Marcus Mariota might have some extra space in his trophy case that was reserved for College Football Playoff National Championship memorabilia, but the most dangerous quarterback in Pac-12 history can always take solace when glancing over to his much-deserved Heisman trophy.
It’s going to be nearly impossible for another player to replicate the same kind of success Mariota had in 2014 – he made it look so easy, too – over the next decade, yet alone next season.
Nonetheless, it’s going to be exciting to see which names emerge as the new faces of college football; this is the first time since 2011 where the reigning Heisman winner won’t be back in the mix the following year (Robert Griffin III).
We’re closing in on February, but December is right around the corner … alright, maybe not, but you and I both know that you’re already dreaming of post-touchdown fight songs, Phyllis’ call-ins to the Paul Finebaum Show, and Lee Corso’s headgear picks on Saturday mornings.
That said, here’s an ordered list of potential Heisman candidates for the 2015 season that will assuredly
all be correct look nothing like this in 11 months.
10. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: This should come with a major asterisk, but I’m confident that Miller will end up having an extraordinary senior season – even though it won’t be with Ohio State. I expect Miller, who has been one of the most exciting players to watch over the last few years, to announce that he is transferring soon where he won’t have to risk an unprecedented three-man quarterback competition like the one he’s currently facing in Columbus; if he lands with Duke, LSU, Oregon, Florida State – or anywhere other than with the Buckeyes, for that matter – he’ll be an immediate Heisman contender.
9. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: The Heisman hype Fournette received before he had even stepped foot on campus last season was a bit ridiculous, but not completely unwarranted. Opposing defenses were constantly stacking seven and eight in the box due to the ineptitude of the LSU quarterbacks, and Fournette still found a way to break 1,000 yards, rushing for 289 on 30 carries (9.6 ypc) in his final two games. If the Tigers can make some improvements in the passing game to take some pressure off Fournette – seriously, it would be pretty difficult to be any worse – then he will be right in the thick of the race in December, especially if he continues to do things like this:
8. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin: Considering Wisconsin has finished as a Top-15 rushing team every season since 2008, this is probably far too low of a ranking for Clement. While backing up Melvin Gordon – a Heisman finalist in 2014 – this past season, the junior-to-be nearly reached the 1,000-yard mark and finished with a remarkable four 100-yard performances, including 105 against Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Simply put, if you play running back for the Badgers, you will put up some lofty numbers.
7. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State: Oh, what a weapon Elliot became for Urban Meyer during Ohio State’s national championship run. Through the first eight games of the season, Elliot compiled 778 yards (97.3 ypg) and five touchdowns off 15.8 carries per game. Through the final seven games, his carries jumped to 21.0, and he racked up 1,169 more yards (167.0) and 13 more scores against two Top-5 run defenses and another that ranked No. 23. Look for Elliot to do some more awesome things in 2015 as the clear feature back.
6. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: When Watson was healthy, Clemson was a Top-10 team. When he wasn’t, you would be hard-pressed to argue it as Top-25 quality. He was only able to provide a small sample, but the true freshman’s Total QBR of 90.3 would have placed him at second in the nation behind Mariota (90.8) had he qualified. With Florida State set to take a few steps back, Watson will have Clemson as the favorite to win the ACC and possibly making a run at the playoffs.
5. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: You look at Henry’s size and speed and what he did to Oklahoma’s defense in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, and you wonder what the hell Lane Kiffin was thinking when he fed him the ball just 13 times against Ohio State. Henry, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry in Alabama’s semifinal loss, was a clear mismatch for the Buckeyes’ linebackers, who struggled mightily to bring him down in the first half. Henry had less than 15 carries in nine different games throughout the season, and if the Crimson Tide are smart, that number will decrease to zero in 2015. He’s a freak of nature that deserves 300 carries next year.
4. Cody Kessler, QB, USC: Kessler was a very underrated passer in 2014, finishing 315-of-452 (69.7 percent) for 3,826 yards, 39 touchdowns and five interceptions. His completion percentage placed him No. 1 among all Power Five quarterbacks, and his 167.1 Passer Efficiency Rating was fourth-best in the country. If USC meets the expectations as my early No. 4 team for next season, there’s no doubt Kessler will be a Heisman finalist.
3. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: And we thought Todd Gurley was a beast. With Gurley out for the second half of the season, Chubb filled in and, in some aspects, made the offense better. After Week 6, Chubb rushed for 1,323 yards (7.0 ypc) and did not once finish a game with less than 113 (which just so happened to come off nine carries). Had Chubb played the full 13-game slate, he would have likely surpassed 2,000 yards; if he can claim full responsibility in the backfield this summer, you’ll see his face at the Heisman ceremony.
2. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State: I’ve written several times that I believe Barrett will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback in 2015, and Cardale Jones’ decision to return doesn’t change anything. While Jones can launch the ball 80 yards, Barrett is the optimal choice for what Urban Meyer wants to run; he understands how to go through his progressions at the line of scrimmage much better than his counterpart, allowing him to make swift decisions after the ball is snapped; he’s a deadly sharpshooter with short- and mid-range passes (vital for the Power Spread), and is agile enough for Meyer to feel comfortable calling designed run plays. Oh, and he’s the Big Ten single-season touchdowns record holder, coming in fifth place in Heisman votes without a conference championship start next to his name.
1. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU: TCU had the second-highest scoring offense in the nation behind Baylor, producing 46.5 points per game with four 50-plus performances. Like his team when it came to a playoff resume, though, the lack of a Big 12 Championship Game hurts Boykin’s chances for reeling in a Heisman; however, the Horned Frogs return 10 starters on offense and are widely expected to be one of the top two teams in the first preseason polls next fall. Boykin, who will have to be the catalyst to this kind of success, has the potential to put up some video game-like numbers before he’s invited to New York in December.
Other Names to Watch: Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona; Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona; James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh; Jared Goff, QB, California; Devontae Booker, RB, Utah.