only NCAA player to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 in a season. Robinson needs to improve his completion percentage (55.0) and cut down on his interceptions (15). If that happens, he could outrun the Heisman field just as he does linebackers.
Key Game: September 1 vs. Alabama
Robinson has a chance to show what he can do against the defending national champs in the season opener.
Senior, Quarterback, Arkansas
Wilson is a dark-horse Heisman candidate. Last season he passed for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns, was named to the All-SEC team, and guided Arkansas to an 11–2 record. Some credited Wilson's big success to former Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino's high-scoring spread offense. But even under new coach John Smith this season, it's likely that Wilson's strong arm and pocket presence will lead to similar — or better — results
Key Game: November 23 vs. LSU
If Wilson shines in the regular season finale against a tough LSU defense, he could sneak ahead of the Heisman pack.
ILLUSTRATION: JOHN CORBITT