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April 29, 2008

Did Tebow start Heisman youth movement?

In Action: 2008 Heisman Hopefuls Video | Heisman Hopefuls Photo Gallery

A sophomore won the Heisman Trophy last year for the first time, so perhaps another one could win it this season.

As was the case last season when Florida quarterback Tim Tebow won, at least four second-year players project to being strong challengers in 2008. Of course, Tebow may go from making history one year to repeating it the next; he could become the second player to win the trophy twice.

Still, for the fifth time, a Buckeyes running back may be the best bet.

The Heisman presentation ceremony may be 8 months away, but here's an early top-10 list of Heisman candidates. One major caveat to keep in mind: We only considered one player per team.

Olin's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2008
10. Joe McKnight, RB, USC
BUZZ: Five USC running backs have won the Heisman; McKnight could make it a six-pack. Yeah, he only rushed for 540 yards and three touchdowns in 2007. However, he was a true freshman and carried 10 times or less in 10 of USC's 13 games. He never received more than 14 carries. Look for his profile and production to spike in USC's offense in 2008. And he's dangerous on punt returns, too.
9. Todd Reesing, QB, Kansas
BUZZ: A BCS bowl victory, a basketball national championship and then a Heisman Trophy? It could happen. In his first full season as a starter, Reesing distinguished himself as one of the nation's most productive quarterbacks by throwing for 3,486 yards and 33 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. In the process, he led Kansas to a 12-1 finish and Orange Bowl triumph over Virginia Tech. Reesing may have to play even better if the Jayhawks are to approach last season's success. If he does, he definitely will be a Heisman contender.
8. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
BUZZ: Bradford set a freshman record with 36 touchdown passes last season. He also led the nation in passing efficiency while completing 69.5 percent of his attempts. He threw for 3,121 yards and only had eight passes intercepted. This season, he'll operate behind one of the best lines in the country and lead a team that could be a national-championship contender. But he has to show he can flourish without wide receiver Malcolm Kelly and improve in games away from home.
7. LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh
BUZZ: McCoy is living up to the promise he showed when Rivals.com ranked him as one of the top 10 prep school prospects in the class of 2007. As a true freshman a year ago, McCoy rushed for 1,328 yards and 14 touchdowns despite being the only legitimate threat in Pitt's offense. But receiver Derek Kinder and quarterback Bill Stull are back this season, which should force defenses to loosen up against the run and give McCoy opportunities to make even more big plays.
6. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
BUZZ: There may be no better player in the country. Certainly, none is more productive. In his debut season in 2007, Crabtree had at least nine catches in 10 games and scored at least one touchdown in 10 games. He set numerous national freshman records in posting 134 catches for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns. And get this his coaches say he improved this spring. The problem is that no receiver has won the Heisman without also returning kicks, which Crabtree doesn't do. Well, not yet, anyway. Coach Mike Leach says that could happen.
5. Pat White, QB, West Virginia
BUZZ: Perhaps the most electrifying player in the country, White is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. The sight of White in the open field is usually followed by the sight of the referee raising his arms. Half of his 14 rushing touchdowns in 2007 came on runs that covered between 20 and 64 yards. He also had a 50-yard run against Rutgers and a 42-yarder against Oklahoma on which he didn't score. Just for good measure, White passed for 1,724 yards and 14 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
4. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
BUZZ: Slippery as a wet bar of soap, Moreno squirted through defenses for 1,334 yards last season even though he received fewer than 20 carries in seven of the Bulldogs' 13 games. A potential problem for his Heisman "candidacy" could be coach Mark Richt's history of distributing the workload among multiple backs. That might not change with heralded redshirt freshman Caleb King on hand this season. But Richt no doubt is aware Moreno received more than 20 carries in a five-game stretch from mid-October to mid-November of last season and responded with 766 yards and nine touchdowns in that span and Georgia won each game. That could warrant a change in philosophy.
3. Chase Daniel, QB, Missouri
BUZZ: Daniel was a Heisman finalist last season after ranking fifth nationally in passing and leading the Tigers to a 12-2 finish. This season, Missouri will be a serious contender for the national championship, and Daniel is the main reason. If he can match his 2007 production 4,306 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 68.2 completion percentage he'll be going to New York again. And this time he might bring back a 25-pound souvenir.
2. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
BUZZ: Tebow, a true dual-threat at quarterback for the Gators, has to overcome history - as well as SEC defenses - to win again. Former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin is the only two-time Heisman winner. But no sophomore had won it until Tebow last season, so maybe that's just another door to break down. He'll certainly be in the conversation if he approaches the 55 combined rushing and passing touchdowns he produced in 2007.
1. Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State
BUZZ: The nation's premier running back is running behind a line that returns four starters. The Buckeyes also have an experienced quarterback and two good receivers, which will force opponents to respect the threat of the pass. Wells had that last season, too, and rushed for more than 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns despite getting fewer than 20 carries in three games. Don't expect a lack of carries this season. In his final six games of last season, Wells rushed for 967 yards and three touchdowns on runs of at least 47 yards. All that was against defenses that ranked 58th or better in the nation, including two Penn State and LSU that ranked among the top 11.

In Action: 2008 Heisman Hopefuls Video | Heisman Hopefuls Photo Gallery

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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