If a 3rd Straight Freshman QB Wins the Heisman, Here Are the Likely Candidates
I set out to find the next Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston, taking on such tasks with the bravado of an offseason scholar. Of course there’s another freshman poised for stardom and, in turn, a Heisman Trophy.
The last few years showed us this was very possible.
As I dove deep into the catalog of talented quarterbacks with lacking reps heading into spring, however, it dawned on me just how incredibly remarkable these last two years have been.
In consecutive seasons, the eventual Heisman winner entered his breakout year with no in-game experience and no box-score presence to speak of. The on-the-job processing necessary to turn a debut season into a Heisman season happened for both Manziel and Winston, each operating with vastly different styles.
Now, as a fresh batch of freshmen quarterbacks begin a similar crash course, it’s fair to wonder if the streak will continue. It’s fair to even wonder if we’ll ever see a streak like this again.
Perhaps the Manziel and Winston years will appear as outliers in time. Or, maybe this is just the start of a powerful youth movement at the most powerful position in all of sports.
If that is the case, it doesn’t hurt examining some potential—albeit unlikely—quarterback candidates poised to seize the baton. Using their likelihood to start, the weapons in place and the potential likelihood of a deep run fueled by these hopeful young stars, here are a few that could be the next big thing.
Max Browne, USC
There’s a distinct possibility—some might even call it likely—that Max Browne, the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the 2013 class according to 247Sports, won’t start in 2014. Cody Kessler closed out the 2013 season strong for the Trojans at quarterback, although the change at head coach has opened things back up.
It also doesn’t hurt that his current head coach recruited him hard at a completely different school.
If Browne gets the nod, he could be one to watch. He has the arm to make every throw and capable targets, led by wideout Nelson Agholor, to throw to. He also has a stable of developing running backs that allow this offense to thrive earlier than anticipated. While depth at USC is a concern, especially along the offensive and defensive lines, the talent level matches up with most in the Pac-12.
We’re uncertain if Browne’s talent will develop at the pace required to continue the streak, but his makeup certainly fits the build.
And while USC won’t enter the season with national championship aspirations on the brain, the possibility for rapid improvement under Steve Sarkisian is certainly possible. Browne could influence this a great deal, and if he does, his star power could be realized sooner rather than later.
Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
If Max Browne was labeled a “maybe” to start, consider Malik Zaire’s chances to be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in 2014 unlikely. Zaire doesn't believe so, which is the attitude you want to see out of a player pushing for the position.
All signs point to Everett Golson being the starter for the Irish now that he is back on campus, although Zaire shouldn’t be dismissed. The undersized, productive lefty is more than capable.
Zaire, the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2013 according to 247Sports, would have been ranked even higher if it weren’t for his 6’1” build. Regardless, he may get his shot if the quarterback competition remains as open as head coach Brian Kelly would like us to believe it is.
If so, Zaire will enjoy a solid group of running backs and (hopefully) a year with wideout DaVaris Daniels. While Daniels was suspended for the spring semester for academic reasons, he should be back for the fall semester.
Playing at Notre Dame certainly doesn’t hurt a Heisman candidacy, either. The bigger question is, at least right now, will he play?
Mitch Trubisky, UNC
This name might not roll off the tongue like some of the others on this list, but that likely won’t be the case for long. Whether the nation’s No. 6 dual-threat quarterback in 2013—according to 247Sports—gets the starting quarterback nod, however, is still up for grabs.
Mitch Trubisky spent last season on the UNC bench, even when starter Bryn Renner went down. Marquise Williams came in due to Renner's absence and experienced his ups and downs. If Trubisky does win the job, he’ll have to beat out Williams along the way.
When it comes to the Heisman, this might not be as big of a stretch as one might believe. Larry Fedora offenses are particularly favorable to quarterbacks, especially the ones capable of running a 40 in 4.5 seconds.
The other item working favorably for the Tar Heels is the schedule. While there are road trips to Clemson and Notre Dame on tap, the 2014 regular-season slate isn’t exactly daunting. And with UNC winning six of its last seven games in 2013—averaging more than 40 points per game in this stretch—a breakout year could be next.
The Tar Heels may break out regardless of who is tabbed the starting quarterback.
Kevin Olsen, Miami
Updates from Sunday, April 6
According to the Miami Herald's Susan Miller Degnan, "Ryan Williams, who was on course to be the starting quarterback in the fall, will undergo surgery early next week to repair what doctors believe could be a torn anterior cruciate ligament."
End of Update
Consider this the most unlikely of unlikely redshirt QBs pitched, although don’t let that take away from the immense amount of potential Miami's quarterback of the future has.
Kevin Olsen was the No. 5 pro-style quarterback on 247Sports in 2013, and there’s a sentiment brewing that he could be a future star for the Hurricanes. Now it’s a matter of when he’s allowed to test out such theories.
With Stephen Morris gone, the starting quarterback job will likely boil down to Olsen or Ryan Williams. Williams threw 32 passes in 2013, although the book is still out on what he’s capable of. Miami also landed the commitment of Brad Kaaya in 2014—the No. 7 pro-style QB on 247Sports—although it’s unlikely he’ll get the call on day one.
The good news for the starting quarterback is that a fair amount of weapons will be returning. Duke Johnson will (hopefully) be healthy at running back, while the wide receiver group, led by Stacy Coley, Phillip Dorsett and Herb Waters, could be one of the deepest in the country.
If Olsen wins out the job and the defense can continue to improve as it did a season ago, perhaps a robust step up isn’t as crazy as it seems right now.
Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Let’s take the recent trend of redshirt freshmen one step further and bring a deserving true freshman into the conversation.
The nation’s No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2014, according to 247Sports, and the No. 10 player overall certainly fits that mold. And with the recent off-field issues surrounding Kenny Hill, the player many tabbed to be A&M's starter come fall, Kyle Allen could be in line to start out of the gate.
We know this system is conducive to quarterbacks (see: Johnny Manziel), although Allen is a much different player.
He can run if he has to, but it’s his arm strength and accuracy that separates him from almost every young quarterback in the country. Kevin Sumlin, an offensive wiz, will find plenty of ways to use him.
While Allen will be without the freakish Mike Evans, A&M has loaded up on wide receivers in recruiting over the past few seasons. LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Ricky Seals-Jones, Malcome Kennedy, talented frosh-to-be Speedy Noil and others will provide a plethora of options for targets.
For Allen to complete the A&M Heisman sandwich, however, the Aggies will have to improve at almost every position. He also has to be named starter, which is still to be determined.