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The Pac-12 has loads of star power returning this fall.
Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.
There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.
First, quarterbacks have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.
Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.
Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.
Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.
With this in mind, here are the Pac-12’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (11/2)
He is arguably the most gifted athlete in the country and he is running one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. Should he stay healthy, Oregon is also the front-runner to win the Pac-12 and play in the playoff. The talent, the numbers, the winning and championship coattails could all be in Mariota’s corner.
2. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (16/1)
One of my favorite bets, the UCLA quarterback is eyeing everything that Mariota is targeting. His numbers should be comparable and Hundley will have a chance at home to knock off the Ducks late in the year. If UCLA makes a run at the Playoff, Hundley could easily be in New York.
3. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State (66/1)
Not many players have thrown for at least 3,000 yards and rushed for at least 500 in the last two years but Kelly is one of them. He led ASU to the Pac-12 title game a year ago and another run at a league title — along with another 4,000-yard season — could get Kelly into the national discussion.
4. Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon (N/A)
The Ducks have five starters back along the offensive line and an offense that has churned out Heisman candidates at running back. Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 168 carries last fall. If he can get upwards of 250 touches, he could lead the nation in rushing for Oregon. His only concern might be that backup Thomas Tyner might actually be the better player.
5. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State (50/1)
The Beavers quarterback threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns last year, trailing only Derek Carr as the nation’s leading passer. If he can cut back on interceptions — he threw 12 in the last five games — and lead his team to a few more wins, Mannion should have the numbers to get to New York.
6. D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State (N/A)
Marion Grice scored 20 touchdowns last year so Foster could flourish in his expanded role as top running back. While he won’t be a true workhorse, Foster has shown he can be used all over the field. In his two-year career, Foster has rushed for 994 yards on 195 carries while posting 1,186 yards on 101 receptions. If he can get more than 200 touches, the Sun Devils' smallish star will be on national radars.
7. Buck Allen, RB, USC (N/A)
Javorius “Buck” Allen took control the starting tailback job at USC in the second half of last year and it has vaulted him into award conversations. Allen rushed for over 100 yards in four of the last six games and scored 12 times during that span. A full season workload could make Allen the top true workhorse back in the conference this year.
8. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC (N/A)
The first-team All-American is dynamic enough and versatile enough to get onto Heisman ballots. He scored twice on punt returns last fall while excelling as a No. 2 wideout for USC. Now, Agholor is the top target for an offense that will be much improved. He will get the ball in a lot of different ways and that could mean a monster season.
9. Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State (N/A)
The numbers will be there for the Mike Leach-coached quarterback. Halliday was third in the nation with 4,597 yards and 34 touchdowns last year while getting Washington State back into the postseason. Much like Mannion, a few more wins and a few less turnovers would do wonders for Halliday.
10. Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington (N/A)
Fans and experts all point to Myles Jack as the top defensive candidate to break through this fall but he isn’t expected to be used on offense this fall. Thompson, on the other hand, could see more than spot duty for the Huskies. He is a freak athlete, an All-American candidate and could be the next two-way star.
Others to consider: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State; Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford; Cody Kessler, QB, USC; Austin Hill, WR, Arizona; Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
Five defensive players who should but won’t be in the mix:
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA (33/1)
Jack made a huge name for himself last fall while playing two ways. Unfortunately, Jim Mora has talked openly about returning his star linebacker to an exclusively defensive role. Either way, he is a star athlete who will be a national award winner at some point.
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The first-team All-American cornerback consistently makes highlight-reel plays on defense. He has seven interceptions and seven forced fumbles in the last two seasons while making 147 total stops. He could be the most high-profile member of a Pac-12 championship defense.
Leonard Williams, DE, USC
The lanky defensive end is a projected top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and should he dominate the line of scrimmage once again — he has 26.0 TFL and 13.0 sacks in two seasons — he should be in line for national acclaim.
Su’a Cravens, S, USC
From a talent standpoint, few can match Cravens’ size and speed combination. He proved as a true freshman last year that he could be special, posting 53 tackles and four interceptions.