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SEC Heisman prowess may be waning

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At least one SEC player has been a finalist for the Heisman Trophy for the last six years, but one for 2012 is not a sure thing. (Source: MECU/Wikipedia) At least one SEC player has been a finalist for the Heisman Trophy for the last six years, but one for 2012 is not a sure thing. (Source: MECU/Wikipedia)
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(RNN) - The nation's best college football conference is hurting for a Heisman candidate.

For each of the last six years, the Southeastern Conference has not only won the BCS national championship, but it had at least one Heisman finalist.

In three of those years, it had two. An SEC player won the Heisman three of the last five years.

But don't expect it to be as easy as that this season.

Unlike previous years, there is no torchbearer now. Both finalists from last year have moved on. Alabama's Trent Richardson now plays for the Cleveland Browns, and LSU's Tyrann Mathieu was unceremoniously dismissed from the squad at the start of fall practice.

The SEC still has some big names who will contend, but they will have a lot to overcome. Each has positive attributes, and if he is successful and his team wins, he'll have all the exposure a Heisman candidate needs.

The downside for the league candidates is obvious: eight of their 12 games will be against an SEC defense.

Here's a look at the league's top contenders for a trip to New York at the end of the season:

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina

Resume: Rushed for more than 1,100 yards as a freshman in 2010 with 17 touchdowns. Scored 10 touchdowns and gained more than 800 yards in seven games in 2011.

Why he'll make it: Anyone who plays South Carolina this year will have to worry about what to do to stop contain survive Lattimore's punishing style and superb athleticism. He is widely considered the best college running back in the country.

Steve Spurrier had never utilized a running back as his primary weapon. That is, until he signed Lattimore. Now, with Alshon Jeffery gone, the Gamecocks don't really have anybody to turn to, so Lattimore will be the end-all, be-all of South Carolina's offense.

It's not difficult to envision a 1,500-yard, 20 touchdown season, and Lattimore has the chops to do even better than that.

Why he won't: He only played half the season last year because one of his legs fell off. OK, so it didn't actually fall off, but it might as well have.

Lattimore tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Mississippi State, and he hasn't played a down since. It's not an injury that can be walked off - or even walked on. It required surgery, and the repaired joint is yet to be fully tested.

South Carolina opens with nine straight games before getting a bye week, and their three toughest games of the year - Georgia, LSU and Florida - are the last three in that stretch, with LSU and Florida on the road.

Then there's the potential of an LSU rematch or a game against Alabama, the week before the Heisman vote. There has been some talk that Lattimore could redshirt this year, but Spurrier's confident statement about Lattimore's progress seems to have put that speculation to bed.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

Resume: Threw for more than 3,100 yards and set school records with 35 passing touchdowns and 37 touchdowns scored in 2011.

Why he'll make it: Georgia doesn't have to face Alabama or LSU. That's about as easy a schedule as the SEC can offer, and Georgia is poised to make the most of it.

Murray's career completion percentage is right at 60 percent, and he's able to extend plays and create problems with his feet.

He's not mobile like 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton, but Murray is shifty and can avoid the rush well. Georgia has long been one of the conference's more "progressive" offenses, and Murray can run the passing schemes and quick screens the Bulldogs have become known for with surgical precision.

This will also be his third year as a starter.

Why he won't: Murray forgets what color jersey his teammates wear. He threw 14 interceptions last season in a conference where turnovers mean losses.

Murray's candidacy has already taken a hit with the dismissal of running back Isaiah Crowell. Crowell himself could have made this list if not for his arrest.

Balance will be important for Georgia to keep the passing game running smoothly, and if that doesn't materialize, it could be a hard thing to overcome.

Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

Resume: Threw for more than 3,600 yards, completed 63 percent of passes and had 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Why he'll make it: Wilson is the best quarterback in the SEC and would have been a high draft pick had he left for the NFL last season. He'll be a very high draft selection in the 2013 draft, potentially No. 1 overall.

You don't achieve that kind of status without having skills to match. Arkansas uses a spread offense that will exploit Wilson's ability, and the Razorbacks have a corps of receivers that would make any QB look good.

Additionally, Alabama and LSU will travel to Fayetteville this season, and Arkansas should be more talented than it was in last year's 11-2 campaign.

Why he won't: Arkansas has the unfortunate distinction of facing LSU and Alabama every year, and despite being ranked No. 3 in the nation last year at one point, the Hogs were still ranked behind those teams.

It will take good games against both SEC heavyweights to impress voters, and Arkansas did not fare well last year, losing 38-14 to Bama and 41-17 to LSU. Then there's this: Bobby Petrino is gone.

Petrino was the architect of the pass-happy system Arkansas has run so well the last couple of years, and without him there it remains to be seen how well the team will hold up.

Wilson will also have the next man on this list taking away some of his thunder.

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas

Resume: Averaged more than six yards per carry in 2010 while rushing for more than 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Why he'll make it: Davis was considered a top candidate for all major offensive awards entering last season. He's a rushing and receiving threat who will no doubt get opportunities in the Razorbacks' offense.

Davis may turn out to be more important to that offense than Wilson, because he will be the key to providing balance. If Arkansas' offense can take advantage of Davis' speed and strength and add a powerful run threat to its efficient passing game, even SEC defenses will struggle against it.

There will be no shortage of chances to make an impact, and Davis will want to make up for lost time. When Arkansas gets near the goal line, giving the ball to anyone other than Davis is just not smart.

Why he won't: He hasn't played since 2010 because of injury. Davis broke his ankle in a preseason scrimmage last year, and it could be an even tougher injury to overcome than Lattimore's.

Davis will have to carve out a niche for himself because Arkansas isn't known for its rushing game. The biggest thing Davis has going for him is a combination of speed and power that will demand he get the ball, but every screen and every swing pass that comes his way helps Wilson's candidacy just as much.

And, oh yeah, Alabama and LSU love to crush running backs.

Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

Resume: Gained 800 total yards and seven touchdowns as a backup to Trent Richardson, and has averaged more than 7 yards a carry in consecutive seasons.

Why he'll make it: If Lacy hadn't been playing behind Richardson, he might have had a better season than the Heisman finalist did. Lacy will try to ascend to the ranks of the elite the same way Richardson did – by following the best running back in the country and then trying to equal his success.

Richardson backed up Mark Ingram while Ingram won the Heisman, then became a finalist himself. Lacy is a different type of runner than both Ingram and Richardson. He's bigger than both of them, and has both speed and power.

At times, he was a more reliable runner than Richardson last season. Lacy possesses the same big-play potential of his predecessors, but he should be a much bigger threat in short yardage situations and the red zone.

His strength will be in his ability to gain five to seven yards at a time any time he is called on.

Why he won't: Nick Saban has discovered his quarterbacks can throw pretty well.

Alabama has never been known as a passing team, but Saban has turned the Tide. A.J. McCarron will be given more control of the offense after stellar outings against Auburn and in the rematch with LSU in last year's championship game.

Saban also has placed more of an emphasis on throwing in the red zone, which has led to a high number of field goals in recent seasons. If that trend doesn't change, Lacy will have to break long runs for his scoring opportunities.

Also, like Ingram and Richardson before him, Lacy likely will be splitting time with either Jalston Fowler or T.J. Yeldon – or both. Lacy has averaged seven yards per carry so far in his career, but that is unheard of for a feature back and won't again happen this year.

The SEC also could have a say in the Heisman candidacy of players from other conferences. Most notably, this could affect Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.

Robinson opens the season against Alabama and closes it against Ohio State, who is coached by former Florida coach Urban Meyer. Boyd opens against Auburn and closes with rival South Carolina.

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