Bleacher Report's Initial Heisman Watch List for 2014

Luke Brietzke@FireEverybodyContributor IIIJanuary 21, 2014

Bleacher Report's Initial Heisman Watch List for 2014

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    In 2013, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston became the second consecutive redshirt freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

    Considering that Winston and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel have taken home the hardware in consecutive seasons, it stands to reason that this might be the most difficult it’s ever been to predict the winner.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t try.

    Examining both 2013 statistics and trying to project success in 2014, we have taken a look at the players most likely to contend for the Heisman Trophy next season. Other factors, such as projected team success and high-profile games, will be taken into consideration because of what they have meant historically in Heisman voting. 

    Here’s a look at the top 10 candidates for the 2014 Heisman Trophy as well as a number of honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

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    In alphabetical order: 

    RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

    WR Amari Cooper, Alabama

    QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

    QB Chuckie Keeton, Utah State

    QB Cyler Miles, Washington

    QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech

    WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri

    RB Duke Johnson, Miami

    RB Jeremy Langford, Michigan State

    QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford

    RB Mike Davis, South Carolina

    LB/RB Myles Jack, UCLA

    QB Sean Mannion, Oregon State

    QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

    QB Taysom Hill, BYU

    QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma

    WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State


11. QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame

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    2012 Stats: 187-318, 2,405 passing yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs; 298 rushing yards, 6 TDs

    2014 High-Profile Games: Michigan (Sept. 6), Stanford (Oct. 4), at Florida State (Oct. 18), at USC (Nov. 29)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly thought enough of Everett Golson as a freshman to start him throughout the entire 2012 season. But Golson was academically suspended for the fall semester in 2013, which contributed to the Fighting Irish's step back. The frequency of strong teams playing against Notre Dame in prime time this upcoming season should do nothing but further Golson’s cause if he plays well in key victories.

    Why He Wouldn’t: Having to leave Notre Dame because of academic dishonesty means Golson lost the opportunity to progress in Kelly’s system. Even during the undefeated regular season in 2012, Golson didn’t emerge as an elite passer, completing just 58.8 percent of his passes and throwing for only 12 touchdowns.

10. QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

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    2013 Stats: 156-267, 1,940 passing yards, 10 TDs, 7 INTs; 829 rushing yards, 13 TDs; 2 TD receptions

    2014 High-Profile Games: at LSU (Sept. 20), Texas A&M (Oct. 4), Auburn (Oct. 11), at Alabama (Nov. 15)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: As opposed to last year when Dak Prescott had to fend off Tyler Russell for Mississippi State's starting QB job, the gig will be all his in 2014. The powerful sledgehammer of a quarterback has a Tim Tebow-like ability to lower his shoulders and pick up tough yards. As one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the SEC, Prescott could emerge as one of the conference’s best.

    Why He Wouldn’t: If Prescott makes a serious run at the Heisman Trophy, he must progress significantly as a passer. He completed just 58.4 percent of his passes in 2013 and threw almost as many interceptions (seven) as touchdowns (10). Prescott also likely needs Mississippi State to contend at least for the SEC West title—a daunting task with Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M in the division.

9. RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

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    2013 Stats: 207 carries, 1,235 yards, 14 TDs; 20 receptions, 183 yards

    2014 High-Profile Games: Texas A&M (Oct. 18), at LSU (Nov. 8), Auburn (Nov. 29)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin wants to get the ball in the hands of his biggest playmakers. That’s good news for running back T.J. Yeldon, who averaged 6.0 yards per attempt in 2013. In each of the six games the rising junior has toted the rock 20 or more times, he has gone for at least 100 yards.

    Why He Wouldn’t: Between the emergence of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, there is no assurance Yeldon will get the bulk of the carries in the Alabama run game. Plus, Yeldon struggled with fumbles at key times during the 2013 season. If Yeldon doesn’t get 20 carries per game in 2014, it will be difficult to win the Heisman.

8. RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

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    2013 Stats: 206 carries, 1,609 yards, 12 TDs; 1 reception, 10 yards

    2014 High-Profile Games: vs. LSU (Aug. 30 in Houston), Nebraska (Nov. 15)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: Not only does Wisconsin’s new division setup make life easier, but the Badgers also miss out on teams like Ohio State and Michigan. A season opener against LSU on a neutral field gives running back Melvin Gordon a great chance to make an early impact on the race. He enters the season with a strong resume and name recognition.

    Why He Wouldn’t: For Gordon to make a serious run at the Heisman, Wisconsin needs to be in the College Football Playoff discussion. If the Badgers stumble somewhere, it could make getting to New York City a challenge.  

7. RB Todd Gurley, Georgia

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    2013 Stats: 165 carries, 989 yards, 10 TDs; 37 receptions, 441 yards, 6 TDs

    2014 High-Profile Games: Clemson (Aug. 30), at South Carolina (Sept. 13), at Missouri (Oct. 11), vs. Florida (Nov. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.), Auburn (Nov. 15)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: The nation’s top running back should not be forgotten. Many of the elite tailbacks left for the NFL during the offseason, but Georgia's Todd Gurley will be back for his true junior season. Not only is Gurley a huge threat as a runner, he is a significant threat in the passing game as well—something that should come in handy for first-year quarterback Hutson Mason. A number of high-profile games give Gurley a tremendous opportunity to post eye-opening performances.

    Why He Wouldn’t: The biggest issue for Gurley is simple: Will the Bulldogs be relevant all season? Tailbacks of non-contending teams are often forgotten unless they post absurd statistics. The other question mark about Gurley is health. Considering the workload he has taken on since arriving in Athens, he has been very reliable. He did, however, miss three games in 2013. Tailbacks can’t expect to miss time and contend for the Heisman.

6. QB Nick Marshall, Auburn

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    2013 Stats: 142-239, 1,976 passing yards, 14 TDs, 6 INTs; 1,068 rushing yards, 12 TDs

    2014 High-Profile Games: LSU (Oct. 4), at Georgia (Nov. 15), at Alabama (Nov. 29)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: As well as Auburn QB Nick Marshall played in 2013, it’s easy to forget he hasn’t even been through a spring practice with coach Gus Malzahn. Some of Marshall’s shortcomings as a passer should be resolved before next season kicks off. The run game will obviously help Marshall as well. It took Malzahn four games to figure out how to best utilize Marshall as a runner. Once he figured it out, the Auburn quarterback rushed for 89 yards or more in six of nine games. Playing in the SEC will help, especially if Auburn lives up to expectations.

    Why He Wouldn’t: For starters, Marshall has a long way to go as a passer. In seven of 12 games in which Marshall played more than one quarter, he attempted fewer than 20 passes. Marshall missed one complete game with a knee injury and most of another. Injury could derail him. The biggest obstacle might be outshining teammates. Malzahn has the ability to build additional stars in the run game, meaning Marshall’s passing likely must put him over the top as a Heisman candidate.

5. QB Brett Hundley, UCLA

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    2013 Stats: 248-369, 3,071 passing yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs; 748 rushing yards, 11 TDs

    2014 High-Profile Games: vs. Texas (Sept. 13 in Arlington, Texas), at Arizona State (Sept. 25), Oregon (Oct. 11), USC (Nov. 22), Stanford (Nov. 28)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: When QB Brett Hundley announced his intentions to return to school, it put the Pac-12 South on notice that UCLA would be a factor again in 2014. High-profile games in perhaps the nation’s toughest conference will provide the stage for Hundley to shine.

    Why He Wouldn’t: Fittingly, Hundley played his worst in UCLA losses. In a blowout defeat at Oregon, Hundley didn’t even manage to record 100 passing yards. If he posts similar numbers in losses in 2014, his Heisman chances take a huge hit.

4. QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State

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    2013 Stats: 162-255, 2,094 yards, 24 TDs, 7 INTs; 1,068 rushing yards, 12 TDs

    2014 High-Profile Games: Virginia Tech (Sept. 6), at Michigan State (Nov. 8), Michigan (Nov. 29)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: Tailback Carlos Hyde is gone, freeing up several goal-line carries for QB Braxton Miller, whose tremendous running ability showed itself once he got healthy. He finished with five 100-yard rushing games over the Buckeyes’ final eight games in 2013. Coach Urban Meyer knows a thing or two about helping to mentor a Heisman winner as well. That Ohio State stands a great chance to win the Big Ten—or at least contend for it again—does nothing but help Miller’s chances.

    Why He Wouldn’t: Like Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Miller ranked low nationally in passing numbers. Miller did improve his completion percentage but still has work to do in terms of becoming a polished passer. His season-high in passing yards came when he threw for 252 yards against Penn State. Perhaps most importantly, Miller missed two games in 2013. He can’t afford similar absences if he hopes to secure college football’s greatest individual prize.

3. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor

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    2013 Stats: 250-403, 4,200 passing yards, 32 TDs, 3 INTs; 209 rushing yards, 14 TDs

    2014 High-Profile Games: at Texas (Oct. 4), at Oklahoma (Nov. 8), Oklahoma State (Nov. 22)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: Have you seen the Baylor offense? It scores early and often and, frequently, because of QB Bryce Petty. In 2013, Petty shared the bounty of touchdowns with star tailback Lache Seastrunk, who has since left for the NFL. That could potentially create more touchdowns for Petty. Especially with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas looming as high-profile games, Petty stands a reasonable chance to bring home the hardware in 2014.

    Why He Wouldn’t: Fair or not, Baylor’s disappointing loss to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl might get held against the Bears quarterback. Voters have seen Petty post huge numbers for an entire season now. They have also seen the offense disappear in a loss and fail to perform as it did in another huge game. Petty will be under a magnifying glass in 2014 and might be held to different standards than other quarterbacks.

2. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

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    2013 Stats: 245-386, 3,665 passing yards, 31 TDs, 4 INTs; 715 rushing yards, 9 TDs

    2014 High-Profile Games: Michigan State (Sept. 6), at UCLA (Oct. 11), Stanford (Nov. 1)

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: Another player with all the tools, QB Marcus Mariota also works out of a nationally elite offense. In other words, the numbers will be there for Mariota—both as a passer and as a runner. Add several marquee games, including a Week 2 battle against defending Big Ten champ Michigan State, and the rapidly growing thought that the Pac-12 might be the best league in the country in 2014 doesn’t hurt.

    Why He Wouldn’t: Of all the Heisman candidates, perhaps none has a more important showcase game than Mariota against Stanford. Unfair as it is, a poor performance against one of the nation’s top defenses might eliminate Mariota from the race in the minds of several voters. Oregon also has a tendency of producing a myriad of offensive talent. For Mariota to have a shot at the Heisman, he needs to shine brightest on an offense full of star-potential players.

1. QB Jameis Winston, Florida State

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    2013 Stats: 257-384, 4,057 yards, 40 TDs, 10 INTs; 219 rushing yards, 4 TDs

    2014 High-Profile Games: vs. Oklahoma State (Aug. 30 in Arlington, Texas), Notre Dame (Oct. 18), Florida (Nov. 29), Clemson (TBD).

    Why He Can Win the 2014 Heisman: Jameis Winston clearly had the talent to win the Heisman in the first place, doing so to cap a remarkable redshirt freshman campaign in 2013. He matches a strong arm capable of making any throws asked of him with great mobility to help him escape trouble. Winston doesn’t flinch under pressure, either. As Michael Felder wrote in mid-December, Winston punished teams that attempted to blitz him. The Florida State QB has all the tools to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner.

    Why He Wouldn’t: There is no football reason Winston wouldn’t win the 2014 Heisman Trophy. History, however, indicates he won’t. Several great college players have tried and failed to become the first two-time Heisman Trophy winner since Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974-75. Players such as Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel have fallen short of that goal for one reason or another. Putting together a Heisman season requires numerous special moments. The stars aligned for Winston, an unquestioned and perhaps unmatched talent, in 2013. Can they again in 2014?