College football's long offseason is broken down into several specific sections, which include the final weeks of a recruiting cycle, spring practices, prospect camps, media days and the highly anticipated start of fall practices.
However, two more offseason traditions don't fit into a particular time frame and instead find a way to stretch across the spring and summer months in this age of the 24/7 news cycle: recruiting for next February's class and preseason predictions.
Some of the most popular preseason predictions for college football fans to devour and discuss are the early Heisman watch lists.
And, after a breakout 2013 season in which he helped lead his new team to an SEC Championship and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is making his way onto several of those lists.
Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis has him in his second tier of candidates, a "next level" of players "who aren’t yet stars, but have the potential to command the national spotlight." HeismanPundit.com put Marshall on its post-spring top-25 list. ESPN's Phil Steele (subscription required) has Marshall at No. 7 in his new top 10 ranking, and NFL.com's college football writer Mike Huguenin has the Auburn senior at No. 8 on his "14 in '14" list.
After not appearing on Bovada's January board of Heisman contenders as discussed by Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer, Marshall is currently No. 10 on the board with 20-1 odds to win the 2014 trophy (h/t AL.com's Mike Herndon).
Marshall first received Heisman buzz toward the end of last season, when Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said his quarterback deserved to be mentioned in the race for a spot in New York City.
Malzahn, who has never had a returning quarterback in his collegiate coaching career, continued to be impressed with his "steadily improving" signal-caller after a much-needed set of spring practices.
"He was a lot more reactive this spring, you could tell he wouldn't have to really think hard about the progression of everything, it was just coming more natural," Malzahn said. "We're hoping it'll even be better than that in the fall."
Marshall's preseason buzz has a lot to do with his playmaking ability on the ground, a dominant aspect of his game that was on full display in his first season at Auburn:
|Nick Marshall's Rushing Stats, 2013|
|Category||Marshall in 2013||Rank Among QBs|
|Yards per Attempt||6.21||T-4th|
The Tigers' effective read-option game was the basis of its offense, which ran the ball 72 percent of the time in 2013. Marshall and a talented trio of running backs led by Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason combined to create the nation's No. 1 rushing attack.
But for Auburn's offense to excel again in 2014, the Tigers are probably going to have to throw the ball more. Malzahn knows this and has talked about wanting more balance on offense since last December.
Marshall did not go through spring practice with Auburn last season and still was able to play his part in one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history.
His play through the air suffered somewhat in the first part of the season with four interceptions in four games, but he turned it around to become the nation's highest-rated quarterback for the Tigers' stretch run:
If Marshall can put together what Auburn fans hope will be 15 similar games to his final eight from last season, his Heisman stock could soar in 2014 as the star of what is expected to be one of the nation's most prolific offenses.
The senior definitely has the weapons around him to keep up that high level of play through the air and on the ground.
Mason is off to the NFL, but the smash-and-dash combo of Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant is back with the additions of redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and 5-star recruit Racean "Roc" Thomas.
All of his key receivers from 2013, including vertical threat Sammie Coates, are back, and the Tigers have added the nation's No. 1 JUCO player in D'haquille "Duke" Williams as a new target for a more balanced offense.
Four of the five starting offensive linemen from the SEC-winning squad have returned, and seniors C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse are looking to make greater impacts this season at tight end and H-back, respectively.
Those playmakers helped Marshall win Auburn's Offensive MVP award at the annual A-Day Game, where he threw for 236 yards and four touchdowns in just one half of action.
"We can get real scary," Marshall said. "We know we can run the ball. We're just focusing on throwing the ball down the field. That's the emphasis this year. "
In addition to having an experienced unit around him and a head coach who has consistently had explosive offenses, Marshall's Heisman stock will also benefit from Auburn's preseason hype and tough schedule.
With the Tigers seemingly a lock for a top-5 preseason ranking, Marshall will be in the spotlight from the opening whistle. Nationally televised games against Arkansas, non-conference foe Kansas State and the rest of the grueling SEC slate will make it easy for voters to find Auburn's quarterback all season long.
Marshall vs. The Field
Twelve of the last 13 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, and there is a high possibility another signal-caller will be lifting up the trophy in New York City this December.
How does Marshall stack up to the other talented 2014 quarterbacks on the early watch lists? Here is a quick look at the strengths of five preseason contenders and an area where Auburn's quarterback might have an advantage on them this season.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
The Resume: Mariota is a popular pick on many preseason Heisman lists, and Steele has him winning it in 2014. Like Marshall, Mariota has experience as a starter and a ton of returning playmakers around him in an offense that is famous for lighting up the scoreboard and the resume. Oregon is also a preseason national title contender, and a rematch of the 2010 BCS National Championship Game is definitely not out of the question for the sport's first major playoff.
Marshall's Advantage: "The Flyin' Hawaiian" struggled with consistency and mobility toward the end of the season, falling out of the Heisman spotlight after the Ducks' two late-season losses and a less-than-stellar performance against rival Oregon State. Marshall, on the other hand, played his best games of the 2013 season against top competition such as Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
The Resume: The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year had season similar to Marshall's in 2013—in fact, the two quarterbacks each had 1,068 yards on the ground. Miller finished fifth in Heisman voting in 2012 and ninth in 2013. Like Malzahn, Urban Meyer likes to use a lot of zone-read in his playbook, and a dual-threat player such as Miller has all the credentials to excel once again for another national title contender.
Marshall's Advantage: Marshall missed significant time in a pair of non-conference games last season, but injuries have been a recurring issue with Miller at Ohio State. The Buckeye quarterback missed two starts last season with a sprained knee and suffered another a shoulder injury in Ohio State's Orange Bowl loss to Clemson. Miller played through the injury in the bowl game but did not participate fully this spring due to surgery on the affected shoulder.
Bryce Petty, Baylor
The Resume: Auburn knows how to rack up yards under Malzahn, but Baylor took it to another level in 2013. The Bears had the nation's No. 1 total offense by a wide margin, and Petty helped orchestrate the prolific attack. In addition to his 14 touchdowns on the ground, Petty had 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions through the air last season. If video game-like stats are the key to winning the Heisman, Petty already has experience at compiling those.
Marshall's Advantage: Baylor returns the second-fewest starters of any college football team in 2014, and Petty is only one of five coming back from the Bears' mind-blowing offense. This Texas gunslinger does not have as much experience around him as Marshall and some of the other picks on this list, and his stock might suffer by being on a team that is not expected to be one of the top contenders for the national title this season.
Brett Hundley, UCLA
The Resume: Whether its with his arm or his feet, the experienced and accurate Hundley will be a leader for a team fighting to be a part of the national championship picture. The third-year starter will be the centerpiece of a squad that has a good chance of making it to the Pac-12 Championship and beyond this season. UCLA has won 19 games in two seasons under Jim Mora and returns most of the starters from last season's 10-win team.
Marshall's Advantage: In his two seasons as a starter, Hundley has not been in the top 10 nationally of any major passing category. UCLA's offense is good but not great, and Hundley might have a hard time tallying numbers comparable to Marshall and the rest of the players on this list. If that's the case, Hundley might need to lead the Bruins to a dominant, undefeated regular season to make up the difference.
Jameis Winston, Florida State
The Resume: This name should already be familiar to Auburn fans. Winston won the national championship and the Heisman Trophy in his redshirt freshman season, so he has at least one more season of leading the extremely talented Seminoles. Winston led the nation in yards per attempt and finished second in passing touchdowns, and he will continue to have the necessary weapons around him as Florida State looks to make it back-to-back ACC and national titles.
Marshall's Advantage: Winston's success in 2013 could be his undoing in the race for the Heisman. Anything short of another undefeated season and a berth in the playoff might not be enough for Winston to win the award against what looks to be a packed field of contenders in 2014. Marshall, on the other hand, will have the advantage of not being expected to repeat a record-setting season in order to win the Heisman.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats taken from CFBStats.com. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
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