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Heisman talk: It starts with Clemson’s Watson

Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire

The 82nd Heisman Trophy will be presented on Dec. 10. That’s a mere 14 Saturdays from now.

Better start with our analysis.

OK, it might be the most overexposed, overanalyzed individual award in sports, but I think its mystique remains very powerful. For the 18th time, I will cast a ballot. While things don’t really crystallize until the season’s final month, who doesn’t love a little Heisman speculation?

With that, I will offer my top five preseason Heisman selections. We will reset each week. There might be some wild swings, particularly early, but the ebbs and flows are part of the fun.

My top five:

1. CLEMSON QB DESHAUN WATSON: He’s pretty much the consensus preseason Heisman favorite. Now we play the games, when every defensive coordinator will be concocting creating ways to stop him — or just slow him down.

Good luck with that.

Watson is a true dual-threat quarterback, a leader and an instinctive playmaker. He was the best player on the field during last season’s 45-40 loss against Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game. Right now, he clearly looks like the best player in college football.

* 2015 STATISTICS: Watson passed for 4,104 yards (67.8 completion rate), 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He rushed for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns.

* NEXT UP: Clemson opens Saturday at Auburn.

2. FLORIDA STATE RB DALVIN COOK: He’s perhaps the biggest game breaker in college football, a touchdown scamper waiting to unfold on nearly every carry.

He was the first FSU runner to have a pair of 200-yard rushing games in the same season since 1981 (Greg Allen). He averaged 7.4 yards per carry.

Yep, right now, I’m viewing the Oct. 29 Clemson-FSU game as a pretty big one in the Heisman race. Mr. Watson, meet Mr. Cook.

* 2015 STATISTICS: Cook rushed for 1,691 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also had 24 receptions.

* NEXT UP: FSU opens Monday night against Ole Miss in a neutral-site game in Orlando.

3. STANFORD RB CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY: He’s the most dynamic and versatile Heisman candidate. No doubt, he will have a much larger target in the Pac-12, especially with Stanford breaking in a new quarterback, but McCaffrey’s ultra-talented skill set is difficult to deny.

* 2015 STATISTICS: McCaffrey set an NCAA record for all-purpose yards (3,864). He rushed for 2,019 yards and eight touchdowns. He had 45 receptions. He also scored touchdowns on punt returns and kickoff returns, where he averaged 28.9 yards.

* NEXT UP: Stanford opens Friday night against Kansas State.

4. LSU RB LEONARD FOURNETTE: Fournette was the first SEC back to lead the nation in rushing yards per game (162.8) since 1949. The SEC offered some pretty fair backs (Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Emmitt Smith, to name three) since then.

He seemed like the prohibitive Heisman favorite when 2015 began and his statistics were, um, pretty good. However, when LSU dropped three straight games, Fournette seemingly dropped off the Heisman map. Inexplicably, he didn’t even get invited to New York.
There’s every reason to think Fournette — and LSU, with 18 returning starters — will have a big season. He will face plenty of rugged run defenses, but Fournette has proved he’s tough to stop, regardless of the competition.

* 2015 STATISTICS: Fournette rushed for an LSU-record 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns.

* NEXT UP: LSU opens Saturday against Wisconsin in a neutral-site game at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.

5. OKLAHOMA QB BAKER MAYFIELD: Mayfield, a Texas Tech transfer, turned in one of the best passing seasons ever by a Sooner in his first year of eligibility. Fiercely competitive, Mayfield guided the Sooners to the College Football Playoff semifinals, and the potential exists for a return engagement.

* 2015 STATISTICS: Mayfield passed for 3,700 yards (68.1 completion rate), 36 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

* NEXT UP: Oklahoma opens Saturday against Houston in a neutral-site game at Houston’s NRG Stadium.

NEXT FIVE: Oregon RB Royce Freeman, Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly, Alabama WR Calvin Ridley, UCLA QB Josh Rosen, Houston QB Greg Ward Jr.

HEISMAN TRIVIA: The trophy, designed by sculptor Frank Eliscu, is made out of cast bronze. It is 13.5 inches tall and weighs 25 pounds.

Heisman talk: It starts with Clemson’s Watson

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