Keep an eye on these three Big 12 dark-horse Heisman contenders


Fun stat: In the 10 Heisman Trophy votes from 2003-12, the Big 12 had a player finish among the top four on eight occasions, tied with the more ballyhooed SEC for the most of any Bowl Championship Series conference in the past decade. In fact, over that same span, it’s nearly more than the Pac-12 (six) and Big Ten (three) combined.

More fun: Since 2003, the Big 12 has placed as many players among the top two in the Heisman vote (six) as the Pac-12 (five) and Big Ten (one) put together, and — again — match the SEC.

And yet, in 2013, there isn’t a marquee name to be found on the short list. To heck with that: In honor of the curtain opening on the regular season, we’ve put out three candidates who have a good shot of defying the odds and getting an invite to New York City in December — an invite few will see coming …

THREE BIG 12 PLAYERS NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT CONTENDING FOR THE HEISMAN TROPHY (BUT THEY BLOODY WELL OUGHTA)

:03 … Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Kansas State

Why he should be in the conversation: Few players in the league, if not the country, are as exciting with the ball in their hands and a wall in front of them as Lockett, the son of one K-State icon and nephew of another. The Oklahoma native averaged 32.8 yards per kick return, running two back for scores, and accounted for four more scores through the air. He’s the first Wildcat to ever record multiple 100-yard returns for touchdowns over his career, a career that is only two seasons old. Lockett is the perfect toy for coach Bill Snyder to play with, and the perfect dark-horse candidate for Heisman love, especially if the ‘Cats can survive their first two conference road tests at Texas (Sept. 21) and Oklahoma State (Oct. 5), the two most likely successors to K-State’s Big 12 crown. If the Wildcats are in the thick of the league race after the first eight weeks, the schedule shifts to Lockett’s favor, with a marquee date with Oklahoma on the docket in Manhattan on Nov. 23.

Why he won’t be: Health. Also, history. The last return man to win the big one? Charles Woodson, back in 1997, and he was primarily a defender. And as far as wideout/returner combos, you have to go back to Desmond Howard in 1991 and Tim Brown in 1987. Unless he’s rewriting the NCAA record books week after week, the ‘Cats are going to have to be national players for Lockett to hang in the Heisman stratosphere. Should K-State sit atop the Big 12 at 3-0 after the gauntlet of Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Lockett bandwagon will need a few more seats.

:02 … David Ash, QB, Texas

Why he should be in the conversation: Hey, now, stop laughing. Yes, we’ve heard the Ash hype before. Yes, he has usually stepped into some kind of bear trap once the season is under way. But this fall — this fall promises to be different. (Hey! You’re laughing again. Stop it.) Coach Mack Brown has reaffirmed his commitment to an up-tempo, spread attack in order to better utilize the 6-foot-3 junior’s strengths. Plus, Ash has arguably the best receiving corps in the league at his disposal, and a schedule that’s tailor-made for a 5-0 start. Word on the street is that former Longhorns stars Vince Young and Major Applewhite — now UT’s offensive coordinator — have gotten Ash to loosen up and think more about fun and less about the eyes of Texas that will be dissecting his every move.

Why he won’t be: OK, fine, it’s David Ash. Rarely has someone with such prodigious talents gone off the rails as often as the native of Belton, Texas. The charge now is to prove that those funks of 2012 — a 13-for-29 passing day versus Oklahoma, two interceptions against Kansas, two more picks against TCU — are a thing of the past. Last fall, Ash completed 70 percent or more of his throws in a game six times. He hooked up on 50 percent or fewer, though, in three other contests. The train to the Big Apple isn’t a roller coaster; it’s an express.

:01 … Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

Why he should be in the conversation: Seastrunk not only talks a good game (and talks, and talks, and talks), but he’s also got the stone-cold wheels to back it up. Track-star fast and crazy elusive, he’s got the on-field goods and the off-field backstory: A disgraced transfer from Oregon — nicknamed “The Flash” — who finally found his feet in Waco. The 5-10 Texas native’s ascent last fall mirrored that of the Bears themselves: Over Baylor’s final six games, he averaged 138.6 yards per contest; Art Briles’ men won five of the six, and the one loss was a 42-34 setback at Oklahoma. Heisman voters have notoriously short memories, so the biggest games against the biggest opponents have more impact, by and large, than the pelts you stick on the wall in September and October. The Big 12 lacks a likely national title contender, but check out Baylor’s dance card in November and December: vs. Oklahoma; vs. Texas Tech; at Oklahoma State; at TCU; vs. Texas. If the Bears can finish the way they did a year ago, they’ll be squarely in the Big 12 title hunt. And if Seastrunk finishes 2013 the way he finished 2012, he’ll be in the middle of the Heisman hunt, too.

Why he won’t be: Big, 220-pound tailback Glasco Martin, the Bears’ thunder to Seastrunk’s lightning, could also “vulture away” some red zone opportunities over the course of the fall. Winning at Stillwater on Nov. 23 figures to be a tall order, even on a good day; the Bears have been waxed by an average of 30 points in their past three visits to Oklahoma State. A brutal end-of-season slate cuts both ways, and voters won’t seriously embrace any candidate from a team that collapses down the stretch. The Bears need to be relevant after Thanksgiving, or else Seastrunk’s candidacy will be anything but.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.