10 early Heisman Trophy frontrunners for 2015, led by whoever QBs Ohio State
Ohio State still has to decide who’s under center next season, but the winner should be in the lead for the Heisman.
Assuming 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, 2013 winner Jameis Winston, 2014 finalist Amari Cooper, and other likely early exits all leave college for the NFL, here are my 10 candidates for you to watch in 2015.
1. An Ohio State quarterback
Ohio State has an embarrassment of riches at QB, with two potential starters who have had top-five Heisman finishes — J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, both of whom should be healthy in 2015 — and a third stringer, Cardale Jones, who just obliterated one of the best defenses in the nation in the Big Ten Championship.
Barrett and Miller accounted for 109 touchdowns and the Big Ten’s last three first-team quarterback nods since 2012, while Jones still has a chance to win a national championship this season. Ohio State returns a ton along the offensive line (only tackle Darryl Baldwin is a senior) and at the skill positions.
2. Trevone Boykin, TCU QB
Boykin led an unexpectedly high-octane offense, and he was rewarded with a fourth-place Heisman finish. Expectations should be sky-high, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which, barring injury, he doesn’t make it to New York.
Visibility is an issue. Recent history has proved a player can come out of nowhere — look at freshmen Winston and Johnny Manziel — but those guys made their runs at longtime power-conference schools, each with a huge fan base. The Big 12 doesn’t do a great job of getting its schools in front of lots of eyes (especially if those programs are not Texas or Oklahoma).
The guy who just ran away with the Heisman is a solid example. 2014 was Mariota’s third year with ridiculous stats, and only his first year in the top-10 of Heisman voting.
3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State RB
Cook burst onto the scene as a true freshman, becoming Florida State’s most reliable weapon, despite backup status and the presence of Winston.
Winston’s likely to depart, and senior RB Karlos Williams will be out of Cook’s way in 2015. Once Cook starts getting 20 carries per game, his production should explode. At Florida State, a Playoff contender for the foreseeable future, that’s a recipe for Heisman candidacy.
4. Cody Kessler, USC QB
There are few roles better built for success than the starting quarterback for the Southern California Trojans. In just the last 12 years, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart have taken home the Heisman, and Matt Barkley finished sixth in 2011.
Kessler may be the most talented of them all. He was fourth nationally in passing efficiency and sits at 36 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
The jury’s out on whether Steve Sarkisian can lead a team to its highest goals, and until the Trojans compete for the Pac-12 title, Kessler’s a fringe contender. At the same time, the talent is there for a run, especially with Mariota likely to depart.
5. Royce Freeman, Oregon RB
The Ducks will need a new offensive centerpiece. Freeman should be that player, having rushed for 1,299 yards and 16 scores as a true freshman. Freeman is close to an ideal running back, in close to the ideal offense for massive production.
Oregon’s national profile continues to rise, and if the Ducks lift the
crystal football silver parentheses in January, they will be who everyone’s talking about in 2015.
6. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State QB
A legit candidate for most of 2014. But as the Bulldogs’ Playoff hopes faded, so did Prescott’s Heisman chances. And even with his talent, he’s never had the type of production that overwhelms voters. It’s good, mind you; 37 touchdowns is strong. But 10 interceptions is worrying, and his yardage is a step below the best quarterbacks.
Prescott’s at the mercy of the Bulldogs’ record, and even though MSU took a step forward, the Bulldogs are going to have to be even better despite losing a lot on defense for Prescott to be a threat to win the whole thing.
7. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State RB
Remember that load of talent Ohio State brings back? Chief among those players is Elliott, who racked up 1,610 total yards and 12 touchdowns in his second year. He’s a home run threat who’ll only be a bigger part of the offense, and defenses won’t be able to key on him.
The question is not only whether Elliott will be showcased enough, but what happens now that prized offensive coordinator Tom Herman is headed to Houston. That said, Urban Meyer knows a thing or two about offense, and he’s never been shy about leaning on his best players.
8. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma RB
With all due respect to the Colorado Buffaloes, the best boulder in 2014 was Perrine, a 5’11, 245-pound true freshman who rumbled through defenses to the tune of 1,579 yards and 21 touchdowns. He broke Gordon’s one-week-old record for most rushing yards in a game by lighting Kansas up for 427, and it was only mercy on Bob Stoops’ part that kept Perine from hitting 500.
Perine probably won’t break his own record, but his production could increase if he’s the man from the beginning; remember that this year he didn’t really take over until Week 4.
9. Scooby Wright, Arizona LB
Wright is one of only four returning players from this year’s Heisman top 10. Wright’s production was ridiculous; his 27 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles lead the nation, and his 153 total tackles are only one behind national leader David Mayo of Texas State. Those are incredible numbers, and the Heisman voters yawned at them, as he finished No. 9.
Opponents will commit to limiting his numbers next year. If they double- or triple-team him, it’ll be beneficial for the Arizona defense as a whole. That’s the irony: the respect Wright will gain from opposing offensive coordinators will decrease the respect he’ll get from Heisman voters. Bummer; he’s a great player.
10. Nick Chubb, Georgia RB
It seems hard to believe that Georgia could lose a talent like Todd Gurley and barely miss a beat, but Chubb was more than capable in Gurley’s stead, sitting at 1,281 yards and 12 scores on just 186 rushes. As long as Georgia runs the dang ball in 2015, Chubb will be a big-time producer.
That said, the level of trust in Georgia as a contender is waning; the Bulldogs haven’t won an SEC Championship since 2005. Chubb’s a prime candidate to be the SEC’s best tailback, but he’ll need some help elevating past that level.
DARKHORSE: Brad Kaaya, Miami QB
Kaaya was thrust into the role of Miami’s starting QB as a true freshman. He had some growing pains, but he flashed plenty of potential. He’s 19th in passer efficiency, three spots ahead of Winston and four ahead of Boykin.
Miami’s not a threat to make the Playoff in 2015, but Kaaya was the second-best freshman QB in 2014 (behind Barrett) and he’s got a bevy of weapons around him.