|De'Anthony Thomas needs to continue to rack up all-purpose yards to have a shot at the Heisman. (US Presswire)|
We released the 2012 CBSSports.com Preseason Heisman Watch on Monday. Now it's time to go into further detail on the Heisman chances of each of the top 10 candidates.
While Thomas is at a distinct disadvantage in the race because of his sophomore status, it's hard to ignore the playmaking ability he brings to the table.
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As a true freshman, 'The Black Mamba' rushed for 595 yards and averaged 10.8 yards per carry. He caught 46 passes for 605 yards. He logged 983 yards on 36 kick returns. All together, he scored 18 touchdowns on just 140 touches. By season's end, he had 2,235 total yards and was perhaps the most electrifying player in the country--just ask Wisconsin.
What can he do for an encore? And will it be enough to make an impact on this year's Heisman race?
With the departure of LaMichael James, it's common sense to assume Thomas will increase his rushing yardage total. The bulk of James' 247 carries should go to running back Kenjon Barner, but Thomas will get at least 100 of them. Even if Thomas' rushing average drops to, say, a rather 'pedestrian' eight yards per carry, that would mean a 1,240-yard rushing effort for the season. If he continues to make plays as a receiver and in the return game, he'll once again be among the nation's leaders in all-purpose yardage. He might even have a shot at 3,000 total yards, a barrier surpassed previously only by Barry Sanders in 1988 (NCAA-record 3,250 yards). Such an accomplishment would make him an attractive option for Heisman voters.
But even if Thomas doesn't break records, his ability to change a game at the drop of a hat will remain a huge asset in the race. The voters have a soft side for timely punt returns--just look at how they rewarded Tyrann Mathieu with a trip to New York last year after his back-breaking returns against Arkansas and Georgia. Unlike Mathieu, though, Thomas can strike from almost anywhere on the field.
To transition from Heisman long shot to upper-tier candidate without breaking all-time records, Thomas will have to make those timely, exciting plays against elite competition while continuing to improve his production against the rest of the schedule. In his favor is a backloaded slate that will ensure the Ducks remain in title contention until at least early November.
That's when Oregon travels to USC for what could be a matchup of undefeated teams. If Thomas comes up big in a win against the Trojans, he'll topple Matt Barkley from the top of the Pac-12 Heisman roost.
In short, Thomas has a couple routes to the Heisman. He can (1) put forth one of the greatest single-season all-purpose efforts in history or (2) lead the Ducks to an undefeated season (and wins over USC) by virtue of his exciting, clutch playmaking ability.
If there's one knock against Thomas, it's his size and durability. At 5-9, 165 pounds, it's questionable whether he can significantly increase his work load without getting hurt or wearing down. Oregon coach Chip Kelly might have to manage him carefully, so there's a chance he remains a dangerous specialist within the Ducks' scheme rather than an every-down threat.
But if Thomas can handle the burden, there's no telling what might happen. With a little luck, he might even win the Heisman.
Read what Clemson's Tajh Boyd has to do to win the Heisman here.