With less than two months before the start of the college football season (8/27 Abilene Christian at Georgia State - shut up, it still counts), I'd like to share the players that I feel have a great opportunity to bring home the bronze statue. But before I list their names, I'm going to show you how I came up with my list.
First, a wide receiver hasn't won the Heisman since Desmond Howard in 1991, so with apologies to Baylor's Antwan Goodley and Alabama's Amari Cooper, I've thrown out the WRs.
Second, defense may win championships, but they don't win the Heisman, unless they also return kicks or play both sides of the ball. Only 3 defensive players have won the prize, and all have also played offense. So I've removed all "strictly" defensive players.
Third, only 2 running backs have won the trophy in the last 13 years, and just 7 in the last 25 years. Of those 7, only Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009 represented the SEC, and his win over Stanford's Toby Gerhart was the closest race in Heisman history. Hard to put up big numbers when you face SEC defenses week in and week out. So Georgia's Todd Gurley, South Carolina's Mike Davis, and the rest of the SEC backs are out.
Fourth, quarterbacks have won 6 of the last 7 races, and 12 of the last 13. Interesting to note that 4 of the last 5 QBs chosen were dual-threat scramblers.
Fifth, BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990 was the last Heisman Trophy winner that didn't come from the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC). Ironically, the best odds this season on a non-power 5 player is BYU's QB Taysom Hill.
Finally, You have to go all the way back to the 1969 winner, 6-4 Oklahoma's Steve Owens, to find a player that came from a team with more than 3 losses. Every winner over the last 44 years has come from a 9-3 or better team.
So for my Heisman winners, I looked at Power 5 QBs, and RBs from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12. And of that group, I only went with players who I feel are on 9-3 or better teams. With all that considered, I present my top contenders to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy.
My Two Faves:
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon +725 at 5Dimes (1 unit) - Mariota was well on his way to a Heisman win last season before suffering a knee injury against Stanford. That injury slowed the speedy QB and forced him to make some ill-advised throws toward the end of the season. Prior to the injury, he averaged 2.5 touchdowns passing/game with no interceptions, 9.1 yards/carry rushing and scored 9 times on the ground. Post-injury, he averaged 2 TDs passing/game with 4 INTs, 5.1 yards/carry with no rushing TDs. He will be 100% this fall, and I expect him to put up some ridiculous video game numbers.
QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State +800 at 5Dimes (1 unit) - A back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Year, Miller comes into the season with a 22-2 record as a starter over the last two years (26-8 career). Last year, he overcame an early season injury to throw for over 2,000 yards while adding over 1,000 on the ground and 34 total TDs with only 7 picks. I have Ohio State as one of the teams I like the win the championship, and Miller is one of the big reasons. And with Miller running the zone read in the red zone, I anticipate some big numbers from him in his third season heading head coach Urban Meyer's offense.
My Three Underdogs:
QB Nick Marshall, Auburn +2000 at 5Dimes (1/2 unit) - Marshall had similar numbers to Braxton last year, with 1,976 yards through the air and an additional 1,068 on the ground with 26 total TDs and 6 INTs. Auburn's receiving core returns intact along with 4 returning starters on the line and the running back position is fully stocked. This will be HC Gus Malzahn's first opportunity to coach a returning starter at QB, and he has stated that Marshall had a sharp spring, hitting his progressions much quicker than last year. If Malzahn opens the playbook a bit more, Marshall's name very well could be called onstage in NYC.
QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma +2600 at 5Dimes (1/2 unit) - Knight rebounded from early season struggles his freshmen year to end the year by pushing Alabama around in the Sugar Bowl last year. Another dual-threat QB, he is surrounded by playmakers on a potential national championship team. The only thing keeping me from listing him as a favorite is the brutal schedule the Sooners have this year. I would not be surprised by a 4,000 combined yards/35 combined TD campaign.
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin +2700 at 5Dimes (1/2 unit) - This number seems too high. Gordon split carries with James White last season and still managed to rush for 1,609 yards and 12TDs on 206 carries, while averaging 7.81 yards/carry (2nd in the nation). As the lone back this year, he may see around 280-320 carries and has the potential to hit the 2000-yard threshold. The Badgers also have one of the softest schedules in the Big Ten (No OSU, Michigan State, or Penn State) and the back half of their season is a virtual cakewalk, and November is a great time to pad those stats.
My Four Sleepers:
RB Duke Johnson, Miami +3800 at 5Dimes - Johnson was on pace for a 1,400-yard season in his sophomore year before suffering a season ending injury vs FSU. He's averaged 6.6 yards/carry his first two seasons, and could potentially get 1,600 yards and 14 TDs.
QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State +6000 at 5Dimes - With 27 career starts under his belt, the redshirt senior could finish the season as the best statistical QB in Sun Devil history. Kelly had 4,243 total yards and 37 total TDs in HC Todd Graham's third year. Oh yeah, he can also punt. Though the defense will rebuild, last year's 10th-ranked scoring offense is loaded with talent and if the Sun Devils can stay near the top of the Pac-12 South, I anticipate huge numbers for Kelly.
QB Matt Johnson, Bowling Green +8000 at 5Dimes - Though not in a power 5 conference, he threw for 3,467 yards and 25 TDs last year in the MAC and new coach Dino Babers worked with Robert Griffin III at Baylor in 2011 and Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois last year. NIU's Jordan Lynch made it to NYC last year and while Johnson won't sniff the 1920 yards Lynch gained on the ground in '13, he is quite mobile and should have over 4000 yards of total offense this fall.
CB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan (NO LINE) - The true freshman looks to start the season at nicelkback, and HC Brady Hoke has already revealed his plans to have Peppers return kicks. OC Doug Nussmeier wants to include him in the offense as well. He played QB, WR, RB, CB, FS, SS, and KR/PR in high school, where he was a two-time USA Today All American and track champion. Could the speedy youngster become the third straight freshman to win the trophy?
Have I left one of your favorites off of my list? Any dark horses you like? Leave me a comment below.