It’s back! It’s back! It’s FINALLY back! You can now exhale and celebrate because college football season has finally returned. A new season means new questions to answer. Can Florida State repeat? Can the playoff selection committee pick the best four teams without controversy? Who will win the Heisman in 2014? The first two I won’t touch. For that last one, though, I’m prepared to make my one and only “bold” preseason prediction.
This time last year I wrote that None of the Preseason 10 Favorites Will Win the Heisman. And I was correct. /humblebrag. This year I’m doubling down and making the same statement. Jameis Winston wasn’t on anyone’s radar last year just like Johnny Football the year before. RGIII, Cam Newton, Mark Ingram … All three went in without much Heisman hype before proving it on the field before hoisting the stiff arm trophy in New York City. This year will be more of the same.
For the record, I don’t have a prediction for who WILL win. I just don’t think it will be any of these guys.
Jameis Winston | 9/2
QB | Florida State
Winning the Heisman twice is damn near impossible as we’ve seen the last few years with Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel. It’s not that you should expect Winston to struggle this season. It’s just that the pressure and microscope of being a repeat Heisman trophy winner is so immense that every single mistake made will be overanalyzed and, ultimately, used against Winston – fair or not. Only a second straight undefeated season and numbers that blow last years out of the water will get Jameis his second Heisman. And even then there’s no guarantee.
Marcus Mariota | 5/1
QB | Oregon
Mariota put off entering the NFL Draft to return to Oregon and lead the Ducks again in 2014. While he certainly has the numbers and hype to be a contender, he’ll have to play out of his mind to convince voters in SEC country that he’s more than a system quarterback playing in a soft league. There’s also that whole late kickoffs on the West Coast thing that supposedly hurts Pac 12 players in getting national exposure as those on the other side of the country are in bed (or too drunk) and miss all the excitement. Whether you buy in to that notion or not, it seems to be a thing.
Brett Hundley | 10/1
QB | UCLA
Hundley has put up some big numbers in each of his first two seasons at the helm of the Bruins attack – back-to-back 3,000 yard passing seasons, over 1,000 rushing yards and 73 total TDs – to get him on this preseason list. And with plenty of preseason hype surrounding his team, Hundley will get plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills. Unfortunately, he’ll likely suffer the same fate as Mariota being from the Pac 12 – a conference that hasn’t won a Heisman since Reggie Bush in 2005. Hundley will have to dazzle in back-to-back late season matchups with USC and Stanford at the Rose Bowl to win over media members across the country … and even then the questions will arise (unfairly) if he has truly been tested.
Bryce Petty | 12/1
QB | Baylor
There’s no question in my mind that Petty will have the chance to put up the type of numbers that should get him an invite to New York. But the “basketball-on-grass” reputation of the Big XII won’t help win over voters as the strength of the defenses he’ll face will be a popular topic. RGIII’s ability to scramble and create highlight reels with the run were what put him over the top despite a handful of losses as the QB of the Bears. Petty’s team might have a better record and he might have better passing statistics than Griffin, but a lack of highlight reel Heisman moments will likely be what prevents him from winning.
Melvin Gordon | 12/1
RB | Wisconsin
Mark Ingram was the last running back to win the Heisman in 2009 and – if we’re being honest – Ingram took home the hardware basically by default. Preseason favorites Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow turned in a pair of disappointing performances in their respective conference championship games while Ingram toted three scores for the Crimson Tide in the final week of the season. Gordon is arguably the most electrifying back in the country this year and if he can maintain his ridiculous 7.8 YPC again this year he’ll be in the conversation. But running backs play against a stacked deck when it comes to the Heisman and unless Gordon carries the Badgers to a College Football Playoff berth, he’ll be nothing more than a spectator in New York.
Nick Marshall | 12/1
QB | Auburn
No one will deny that Marshall is an electrifying and elite weapon in Gus Mahlzahn’s offense for the Tigers, but is he a good enough quarterback to be considered the best player in the country? He can run, no question, and his passing is solid, but it’s unlikely that he’ll has the type of success this season that Winston, Manziel and Cam Newton have had the last few years. Marshall has tons of talent and will lead Auburn to some big wins, I’m sure. But he hasn’t seen a spotlight like he will this season before.
Todd Gurley | 14/1
RB | Georgia
The Bulldogs running back is a true specimen on the field and he arguably has more talent and NFL potential than any other back in the country. That said – as we established with Gordon – it’s extremely difficult for running backs in this era to take home the Heisman. Gurley would have to carry Georgia to an undefeated season while putting up some absurd statline, like 2,000+ yards and 20+ TDs to be a legit contender. It’s possible, sure. But so is Georgia going undefeated. Neither are likely to happen.
Trevor Knight | 18/1
QB | Oklahoma
Knight spent the better part of 2013 trying to prove to his coaches that he was the best quarterback in Norman. Now he’s got better odds than all but seven guys in college football to be the best player in the game? Please. His performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl helped him solidify his role as Bob Stoops signal caller but making the jump to Heisman winner is a bit too steep based on his entire body of work. A breakout year could land Knight a trip to New York and put him even higher on watch lists next year (assuming he comes back, of course) but don’t expect another Heisman to be making its wait to Norman this year.
Derrick Henry OR T.J. Yeldon | 20/1
RB | Alabama
Ah, yes. The obligatory Alabama running back(s). It doesn’t seem to matter who Nick Saban inserts into the starting lineup, whoever it is will rush for 1,000+ and be in the Heisman conversation. With the success the Tide has had the last few years, it should be expected. This year the carries will be distributed between Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon – two elite backs that do have Heisman potential. But there’s two of them. And they’re sharing carries. I know Ingram pulled it off while splitting carries with Trent Richardson, but the Alabama microscope in 2009 wasn’t as intense then as it is now – as surprising as that seems. Henry and Yeldon will essentially cancel each other out this season. There is bound to be multiple games where one outshines the other, which will change the debate from, “Is he the best player in the country?” to “Is he the best player in the Alabama backfield?”
Everett Golson | 20/1
QB | Notre Dame
Sure, Golson had a terrific season in 2012 when he helped lead the Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season and berth in the National Championship Game. But he hasn’t taken a game snap since getting drilled by Alabama in that game. It should be expected that he’ll be a little bit rusty to start the season. And while Notre Dame could be poised for a stellar season, Golson will have to have a truly elite season to erase the memories of that night against Alabama and be in contention – that is unless his team runs the table again, which seems unlikely.