Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 8/30/12

The 2012 college football season kicks off tonight, and isportsweb is previewing this year’s Heisman Trophy favorites.

Each week, we’ll update the list with new stats and information as some players make their way into the Heisman conversation and others drop out of the race.

2012 Preseason Heisman Trophy Favorites

Matt Barkley – QB, USC

According to Vegas odds, Barkley is the favorite to win this year’s Heisman Trophy – but we know how well that worked out for Andrew Luck last season. Barkley, a darkhorse candidate by the end of last season, put up numbers comparable to Luck’s: the USC quarterback threw for 3,528 yards, 39 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. He has the best wide receiver duo on the nation in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and he should, at the very least, be in New York this December.

Montee Ball – RB, Wisconsin

Ball was a finalist for the Heisman last season after tying Barry Sanders’ single season record of 39 touchdowns. He had a rocky offseason – first he was ticketed for trespassing at a block party, then he was the victim of an unprovoked assault – but he expects to be ready to run this season. He needs just 18 touchdowns to break the NCAA career record.

Denard Robinson – QB, Michigan

Last year, Superman won the Heisman. Will it be Shoelace in 2012? Nicknamed for his penchant for playing with untied laces, Robinson is electrifying. He is the current NCAA record holder for rushing yards for a quarterback (1,702), and in 2010, he was the first quarterback to pass for 2,500 yards and run for 1,500 in a single season. He has a chance to make a big impression right out of the gate when the Wolverines face defending BCS Champion Alabama in Saturday’s prime time season opener.

Geno Smith – QB, West Virginia

Smith’s was the game MVP in in the Mountaineers’ Orange Bowl win, automatically launching him into this year’s Heisman discussions. The bowl win capped a season when he threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns and became the Big East’s single season passing leader. Smith is consistent and reliable – he’s started 26 straight games – so he’ll have plenty of opportunities to put up more eye-popping numbers now that more people are paying attention.

Marcus Lattimore – RB, South Carolina

Lattimore was in the running last season until his season was cut short by a knee injury. Even with limited playing time, he managed to rack up 818 yards and 10 touchdowns. Now that he’s back, look for big numbers if he stays healthy.

Landry Jones – QB, Oklahoma

A senior, Jones is the career passing leader at Oklahoma. Over the last few season, he’s broken quite a few records set by his predecessor, Heisman winner Sam Bradford. Jones threw for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2011, but his productivity declined after leading receiver Ryan Broyles got hurt. Broyles is in the NFL now, and junior Kenny Stills is the Sooners’ only experienced receiver. Will that be enough to keep Jones in the conversation all season?

Aaron Murray – QB, Georgia

Murray set a new school record for touchdowns at Georgia last season with 35, and he has 5 of his top 6 receivers back for more. Leading rusher Isaiah Crowell has been dismissed from the team, so someone else will have to step up in the backfield to keep Murray’s passing attack effective.

De’Anthony Thomas – RB/WR, Oregon

“The Black Mamba” was one of the most exciting players in the nation as a true freshman last season, and he should get even more playing time now that former Ducks star LaMichael James is in the NFL. Even rotating with James and Kenjon Barner, Thomas averaged 10.8 yards per carry and racked up 2,235 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns – 7 rushing, 9 receiving, and 2 from kickoff returns. He’s listed on the official depth chart as Barner’s backup at running back but expect to see him all over the field (he’ll be the blur racing by).

Logan Thomas – QB, Virginia Tech

Thomas has drawn comparisons to former Heisman winner Cam Newton for his ability to run as well as throw. He had 3,013 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2011, breaking Tyrod Taylor’s single-season record for total yards of offense and tying Bruce Arians’ 1974 school record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (11). He’ll be asked to do even more this season, at least early on, while Virginia Tech looks for someone to step up to replace RB David Wilson.

Tyler Wilson – QB, Arkansas

Wilson was first-team All-SEC in 2011, and if the season goes as predicted, the Razorbacks might have a shot at stealing this year’s SEC title from the clutches of the LSU-Alabama contingent. Wilson threw for 3,638 yards, 24 touchdowns, and just 6 interceptions in 2011, and he says his relationship with offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is even stronger heading into 2012.

A.J. McCarron – QB, Alabama

McCarron had a breakout game in last year’s BCS Championship win. Since then, he’s been compared to head coach Nick Saban for his perfectionism, work ethic and leadership. It’s high praise, especially when even Saban has noted the similarities in their personalities. In his second season as a starter, look for McCarron to come out firing in game one, against fellow Heisman candidate Denard Robinson & the Wolverines. He tends to come up big when it counts.

Collin Klein – QB, Kansas State

Klein was the Big 12′s Offensive Player of the Year for 2011, ahead of Baylor’s Heisman winning QB Robert Griffin III, and the dual-threat senior has drawn comparisons to another Heisman-winner, Tim Tebow. Klein accounted for 40 of the Wildcats’ touchdowns last season. He was the team’s leading rusher, with 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns, a FBS record for touchdown runs by a quarterback. Klein might have less of a workload as a rusher, but his passing should improve from the 13 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards he threw last year.

Knile Davis – RB, Arkansas

Davis missed all of 2011 with a broken ankle, but he averaged 6.5 yards per carry in 2010, when he racked up 1,322 yards. If he bounces back in his return, he could make a surprise Heisman run with the help of Arkansas’ director of media relations, Zack Higbee, who handled media at Florida when Tebow was in the conversation and plans to get his guy in front of voters.

Sammy Watkins – WR, Clemson

The ACC Rookie of the Year will miss two games due to suspension for an offseason arrest, but if he puts up numbers like he did in 2011, missing two games will only be a blip on the stat sheet. According to CBSSports.com’s Heisman Pundit, it will be too much for a receiver to overcome to win the award, but a repeat – or, dare I say, an improvement – of last year’s performance will at least keep Watkins in the conversation.

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