2014 Heisman Trophy Preview

111205063534_heisman-trophyThe Heisman Trophy is fast becoming the most unpredictable award in sports as three straight years have seen surprise winners. In 2011 the award was Andrew Luck’s to lose after finishing second the year before to Cam Newton. Then out of nowhere a quarterback from Baylor took the league by storm. Robert Griffin had an amazing 2011 season and put Baylor on the map after winning the school’s first ever Heisman. In 2012 it was all about Matt Barkley carrying on the legacy of Heisman winners at USC but a bad season had him fall off the map. In his place came a quarterback from Texas A&M that electrified fans and sent the league into a frenzy with his confidence and level of playmaking ability. Johnny Manziel, like Griffin, came out of nowhere to take the award as a pattern was forming. Last year the award was Manziel’s to lose as it seemed like nobody could compete with the level of coverage Manziel received in what ended up being his last year in the NCAA. Manziel still played great but it was a freshman quarterback that took the league by storm this time around. A big performance in the first week put Jameis Winston on the radar and he took control of the race to win the Heisman and capped a great season off with a National Championship. The Heisman in the past few years has been so upredictable that it becomes very hard for anyone to predict who can win the trophy. The fact that three players have won the trophy without even being considered in the preseason rankings. These players were not even on the radar before the season started and yet they were so impressive that they shocked everyone and forced them to put them into the rankings as the best players in the game. Now as the 2014 season approaches the question is not so much about who the favourite at the start of the year is but who is the mystery player to take the league by storm. There is no guarantee that a player will come out of nowhere but everyone is now expecting that to happen after the last few years. It could come from anywhere even a team that nobody expects to be great. That is the greatness of the Heisman race as it has become so unpredictable that everyone is looking to find the next star. As for right now that star is unknown and possibly never going to appear but what there is to work with is a group of players that showed plenty of promise in 2013 and hope to repeat their performance in 2014 to earn the Heisman. There is the defending champion who is back for another run at the Heisman but that has been tougher than most expect to do even for Johnny Manziel in 2013. Then there are the host of other quarterbacks who are all looking to find their way to the top of the heap. Unfortunately for some their candidacy has ended before it began with one of the early favourites Braxton Miller suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out for the season. Aside from the quarterbacks there are a few running backs looking to represent for their position. Everyone will be watching as one of these players will try to take the award while the unknown could sneak up to take the Heisman for a fourth straight year.

1. Jameis Winston, QB (Florida State)

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Jameis Winston is following in the footsteps of Johnny Manziel which is no easy task after the media frenzy in 2013 surrounded Johnny Football. Winston is not Manziel though and he will look to blaze his own trail as he hopes to continue the rebuilding of the Florida State program. Last year Winston was on nobody’s radar in the preseason Heisman talk but that all changed in the first week. With a 356 yard 4 touchdown effort in the air and adding a touchdown on the ground Jameis Winston became earning a buzz. Still he was not someone who was in any preseason lists and so he took some time to work his way up past some of the biggest names in the NCAA. It was Week 6 when Winston finally broke through when the Seminoles took on their toughest test in the Clemson Tigers. In that game Winston had 444 yards passing and 4 total touchdowns leading the Seminoles to a win. That put Winston at the top of the rankings surpassing Manziel and riding the momentum to the Heisman Trophy. Now Winston enters the 2014 season as the man in the NCAA. He is the face of the league with Manziel now in Cleveland and he is the clear favourite to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner. That is easier said than done though as numerous players have tried it and been unsuccessful. At the top of the heap is not a fun place to be for many as the pressure to perform is that much greater in every game. Every move he makes will receive more criticism and every mistake is blown up more than every other player. This will be a season where Winston will deal with more pressure than ever before and to win the Heisman for a second year he will have to overcome the distractions to continue to put up the performances that won him the Heisman in 2013.

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2. Marcus Mariota, QB (Oregon)

marcus_mariotaMarcus Mariota is the new breed of quarterback that is making a splash in the NFL with players like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III leading the way. The NFL is beginning to look for a quarterback that has the arm to throw downfield but the speed to make plays on the ground. That has been the theme over the past few years as mobile quarterbacks are all the rage in football. Mariota has the ability to do both and as a result is getting a lot of attention from the NFL. He will only get more this year if he can make this a race for the Heisman Trophy. Last year Mariota was a part of the Heisman race last year but poor performances against California and Virginia early in the season made him lose momentum. He could never gain it back after that and with sub-300 yard games in the back-end of the season it was hard for him to make an impression to move back into the top players in the league. He will need to avoid those poor games this year if he hopes to remain at the top of the Heisman race as the race is becoming flashier with every year. It is all about put up gawdy numbers that make everyone pay attention. A solid performance week after week is just not going to do it for Mariota and with the speed at “Track U” surrounding the QB there are little excuses for him to not make an impression on the voters. Starting this far up is a positive for Mriota though as he will be watched right away rather than having to come from the back of the pack. When trying to make a run at the award the numbers have to be that much better so Mariota will only need to keep pace with the other quarterbacks in the running as he hopes to lead the Ducks to a great year as they eye the playoff.

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3. Todd Gurley, RB (Georgia)

todd_gurleyGurley is leading the charge for a position that has taken plenty of hits in the last few years. The running back position is no longer the glory position that it once was as the NFL is no longer looking for that big back to carry their team. Instead the NFL is looking for quarterbacks and because of that the NCAA is seeing quarterbacks take control. It wasn’t always that way though as from 1972 until 1983 the Heisman was given to players who played running back, 1972 was Johnny Rodgers and WR/RB. In the most recent 12 years of the award a running back has only won once, Mark Ingram won in 2009 while Reggie Bush won in 2005 but returned the Heisman after the USC booster scandal. That is not a promising stat for Gurley but the fact is that he is the best running back in the NCAA for the 2014 season. There seems to be no doubt about this as Gurley has the ability to easily get over 1,000 yards. He was even a big part of the Heisman race in 2013 until an ankle injury forced him to miss three games and re-injuring the ankle limited him the rest of the season. Still with the injury Gurley put up close to 1,000 yards on the season and with his 2012 season seeing him 1,385 yards there is plenty of potential for him to have a big year. That is especially true when he becomes the feature piece to the Georgia offence after Aaron Murray completed his eligibility and is now with the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL. With a bit of an unknown at QB with Hutson Mason taking over for this year Gurley is sure to be featured as the passing game gets going. If there is a running back that can take the first Heisman since 2009 it will be Gurley and he will do everything he can to get that trophy and keep up with the crop of QBs.

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4. Nick Marshall, QB (Auburn)

nick_marshallIt wasn’t long ago that a mobile quarterback from Auburn was taking some of the headlines when speaking of the Heisman Trophy. That quarterback was Cam Newton and he went on to win the Heisman in 2010 while leading the Tigers to the National Championship. Now Nick Marshall tries to step out of the shadow of one of the greatest players to play for Auburn and find his own path to the Heisman Trophy. That is easier said than done though as Marshall reminds every one of Cam Newton by playing the exact same way. Marshall loves to run the ball and takes matters into his own hands to help the offence along. There are some big advantages to that as he puts up better rushing numbers than any other quarterback in the Heisman race. Then again there are some downsides too as his passing stats leave a lot to be desired. He is one of the worst quarterbacks in the Heisman race when it comes to his passing stats and yet one of the best when it comes to his rushing stats. That makes him a bit of a mystery when it comes to the Heisman as the voters have to decide whether or not rushing can be valued as much as passing when it comes to a quarterback. Then again Marshall could come out in 2014 and begin to balance his attack out to improve his passing stats and make it a lot easier for voters to compare him. That is what he will have to try to do as he needs to put up better passing numbers and get more accurate if he wants to stay in the race although his rushing will keep him among the conversation. It will be an interesting season for Marshall as most voters will watch to see if he can improve his passing stats before they begin to weigh if rushing can overtake passing among some great QBs that are sure to be in the running.

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5. Bryce Petty, QB (Baylor)

bryce_pettyMuch like Nick Marshall, Bryce Petty is looking to step out of the shadow of a former Heisman winner. The Baylor Bears have only ever had one Heisman Trophy and that came in 2011 with Robert Griffin III. He became one of the most exciting players in College football that year and took the Heisman voters by surprise. He was the most exciting and talked about quarterback before the emergence of Johnny Manziel and remains one of the most talked about QBs in the NFL. It is not easy to follow that type of personality but Petty has been able to make the Bears’ offence his own, and that is a great thing. The Baylor Bears had the best offence in the NCAA last year under Petty putting up 8,044 total yards and averaging 619 yards per game. They also finished second in total points with 681 while averaging an NCAA leading 52.4 points per game. Those stats will only help Petty to work his way up the Heisman race if he can continue to lead the Bears to be the best offence in the league. If he can continue that into the 2014 season and begin moving the Bears up the rankings Petty could give plenty of the top players a run for their money. That is a tough task though as the Bears offence in 2013 was a good one but never really faced any of the biggest competition. This year is no different as the Bears have only two teams ranked in the preseason top 25. That will mean that Petty will have to do even more when facing teams that are considered much worse than them. If he can accomplish that there is not a lot that can stop him from moving up and challenging some of the top contenders in the Heisman race this year.

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Ones to Watch

Brett Hundley, QB (UCLA)
There is a lot of hype surrounding Hundley this year as he is the player that is supposed to turn the UCLA program around. If he can do that he may very well end up in the race for the Heisman Trophy.

T.J. Yeldon, RB (Alabama)
Todd Gurley leads the running back class this year but Alabama boasts the last running back to win the award. The offence hasn’t changed much since that season and T.J. Yeldon is sure to get plenty of reps with AJ McCarron in the NFL.

Melvin Gordon, RB (Wisconsin)
The Wisconsin Badgers have a great track record of running backs making big impacts behind massive lines. That will continue this year with Gordon leading the charge as the feature back on the Badgers this year.

Ameer Abdullah, RB (Nebraska)
The Nebraska Cornhuskers have always been built similarly to the Wisconsin Badgers as they load up on big lineman and love to run the ball. Abdullah will look to run behind that line this year after leading the Big Ten in 2013 as he hopes to make some noise for the backs in 2014.

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