One of the most difficult predictions to make before a college football season is deciding who will be the best player in the nation for that entire year.
Think about it: Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Mark Ingram—our last three Heisman winners—were not even on the radar during the preseason.
Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall draft pick in April and arguably the top prospect since John Elway, was the favorite to run away with the league's most prestigious award last year.
But he was overtaken by a dark horse.
There's no doubt that USC's Matt Barkley is the consensus favorite to take home the Heisman in December. But that's obviously not set in stone, and neither are his contenders.
However, we're going to try to break things down anyways for the sake of speculation. Here are my top 10 Heisman Trophy candidates for the 2012-13 season.
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
When Barkley decided to forgo the 2012 NFL draft and stay for his senior season, you knew USC was going to have something special brewing. Now the No. 1 team in the AP Preseason Poll, Barkley's Heisman destiny is in his hands. If he can lead his team to the national championship—like everybody expects him to do—all while putting up consistent numbers, there's no reason to believe he won't be standing at the podium alongside some of college football's all-time greats.
2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Many might think otherwise, but Geno Smith is in a great position to win the Heisman. Not only does he have a great team surrounding him, but he's the leader of a high-flying offense that puts up a lot of points. Last year, Smith passed for 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns and just seven interceptions off 526 attempts. Now with a full season in Dana Holgorsen's pass-friendly offense and one of the better receiver corps in the nation, those numbers are expected to improve.
3. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Ball passed up this year's draft (and likely being a second-round pick) in order to stay in Madison for his senior season. It's going to be extremely difficult to put up the same numbers as he did in 2011, especially since he broke the single-season touchdown record with 33 scores. Still, the Badgers' offensive line has proven to be one of the best every year, and the opportunity to help lead his team to a BCS win is still there.
4. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
For those who thought there would be a drop-off in the Arkansas offense after the departure of quarterback Ryan Mallet, watching Tyler Wilson was a pleasant surprise. He passed for over 3,600 yards and led his team to an 11-2 record in the toughest conference in the nation (SEC West), all without one of the best running backs in all of college football in Knile Davis. Now that Davis is back from his Achilles injury, Wilson should be even more dynamic and the Razorbacks have a shot at making an appearance in the national championship.
5. Robert Woods, WR, USC
It's a tossup between Woods and Washington State's Marquess Wilson as the best wide receiver in the country. Woods finished with 111 receptions for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore and is likely to post similar numbers again in 2012. Unfortunately, Woods' quarterback is Matt Barkley, who needs to perform at a high level in order for him to succeed. Still, he'll more than likely be a top 10 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
6. Keith Price, QB, Washington
Probably the easiest selection as a dark horse candidate to take home the Heisman, Keith Price is prepared to have a huge season for the Huskies this fall. After his wild 477-yard, seven-touchdown performance against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, many are looking at Price as a 2013 version RGIII. Not only is he a dangerous dual-threat QB that will make noise as an individual, but Washington is expected to contend with Oregon for the Pac-12 North.
7. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
8. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Davis was the best running back in the SEC as a junior in 2010, averaging over 100 yards per game (and 5.7 ypc) against conference opponents. This included a 110-yard, three-touchdown performance over South Carolina and a 152-yard, touchdown outburst against LSU. He's going to bring a huge lift to the Razorbacks' offense, but will find it difficult to win the Heisman with Tyler Wilson under center. Nevertheless, Arkansas will rely on Davis to be a major part of its success.
9. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
As a freshman, De'Anthony Thomas showed the nation why he was one of the top recruits for the class of 2011: He combined for 1,200 yards of total offense and scored 16 touchdowns, while leading the Pac-12 with a 27.3 average on kickoff returns and found the end zone twice. Now that LaMichael James has left for the NFL, we can expect Thomas to have a bigger role as an offensive player, which could easily put him in the Heisman race.
10. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
There are two things that set Jones apart from being a top-3 Heisman candidate: accuracy and decision-making. Those are two big assets as a collegiate quarterback, especially one that has the potential to become a high-round draft pick. In three seasons as a starter for the Sooners, Jones has completed just 62.7 percent of his passes. While this isn't a completely underwhelming number, the addition of a 2.3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio is—in comparison, RGIII's was 4.6-to-1. Jones will still put up ridiculous numbers, but he is well aware of his situation and knows he needs to continue to improve.