The Big 12 has only been playing football for 16 seasons and has already amassed five Heisman trophies - including last year's winner, Robert Griffin - which is more than any other conference during that time span.
The conference will have its work cut out for it adding number six in 2012, however, with guys like Matt Barkely, Tyrann Mathieu, Denard Robinson, and Marcus Lattimore trying to stake their claim to the award, as well. But if it happens, it's likely going to be one of these three guys, with a few more names thrown into the mix who should also make a name for themselves on the field this fall.
The Top Contenders:
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones figures to be the frontrunner heading into the 2012 season if for no other reason, name recognition. He'll begin his fourth season as the starting quarterback for the Sooners and what better way to cap off his OU career that has already seen him throw for 12,379 yards and 93 touchdowns.
Could be helped by: Oklahoma going on a national title run. Sure, adding a Heisman would be nice, but one of Jones' main reasons for returning for his senior year was to win a national title. If Oklahoma can get there, or come relatively close, his chances will likely be enhanced in the eyes of the Heisman voters. And getting there would likely mean one thing, Jones had a great senior season.
Could be hurt by: Jones chances at bringing another Heisman Trophy to Norman could be hampered by the Sooners' use of backup quarterback Blake Bell in the Belldozer package. Bell accounted for 13 touchdowns our of the formation a season ago and while it might be best for the team, it could limit some of the gaudy statistics that might otherwise be attributed to him should OU choose to throw in those situations. Finding a suitable replacement for receiver for Ryan Broyles will also go a long way in enhancing Jones' chances.
Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein came out of nowhere last season and led the Wildcats to a 10 win season. He did it by rushing for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns. He was the focal point for an offense that saw him run the ball 317 times (sacks included) on the year which was 67 more carries than anyone else in the Big 12. To say he took a beating every Saturday would be a bit of an understatement. His workload on Saturday meant he was rarely able to practice towards the end of the season, as a result.
Could be helped by: While Klein isn't a bad thrower, improvement in the passing game will go a long way in helping his consideration for college football's top individual honor. One problem is KSU doesn't ask him to throw it a lot having attempted just 281 passes last season (for comparison, Landry Jones attempted 562 passes). Klein finished ninth in passing efficiency in the Big 12 so when they do ask him to throw it, he needs to make it count and move that ranking into the top half on the conference.
Could be hurt by: Not unlike last year's winner, Robert Griffin at Baylor, Kansas State needs to win football games. Klein will be on the Heisman radar this year in large part because he led K-State to a 10 win season in 2011. Can the Wildcats repeat that feat in 2012? If the team as a whole slips to say seven or eight wins, it will likely diminish his chances.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: One aspect is essential in running Dana Holgorsen's offense; solid quarterback play. West Virginia had exactly that last season from Geno Smith. He threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions. Now with a year in the system under his belt, not to mention a solid core of receivers returning, Smith should be in for a gigantic season in 2012.
Could be helped by: Two factors should work in Smith's favor, the first being the move to the Big 12. Nothing against the Big East, but putting up big numbers against the likes of Texas and Oklahoma will go a long ways in the minds of the Heisman voters. Plus the added exposure of playing in the Big 12 won't hurt his cause, either. The second factor is simply the fact he's playing in a system perfectly suited for racking up big numbers. He'll have every opportunity in Holgorsen's offense to put up the stats necessary to keep his name at the forefront of names Heisman voters are considering when they think about the best players in the country.
Could be hurt by: While playing in the Big 12 will be advantage, the increased competition could also hurt him if the Mountaineers aren't able to win enough in the first year in the new conference. I don't see any reason why they wouldn't be highly competitive, but if West Virginia finishes say, 7-5, Smith likely won't find his name on many Heisman ballots.
Also in the mix?
Those three names are the obvious choices heading into 2012. If anyone else is able to play their way into contention, they'll have to do with a lot less fanfare than the above three guys going into the season.
They might be stretches at the moment, but the following guys still stand a chance to at least put their names on the Heisman radar. At the very least, they should be in for fine seasons this fall.
Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: While Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon stole the headlines in 2011, Randle quietly put together a nice season rushing for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns. With Weeden and Blackmon heading to the NFL, it's possible the Cowboys will lean even more on Randle and their running game.
Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: Like Geno Smith at West Virginia, Pachall will likely be helped by the added exposure that will come from playing in the Big 12. He's coming off a sophomore year in which he completed 66% of his passes and threw for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns. TCU possesses a strong running game which won't help him win the Heisman, but he remains a guy to keep a close eye on when Big 12 play rolls around.
Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas: Brown came to Austin with about as much hype as a recruit can possible have and had a decent, if not solid, freshman season. He rushed for 742 yards, good for eighth in the Big 12. Brown will again be fighting for a carries this season with Joe Bergeron and incoming freshman Jonathan Gray likely limiting his potential output.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Austin is a guy that can do it all in the Mountaineers offense. He caught 101 passes last season for 1,186 yards, had 16 rushing attempts for 196 yards, and also returned two kickoffs for scores. The country saw what he could do in the Orange Bowl when he scored four times and it should be just as exciting watching this guy do his thing in the Big 12.
Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders' quarterbacks have traditionally put up big numbers ever since Mike Leach came to town and that really hasn't changed under Tommy Tuberville and offensive coordinator, Neal Brown. Doege looks poised for another big season and if Tech can have a big turnaround in the win column, hey, why not Doege for Heisman?