Ranking dark horse Heisman candidates 

March, 23, 2011

The other day, I noticed a list of odds on the 2011 Heisman Trophy candidates. On it, Andrew Luck is the favorite, which is no surprise. The Stanford Cardinal quarterback is followed by Denard Robinson and Marcus Lattimore on a list of more than 20 players, with the biggest long shots being Maryland Terrapins QB Danny O'Brien and Florida State Seminoles CB Greg Reid.

Keep in mind that at this time last year, or even in August, Cam Newton was miles away from any Heisman talk, so let's look just off the stiff-arm radar for a bit and do some projecting of players who could be this year's Newton. This week's top-10 list: the best dark horse Heisman candidates for 2011 (and by dark horses, I'm referring to anyone not on the oddsmaker's list):

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia Mountaineers

The Miami native had a good sophomore season, having completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,763 yards to go along with a 24:7 TD:INT ratio, but don't be surprised if those numbers skyrocket now that offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen has come to Morgantown. Holgorsen took Case Keenum, who threw for 2,259 yards with 14 TDs and 10 INTs one season, and transformed him into a 5,000-yard passer with a 44-11 TD-INT mark the next season. Last year, Holgorsen worked magic with Brandon Weeden of the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

In Smith, he has a guy who has been streaky, but the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder has plenty of tools. Smith, who had surgery on his foot in January, also has a nice crew of playmaking receivers, led by Tavon Austin, a player that Holgorsen said has star potential. Smith may sound like a big long shot now, but if the Mountaineers can win at Maryland in Week 3 and then knock off what could be a top-three LSU Tigers team in Morgantown, he will be in the thick of the race, because you know he's going to be put up gaudy stats in this system.