It's never too early to start the Heisman discussion.
With reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston returning to Florida State for his redshirt sophomore season, Georgia running back Todd Gurley back at what should be 100 percent and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota back in Eugene, there's plenty of star power left in college football despite the loss of former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
But who will rise to the top?
Better yet, which conference is most likely to produce the Heisman Trophy winner this season?
It's the Pac-12.
Why? Let's start by eliminating options.
If you're not a quarterback, you're out.
That means Georgia's Todd Gurley, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and South Carolina's Mike Davis can take a seat. Only twice since 2000 have players other than quarterbacks won the Heisman Trophy. Considering the video game statistics some of these teams put up, it's fair to assume that several of the quarterback favorites will have stronger resumes in the eyes of Heisman voters—however flawed that is.
Next, let's get rid of teams that aren't likely to contend for conference or national championships.
That means Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion and, yes, even Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson can take a seat. Sure, those guys will have stellar seasons, but if they're not in the national title hunt, it's unlikely that they'll get the national love.
The exception could be Golson because of, well, Notre Dame. But since he sat out last season after cheating, according to Andy Staples of SI.com, there will be an element of the voting base that will play the dreaded "character card," no matter how silly it is.
Yes, we'll go ahead and eliminate Florida State quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, too.
That may seem crazy considering the season he had last year, but the idea of a repeat winner in this day and age is even crazier. Unless he throws 40 touchdowns and no interceptions and has more touchdowns than incompletions, he won't join Archie Griffin as a two-time winner.
Is that fair? No. It shouldn't be that way, but players with Heisman Trophies on the shelf are held to a different standard.
So who's left?
Mariota would likely be the front-runner at that point, with Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Baylor's Bryce Petty, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Michigan State's Connor Cook and Auburn's Nick Marshall in tow. Cook is solid in the Spartan offense, but statistically, it should be difficult for him to compare to the rest of that group.
That makes two of the likely top four—Mariota and Hundley—Pac-12 quarterbacks who are playing for teams who should be in the discussion for both conference and national championships.
Mariota is a known commodity. In that high-octane Oregon offense, he's sure to put up video game statistics as long as he stays healthy. But will he stay healthy? He was nursing a knee injury late last season, and he wasn't himself in the Ducks' first loss of the season last year at Stanford.
All Hundley did as a redshirt sophomore last season was throw for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns, and rush for 748 yards and 11 touchdowns. That was on a 10-3 Bruins' team that lost three games to ranked opponents.
Both of those guys are legit Heisman threats right now, who will have the benefit of offseason attention to kick start their respective campaigns once toe meets leather.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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