Jimmy Clausen positioned himself just behind the “Big 3” in the 2009 Heisman Trophy race after the 2008 Hawaii bowl. Clausen was 22 of 26 for 401 yards, 5 touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 49-21 route.
Matt Leinart roasted Michigan in the Rose Bowl following the 2003 season. Leinart passed for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns with 23 completions on 34 attempts. He was the Rose Bowl MVP, and he even caught a touchdown pass. In 2004, Leinart beat out freshman upstart Adrian Peterson. No one knew who Peterson was until September 2004, but, nearly a year before, Leinart had already established himself as the best quarterback in college football.
Ty Detmer, the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner, overcame long odds to win the bronze statue largely in part because he passed for 576 yards against Penn State in the 1989 Holiday Bowl.
This list could go on and on. However, as fun as reminiscing is, the 2010 bowl season is upon us. We should be looking at who can establish themselves as 2011 Heisman Trophy candidates with strong bowl performances.
To avoid a list as long as many children’s Christmas wish list, I will leave off the obvious guys, like LaMichael James, Andrew Luck and Kellen Moore, who are already in the center of the radar and could sit out their respective bowl games and still be prime candidates when the 2011 season rolls around.
- Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State, was a leading candidate coming into 2010, but fell completely off the radar despite having his best season to date. The junior quarterback didn’t even receive one vote. A big game in the Sugar Bowl against an “SEC defense” can put him back on everyone’s list.
- Taylor Martinez, Nebraska, entered the Heisman discussion this year with a big game at Washington. He trailed off at the end of the season due to injuries and Roy Helu getting more touches. Another monster game against the Huskies in the Holiday Bowl, and Martinez can enter the discussion for 2011, without Helu.
- Russell Wilson, North Carolina State, had a solid junior year guiding North Carolina State to their best season since the Phillip Rivers days. Wilson has passed for almost 3,300 yards and 26 touchdowns to date, and he had NC State on the cusp of playing in the ACC championship game. How he plays against 9-3 West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl could signal whether he is ready to take his game and the Wolfpack to the next level.
- Blaine Gabbert, Missouri, had a down statistical year, but he helped Missouri surpass most people’s expectations by quarterbacking the Tigers to 10 wins. A big game against the well respected Iowa Hawkeyes defense in the Insight Bowl could be the catalyst for Gabbert to bounce back in 2011 with a special year.
- Aaron Murray, Georgia, had a good season. He passes for 2,851 yards, has a 24 to 6 TD:Int. ratio, and a 162.7 pass efficiency rating. He put up these numbers despite A.J. Green missing the first four games of the season. Oh, and Murray is just a freshman. A big game in the Liberty Bowl against Central Florida and Murray will be poised to make a run at the Heisman in 2011.
- Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, had flashes of greatness this year as a freshman. He faces ACC runner up Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. If he shows up the way he did against Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida, then he will be showing up on a lot of preseason Heisman Trophy lists.
- Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M, brought life back to the Aggies. He has guided them to a 6-0 finish to the season. He will face the best defense in the SEC in the Cotton Bowl. If he can get a win and look good doing it, voters will take notice.
- Darron Thomas, Oregon, unexpectedly took the Ducks to the next level this year. With Thomas being unknown and untested, LaMichael James got all the attention early in the year. The nation is slowly catching on to how important Thomas was in getting the Ducks where they are now. If Thomas can outplay Cam Newton the way Vince Young did Reggie Bush five years ago, Thomas will have a spot at the top of everyone’s list in 2011.