HeismanPundit.com released its pre-season watch list for the trophy after which it's n..."/> HeismanPundit.com released its pre-season watch list for the trophy after which it's n..."/> HeismanPundit.com released its pre-season watch list for the trophy after which it's n..."/>

Heisman 2012: Under the Radar Players to Watch Include Teddy Bridgewater, Casey Pachall

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HeismanPundit.com released its pre-season watch list

for the trophy after which it’s named, and college football’s foremost individual honor. HP is a great resource for tracking Heisman hype all season long, I recommend giving it a bookmark.

There are candidates whose buzz is obvious. Montee Ball was a 2011 Heisman finalist after his record setting campaign, and Matt Barkley is the latest star in USC’s line of standout quarterbacks. Others like Geno Smith peak late and carry that momentum into the off-season. But not every Heisman contender is on the radar before the season opener.

Cam Newton emerged from relative obscurity in 2010. Tim Tebow’s emergence as a sophomore exceeded everyone’s expectations. Andrew Luck was a highly regarded talent coming into 2010, but would could have guessed just how productive he’d be in his first season without Toby Gerhart? Oh, and Gerhart’s path to Manhattan was paved in his bulldozing rushing style that caught the nation by surprise a season earlier.

RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon

Since Chip Kelly introduced his no-huddle, quick strike offensive style at Oregon, the Ducks have had no trouble running the ball. LaMichael James filled the void left when LaGarrette Blout was suspended in 2009. Likewise, Kenjon Barner showed his potential in James’s stead last season, while James healed a shoulder injury. Barner rushed for over 900 yards and scored 11 touchdowns 152 carries, and exhibited dangerous abilities as a receiver out of the backfield.

Barner is now the No. 1 option, which should translate into 100-120 more carries.

QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

The most coveted two-way quarterback of the 2011 signing class began adjusting to the collegiate game late last season, benefiting from a change in offensive coordinator. Teddy Bridgewater’s freshman year statistics weren’t necessarily eye-popping — he threw only two more touchdowns (14) than interceptions (12) — but that late surge included a three touchdown effort against USF, two touchdowns and 274 yards in the Belk Bowl, and a 21-27 showing vs. West Virginia.

Bridgewater’s rushing abilities were used more sparingly after the change from Mike Sanford to Shawn Watson; if you consider a games like Marshall and North Carolina, Bridgewater carried it a combined 25 times. That position of having to pass more down the stretch should benefit him this season, as it allowed Bridgewater to develop into a well-rounded player. He can scramble as needed, but it’s not a necessity to his game, something other play callers like Denard Robinson have struggled to balance at times.

UL is a pre-season favorite to win the Big East. Certainly playing for a BCS bowl aids one’s Heisman chances.

RB Rex Burkhead, Nebraska

If there’s to be a 2012 version of 2009 Toby Gerhart, Rex Burkhead is the guy. The hard rushing back keys the Cornhuskers’ option offense. Burkhead has over 2300 yards and 22 touchdowns in the past two seasons. With Nebraska lacking depth in the backfield, he’ll become an even more vital cog in the offense this go-around.

QB Mike Glennon, NC State

NC State is a team worth following in this year’s ACC race. The Wolfpack finished 2011 strong, giving Tom O’Brien some level of vindication for choosing Mike Glennon over Russell Wilson. Glennon has a season’s worth of starts to his credit, and leads an experienced bunch into 2012.

Glennon is a quality traditional quarterback, tall with a strong arm. He showed it off last season to toss 31 touchdowns and over 3000 yards. With numerous weapons back in the fold, Glennon could see improvement on those lofty figures. Combine that with a talented defense, and the Pack should factor into the conference title hunt. That in turn could get Glennon into Heisman consideration.

RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama

Nick Saban’s succession line at running back is like a conveyor belt, substituting one Heisman-quality ball carrier with another. Mark Ingram made way for Trent Richardson. Should he bounce back from off-season surgery, it’s Eddie Lacy’s turn.

Lacy broke off over 7 yards per attempt as the Tide’s No. 2 ball carrier last season. His 6-foot, 225-pound frame and 4.5 40-yard speed combine for the recipe of successful Alabama backs. Unless new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier plans on having A.J. McCarron air it out (highly doubtful), Lacy could get 250-300 carries.

QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State

Before last season, I touted E.J. Manuel as a potential Cam Newton style performer. He entered 2011 with valuable starting experience, spelling Christian Ponder as needed in both 2009 and 2010. However, his own injuries slowed Manuel’s progress, as well as the Seminoles’ ACC title hopes. Assuming he can stay healthy, Manuel is critical to that seemingly annual expectation of FSU being back.

He’s built like a tank at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. Manuel uses his size effectively when rushing in short yardage situations. He’s also steadily progressed as a passer, last season completing nearly 66 percent of his attempts. Should the Seminoles succeed, expect plenty of buzz for Manuel.

QB Casey Pachall, TCU

TCU boasted one of college football’s most explosive offenses a season ago, missing no beat despite replacing four-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton. Casey Pachall was instantly comfortable, evident in the Frogs’ 48 points scored in the season opener.

Pachall finished the season with over 2900 yards on a completion percentage of near 67. His touchdown:interception ratio was nearly 3.5-to-1, and he even scrambled for over 200 yards. He even outdueled one of the all-time great college quarterbacks, Boise State’s Kellen Moore. Playing in the offensively friendly Big 12, Pachall will have plenty of opportunities to post big numbers. And since it is the Big 12, it will draw much more attention.

RB Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State

Though it has produced some of the finest running backs ever, Oklahoma State has been known for its passing offense in recent years. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon garnered the headlines in 2011, while Joseph Randle ground away to the tune of 24 touchdowns and over 1200 yards.

Randle will factor into the Cowboys’ offense prominently as true freshman starter Wes Lunt learns the ropes. Should his carry totals bump up from just over to 200 to the 240 neighborhood, Randle could have nation-leading type yardage. He’s also an effective pass catcher. Don’t be surprised to see Lunt target him frequently early on.

QB Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois

Consider this one something of a long shot, given Illinois is welcoming a first-year coach and lost its most productive wide receiver. Further, Champaign is hardly the epicenter of the college football world. That said, third-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase should benefit from a change in leadership.

He managed to post solid statistics despite the Illini offense struggling under Ron Zook’s staff, going for a team high 624 rushing yards, passing for another 2110 and scoring 19 total touchdowns. Under Tim Beckman, Toledo flourished as one of the most explosive offenses in college football. Rocket quarterbacks Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens platooned, which yielded results. Both succeeded to disprove the adage if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.

Beckman flirted with the idea of platooning at UI, but with Scheelhaase’s rushing abilities he can fulfill both roles. Good things are on the horizon for Scheelhaase; think Chris Leak’s improvement when Florida replaced Zook with Urban Meyer.

QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

Logan Thomas came on strong as the successor to Tyrod Taylor, throwing for north of 3000 yards and rushing for 11 touchdowns. His size and rushing ability draw obvious comparisons to Newton.

Thomas’s Heisman hopes will be contingent on how the offense around him gels. Hokie receivers were not particularly reliable in spring scrimmages, which can be a worrisome outlook for a quarterback whose completion percentage was sub 60. That said, Thomas has the tools to do special things. He’s quick and tough to tackle, and is a touchdown machine. His dual abilities produced 30 scores a season ago.

Tech will once more be in the ACC foreground. Improved numbers from Thomas’s already lofty output could translate into a New York visit.