With all due respect to Johnny Football, Jameis Winston had the best debut season in college football history. Johnny Manziel’s Heisman-winning season in 2013 was special — he obliterated the SEC’s all-time single-season total offense record.
But it wasn’t as special as Winston was a year ago. He set NCAA passing records, never lost a game, won the final BCS National Championship in dramatic fashion and claimed the Heisman Trophy. He proved once again that it is nearly impossible to repeat as the Heisman winner.
Matt Leinart couldn’t do it. Neither could Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram, the great Tim Tebow or the electric Manziel. So even though Florida State returns to a conference apt for the taking loaded with an elite collection of five-star athletes, Winston still shouldn’t be considered the favorite if only because he won the award last season.
Coming out of nowhere has almost become a requirement to win the Heisman. Captivating the nation has to be on the resume (SEE Manziel) and Winston has already done that.
So while he is still obviously a top contender to win the award, someone else is all but certain to take home the coveted bronze statue in 2014. As spring football gets started across the nation here is our position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Heisman Trophy race.
A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy four years in a row and 12 of the last 13. Dating back to Andre Ware in 1989, a signal-caller has won the stiff-armed trophy 17 times in 23 years. This award has become a quarterback’s award and with the way offenses have evolved, the super quarterback — Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, for example — has become nearly impossible to stop when it comes to the Heisman. And the first year of the college football playoff shouldn’t be any different as the top handful of Heisman contenders in 2014 should be quarterbacks.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon (Jr.)
'13 Stats: 3,665 yds, 31 TDs, 4 INTs, 63.5%, 715 yds, 9 TDs
A sprained knee kept Mariota from finishing what was turning into one of the greatest single seasons ever by a Pac-12 quarterback. Over the first eight games, Mariota posted 511 of his 715 yards rushing and all nine rushing touchdowns. Poor games against Stanford and Arizona cost Oregon the Pac-12 title and Mariota a trip to New York after his knee injury. When healthy, the Ducks' signal-caller is one of the most naturally gifted players in the nation and he orchestrates one of the most explosive offenses in the country. He is 23-3 overall in two seasons under center and is poised for a run at the Heisman and first College Football Playoff National Championship.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State (Sr.)
’13 Stats: 2,094 yds, 24 TDs, 7 INTs, 63.5%, 1,068 yds, 12 TDs
From an electricity standpoint, few players in the nation can match Miller’s dual-threat talents. His first step is explosive and his ability to pick up big chunks of yards on the ground is unprecedented in Columbus. He posted his second consecutive 1,000-yard season on the ground and second consecutive unbeaten regular season in 2013 while showing marked improvement as a passer. Should Ohio State make a run at one of the playoff spots, as expected, then Miller should find himself in New York at season’s end.
Brett Hundley, UCLA (Jr.)
’13 Stats: 3,071 yds, 24 TDs, 9 INTs, 66.8%, 748 yds, 11 TDs
After two stellar years under center, the Bruins enter 2014 as the potential frontrunner in the Pac-12 South due in large part to Hundley. He has nearly 8,000 yards of total offense and 73 touchdowns in his first two seasons so expectations are through the roof for this fall. The only real question mark surrounding Hundley is the talent around him as his 2012 supporting cast was likely the best he’s had.
Bryce Petty, Baylor (Sr.)
’13 Stats: 4,200 yds, 32 TDs, 3 INTs, 62.0%, 209 yds, 14 TDs
The level of efficiency Petty exhibited in Waco this past season was astounding. He accounted for 46 total touchdowns (32 pass, 14 rush) while only throwing three interceptions and finishing second nationally to only Jameis Winston in passing efficiency (174.29). Petty led his team to its first-ever Big 12 championship, BCS bowl and 11-win season in one fell swoop. His omission from New York last season was laughable and that won’t happen again in 2014 should he return Baylor to the top of the Big 12 mountain.
Jameis Winston, Florida State (So.)
’13 Stats: 4,057 yds, 40 TDs, 10 INTs, 66.9%, 219 yds, 4 TDs
The reigning Heisman winner gets the nod based solely on his accomplishments in 2013. He is one of just four Heisman winners to cap his stiff-armed season with a win in the BCS title game and is one of just six players in college football history to go unbeaten, win the Heisman and claim the national championship. He set an NCAA record for freshmen with 40 touchdown passes and was the nation’s No. 1-rated passer (184.85). The odds of him winning the award for a second straight season are stacked convincingly against him, however, Florida State will likely be the preseason No. 1 team and again faces a weak ACC schedule.
Other QBs to Watch: Taylor Kelly, Arizona State; Nick Marshall, Auburn; Taysom Hill, BYU; Keenan Reynolds, Navy; Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
From 1950 to 1983, a ball carrier won the Heisman Trophy 26 times. This included a stretch from Johnny Rodgers in 1972 to Mike Rozier in '83 where a running back won the Heisman 12 consecutive times. Since Bo Jackson won the award in 1985, however, only five running backs have won the most prestigious award in sports. Rashaan Salaam, Eddie George, Ricky Williams, Ron Dayne and Mark Ingram — the only non-QBs to win the Heisman since 1999 — are the only backs to be awarded the stiff-armed trophy. The ’14 class of backs isn’t as deep as the group that produced three top-10 vote-getters a year ago (Andre Williams, Tre Mason, Ka’Deem Carey) but there are still plenty of talented Heisman options at this position.
Todd Gurley, Georgia (Jr.)
’13 Stats: 165 att., 989 yds, 10 TDs, 37 rec., 441 yds, 6 TDs
The most talented running back in the nation is back as the focal point of an offense known for churning out great ball carriers. The 230-pounder averaged 6.0 yards per carry on just 165 attempts last year, missing big chunks of time due to injury. When healthy, however, no one in the nation is more physically gifted than the Dawgs' tailback. Despite missing three full games, he finished with 1,430 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns on 202 offensive touches. Imagine what he could do with, say, 375 touches — a number that led the nation last year (Ka’Deem Carey).
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (Jr.)
’13 Stats: 206 att., 1,609 yds, 12 TDs, 1 rec., 10 yds
Gordon averaged an absurd 7.8 yards per carry on 206 attempts and scored 12 times while sharing the ball with senior James White. With White now out of the picture and quarterback Joel Stave entering his third season as the starter, the explosive and powerful Gordon could be in for a monster season. At a school with names like Dayne, Bennett, Calhoun, Moss, Hill, Clay and Ball, it’s Gordon who might be the most physically gifted of the bunch and, as usual, he will be running behind one of the most talented and experienced offensive lines in the nation.
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (Jr.)
’13 Stats: 207 att., 1,235 yds, 14 TDs, 20 rec., 183 yds
With AJ McCarron gone, Nick Saban will turn to Yeldon and rising sophomore Derrick Henry to carry the workload in Tuscaloosa this fall. The offensive line will be excellent despite losing a couple starters and Yeldon enters his junior season after back-to-back seasons with at least 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. With just 382 carries in his first two seasons, Yeldon still has plenty of tread left on the tires and should be even more of a featured weapon on offense with McCarron off to the NFL.
Mike Davis, South Carolina (Jr.)
’13 Stats: 203 att., 1,183 yds, 11 TDs, 34 rec., 352 yds
Another SEC super sophomore, Davis was the best back in the league over the first few months of the season. Injuries and scheduling eventually slowed Davis, but the Gamecocks' workhorse finished with an impressive 1,535 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. With Connor Shaw gone, one has to think that a healthy Davis becomes the focal point of Steve Spurrier’s offense — especially one that returns all five starters along the offensive line.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (Sr.)
’13 Stats: 281 att., 1,690 yds, 9 TDs, 26 rec., 232 yds, 2 TDs
Quickly, name the Big Ten’s leading rusher? It was Abdullah and he did it with little support from the passing game for most of the year. He posted 11 100-yard efforts in 13 games while also playing a big role as a receiver. The explosive back is one of the hardest workers in college football and will once again be the focal point of the Nebraska offense in 2014. A few more trips to paydirt this fall could get him into Heisman conversations fairly easily.
Other RBs to Watch: Duke Johnson, Miami; Jeremy Langford, Michigan State; Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State; Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, Oregon; D.J. Foster, Arizona State; Alex Collins, Arkansas
There are a lot of great wide receivers leaving college football. Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews, Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee, Mike Evans, Jeremy Gallon, Kelvin Benjamin and more departed for the NFL this year. But here is the thing about the Heisman Trophy and wide receivers: They don’t win it. Tim Brown (1987) and Desmond Howard ('91) are the only true wideouts to ever win the award and, during the BCS Era, only four players even finished in the top five of Heisman voting. Larry Fitzgerald (2nd, 2003), Marqise Lee (4th, '12), Michael Crabtree (5th, '008) and Justin Blackmon (5th, '10). Needless to say, it’s a long shot for a wideout to win the stiff-armed trophy.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri (Jr.)
’13 Stats: 59 rec., 883 yds, 12 TDs
A physical specimen, DGB will be one of the nation’s best — if he can stay on the field. Off the field issues have gotten him into trouble of late but he is a first-round pick waiting to happen on the field. In a Gary Pinkel offense with Maty Mauk throwing passes, the sky is the limit for what should be Green-Beckham’s final year in college.
Nelson Agholor, USC (Jr.)
’13 Stats: 56 rec., 918 yds, 6 TD, 2 punt return TDs
A do-everything dynamo for USC, Agholor proved a year ago that he could be the go-to target when Marqise Lee was injured. The Florida native has all the moves to produce like Lee and Robert Woods did before him. He is one of the top return men in the nation already and with a developing passing game, Agholor should be one of the nation’s best receivers.
Stefon Diggs, Maryland (Jr.)
’13 Stats: 34 rec., 587 yds, 3 TDs
Cut from the same mold as Agholor, Diggs does a bit of everything for Randy Edsall and Maryland. His breakout sophomore season was cut short to only seven games due to a foot injury but all signs point to his triumphant return this summer. Should he stay healthy, Diggs might be the top playmaker in the nation regardless of position.
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss (So.)
’13 Stats: 72 rec., 608 yds, 5 TDs
As just a true freshman, Treadwell showed the SEC why he was considered as the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the nation. He has a veteran QB returning in Bo Wallace and an offensive system that ran more plays in 2013 than any other offense in the league. With Donte Moncrief gone, Treadwell could easily become the top target in the SEC.
Jaelen Strong, Arizona State (Jr.)
’13 Stats: 75 rec., 1,122 yds, 7 TDs
With Taylor Kelly returning, Strong figures to have another monster season in the desert. In just his first year, Strong proved to be a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. He is more of a prototypical wideout and his overall production could make him an All-American in ’14.
Other WRs to Watch: Rashad Greene, Florida State; Tyler Boyd, Pitt; Antwan Goodley, Baylor; Amari Cooper, Alabama; Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
The Defensive Stars:
Defensive players don’t win the Heisman. It’s a travesty but it’s the truth. Charles Woodson is really the only true defensive player to win the award and he excelled on special teams. But is that trend changing? From 1998 to 2008, not one defensive player finished in the Heisman top five and only nine players even cracked the top 10 and even those were future NFL Hall of Famers like Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney and Champ Bailey. A.J. Hawk (6th, 2005) was the highest vote-getting defensive player until Ndamukong Suh came along and finished fourth in 2009. Since then, three more players have finished in the top six, including a second-place finish for Manti Te’o in ’12 (table below). Three of the last five years has featured a defensive player as a finalist in New York and there is tons of talent left in college for that trend to continue in ’14.
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA (So.)
Played both ways as a freshman, possesses rare and unique physical talents.
Landon Collins, S, Alabama (Sr.)
Heavy-hitting safety may have to become the QB of the defense for Nick Saban.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon (Sr.)
All-purpose dynamo and a two-time, first-team All-Pac-12 honoree.
Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State (Jr.)
Monster defensive end on Big Ten champs. Will get a lot of attention from O-lines.
Dante Fowler, DE/LB, Florida (Jr.)
Beast of an edge player who could have a huge season in opposing backfield.
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State (So.)
Heady true sophomore started every game for BCS champs as a true freshman.
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee (Sr.)
Used on offense two years ago and will need to go both ways to get into the mix.
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington (Jr.)
Five-star safety turned LB has topped 70 tackles in each of first two seasons.
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU (So.)
After missing all but three games a year ago, Fields should be back to form in ’14.
A'Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama (So.)
Led the Tide in sacks a year ago as a true freshman.
Just for fun, here are the 14 defensive players who finished in the top 10 of Heisman balloting during the BCS Era: