The Heisman Trophy race might be over before the season even starts.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is such a heavy favorite to win the Heisman, it seems all he needs to do this season is stay healthy and play about as well as everyone expects and the bronze statute will be his.
It might not be so easy. As we've learned in the past few years, players are more likely than even to go from relative unknowns to Heisman contenders. Exhibit A being last year's winner, Cam Newton.
So with the understanding that the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner could be a player with little name recognition outside of the region in which he plays, let's take a look at some players who could give Luck a run for the Heisman.
DENARD ROBINSON, QB, Michigan — For the first month of last season, "Shoelace" was college football's biggest star and one of the most thrilling players the Big Ten has ever seen. He couldn't keep up the record-setting pace and as the losses mounted for Michigan, Robinson became an afterthought in the Heisman voting. He became the only player in NCAA history with 1,500 yards rushing and 1,500 passing, and finished sixth. Under new coach Brady Hoke, the Wolverines are switching from a spread to a pro-style attack. If Robinson came make a smooth transition and lead a revival at Michigan, Luck will have some serious competition.
JUSTIN BLACKMON, WR, Oklahoma State — The only player whose decision to stay in school for another year was close to being as surprising as Luck's was Blackmon's. In his first season as a starter, Blackmon was spectacular with 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns. If the Cowboys can make a run at the national championship and knock off the mighty Sooners along the way, Blackmon could become the first receiver to win the Heisman since Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991.
DAN PERSA, QB, Northwestern — A good overcoming-adversity story can help a Heisman contender and Persa's got one. He tore his Achilles' tendon late last season after throwing a game-winning touchdown pass against Iowa. After a long rehab, Persa's back and trying to pick up where he left off last year, when he set a Big Ten record for completion percentage (73.5).
LaMICHAEL JAMES, RB, Oregon — James led the nation in rushing (144.3 per game) and touchdowns (24) last season and those numbers should be within reach again playing in the Ducks' mile-a-minute offense. James' problem is Oregon has lots of ways to beat opponents and that could be held against him.
KELLEN MOORE, QB, Boise State — Moore doesn't have the cachet of being a top-notch NFL prospect, but he is on his way to finishing his career as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in college football history. The Broncos aren't quite as loaded this season as last, so if Moore can lead them to another undefeated season the Heisman could be his.
TRENT RICHARDSON, RB, Alabama — Mark Ingram is gone and the Crimson Tide will have a new starting quarterback. That means there will be plenty of carries for Richardson, who might be the most talented runner in the country.
Ralph D. Russo can be followed at: http://www.twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP