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2012 Heisman candidates

It's never too early to forecast next year's race. Dave Miller

Print This December 12, 2011, 05:30 PM EST

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: I would be stunned if Murray left for the next level as a third-year sophomore, because with another year he could cement himself as a Top 10 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He led the SEC with 33 passing touchdowns despite losing star receiver A.J. Green to the pros, and new top target Malcolm Mitchell will have a year of experience under his belt. Plus, star running back Isaiah Crowell gives this Bulldogs offense very good balance. Murray has the swagger and could start his campaign with a strong showing against a tough Michigan State squad in the team's bowl game.

Marcus LattimoreICONIf Marcus Lattimore can return to full health, he has a chance to earn an invite to New York.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: Lattimore’s season was cut short because of a knee injury, so we certainly have to keep an eye on whether he is able to come back at 100 percent. Before being shelved, he was a central focus of the Gamecocks’ offense — and often the only offense as South Carolina struggled to move the football with Stephen Garcia. If he’s healthy, an invite to New York will not be far behind.

Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: Wilson put up very good numbers this fall in his first year as the starter after taking over for the prolific Ryan Mallett. While his talented receiver corps will get hit by graduation, new coordinator Paul Petrino should be able to help Wilson maintain his high level of play, especially with a sound rushing attack led by Knile Davis to complement the passing game. Wilson showed how tough he was in losses to Alabama and LSU — he was beat up in those contests but never lost confidence — and he could be poised for an even better year next season. And that would be truly impressive considering he completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,422 yards and 22 touchdowns against just six picks.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: Up until the time the Tigers dropped three of four games to close the regular season, Boyd was arguably a dark horse candidate to make it to New York. But turnovers played a key role in Clemson’s rough patch before Boyd and the Tigers bounced back in the ACC title game. Next year, Boyd will work behind a new offensive line and likely without tight end Dwayne Allen. But he’ll still have receiver Sammy Watkins — already one of the best offensive weapons in the nation — as well as DeAndre Hopkins. The dual-threat should continue to thrive in this Chad Morris offense.

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith could begin his 2012 Heisman campaign with a strong showing against Boyd and Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The signal-caller in Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack, Smith will have a year under his belt in this scheme and should really thrive next fall. Keep in mind that he passed for 463 yards and two touchdowns against LSU this year. If the Mountaineers could remain competitive in the Big 12 (I don't think the Big East will hold up an early move) and compete for another BCS bowl next year, Smith could be a dark horse contender.

Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: Backing up 2010 Heisman finalist LaMichael James this fall, Barner rushed for 909 yards and 11 touchdowns, and those numbers should skyrocket if James decides to move onto the NFL, which is very likely (and why he didn't make this list). Backfield depth didn’t hurt the chances of James last season — and he likely would have been in New York if he didn’t miss a few games with the elbow injury. So the Ducks’ backfield depth won’t hurt Barner's numbers next season.

Others to keep an eye on: Alabama RB Eddie Lacy, Arkansas RB Knile Davis, Auburn RB Mike Dyer, Ohio State QB Braxton Miller

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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