Who is Jeremy Johnson?
We know he’s the next starting quarterback for the Auburn Tigers. He had an “outstanding spring” according to his head coach, Gus Malzahn. But most importantly he’s the next breakout star in college football.
Johnson enters his first season as a full-time starter with high expectations. In 2014, he threw for 858 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions on 57-of-78 passing in 11 appearances.
So what makes a guy with a small sample size a potential Heisman Trophy candidate? The right scheme and plenty of weapons.
Johnson is the perfect fit for Malzahn’s up-tempo offense. At 6-5, 240, he has a similar frame and skill set to former Auburn quarterback and Heisman winner Cam Newton, albeit somewhat less explosive yet more polished as a passer.
Newton’s Heisman-winning season in Malzahn’s scheme led the Tigers’ BCS championship run in 2010. Several odds makers are expecting the same from Johnson, who will also take over the offense as a junior.
It doesn’t hurt that he’ll have plenty of options. Auburn has one of the SEC’s most talented offenses even after the departures of leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne and receiver Sammie Coates.
D’haquille Williams enters the 2015 season as the NFL’s top wide receiver prospect, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper. Ricardo Louis told Al.com that he’s “more consistent” after dropping just four passes in 15 spring practices. The Tigers also signed a pair of four-star wide receivers in Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis.
Even with the loss of Artis-Payne, Auburn still has a talented tandem at running back. The Tigers will split carries between sophomore Roc Thomas and top JUCO transfer Jovon Robinson. Thomas entered as a four-star prospect but saw little action behind Artis-Payne and fellow senior Corey Grant.
Robinson is “an intriguing blend of power and quickness who possesses good natural instincts,” according to Al.com‘s Joel A. Erickson.
But the most underrated factor in Johnson’s Heisman chances may be the improvement of Auburn’s defense. In 2014, the Tigers were a bad defense — and several lapses — away from being a true contender in the SEC West. Instead, the team finished fourth behind Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
The addition of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator should propel Auburn. Muschamp has coached defenses ranked in the top 10 in FBS each year since 2009.
No Heisman candidacy is secure without a player leading a winning program. If Auburn becomes a national contender, Johnson’s odds improve.
The SEC also has a lack of star power at quarterback. Aside from Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, the conference doesn’t have a bonafide star at the position.
Like Johnson, players such as Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs and Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen are expected to have breakout seasons, but again, it’s based solely on potential and a small sample size. Whichever player emerges as the conference’s top quarterback also will have the backing of the SEC media, as well as a 24-hour television station pushing his candidacy.
Johnson could be a serious Heisman contender should he exceed lofty preseason expectations. He has the talent to excel in Auburn’s up-tempo offense and should be one of college football’s most exciting players in 2015.
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.