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The Big Ten's Top 15 Heisman Candidates for 2015

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott

We go through this exercise every year. "Who will be the face of the college football season?," we ask ourselves. Recently, names like Mariota, Manziel and Winston have answered that question, putting their own personal stamps on an entire season and making it their own en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.

Every Power 5 conference is filled with players who could potentially do the same. The Big Ten offers arguably the most diverse group of Heisman candidates from a position standpoint. It's been a quarterback's award as of late, but there are plenty of running backs, receivers, all-purpose players and yes — even some defenders — who could make enough noise to get an invite to New York City at the end of the year.

Here now are the top 15 Heisman candidates in the Big Ten for 2015 (with current Bovada odds):

1. Ohio State Quarterback

It doesn't matter if J.T. Barrett (12/1) or Cardale Jones (16/1) wins the starting the job — whoever goes under center for the Buckeyes is going to be in the driver's seat. Based on the entire production at the position from a season ago and given all the skill position talent that returns, you can expect the guy who wins the job to approach 3,700 passing yards, 40 touchdown passes and flirt with 1,000 yards on the ground. Combine that with leading what should be the nation's top team for most of the season and it's almost a lock for the starter to be a Heisman finalist.

2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (7/1)

If anyone in the conference can upstage Ohio State's quarterback, it's the guy playing right behind him. Elliott exploded onto the national scene with his video game-like postseason numbers — kicking off a 2015 Heisman campaign nearly eight months before the season started. As previously mentioned, quarterbacks have had the upper hand in Heisman races lately, but a season filled with performances like the ones he turned in during the College Football Playoff would almost certainly put him in the pole position.

3. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin (50/1)

The Wisconsin offense is built for its running backs to post big numbers. Clement nearly eclipsed the 1,000 yard-mark a season ago while playing second fiddle to Melvin Gordon. The spotlight and the bulk of the touches will now all belong to Clement, who will be out to prove that Elliott isn't the premier back in the conference.

4. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State (25/1)

Cook will have a chance early to establish himself as a front-runner. A big performance (and a win) over Oregon will shoot him to the top of the national conversation and set him up to stay there until his Spartans travel to Columbus in late November. He'll get extra credit for a big season, given the fact that he lost the majority of his primary weapons from 2014.

5. Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State

Marshall is going to step into a role for the Buckeyes that will be conducive to creating plenty of "Heisman moments." Not only is he likely to replace Devin Smith as the primary deep threat for the Buckeyes, but Marshall also will have the benefit of returning what will likely be a high number of punts by opposing teams — thanks to Ohio State's elite defense. A couple of big touchdown catches here and there combined with a handful of trips to the end zone on special teams could be enough to catapult Marshall to the top of the race — much like it did for Desmond Howard years ago.

6. De'Mornay Pierson-El, WR, Nebraska

Speaking of returning punts, Pierson-El might do it better than anyone in the country. He's projected to play a larger role in Nebraska's offense in 2015, even though he scored from three different positions last season. With a few more carries and the ability to score from anywhere, the former high school quarterback might score four different ways this fall, which would make him hard to ignore in the Heisman race.

7. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

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Hackenberg will enter the season as one of a handful of surefire NFL prospects in college football. The fact that he plays quarterback makes him a serious contender to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He'll have a lot of eyes on him all year. If he can excel with those eyes on him and play well enough to get Penn State into the No. 2 spot in the Big Ten East, that may be enough for him to take home some hardware.

8. R.J. Shelton, WR, Michigan State

Using the same formula as Pierson-El and Marshall, Shelton will likely shine on special teams for the Spartans as well as provide Cook with a much-needed, big-play weapon. If he can evolve into the primary threat and play a major role in a win over Ohio State, he'll be tough not to talk about.

9. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

Sure, he's a defensive player, but he's also going to be in the conversation as the best player in the country. He'll be the leader of a defense loaded with stars. If he can turn in enough performances to make himself the face of the 2015 Buckeyes, it'll be impossible not to invite him to the trophy presentation.

10. Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana

Howard, a transfer from UAB, replaces one of the best running backs in the nation in Tevin Coleman. If he can post another 1,500-yard season and help get the Hoosiers bowl-eligible, he'll deserve consideration.

11. Jabril Peppers, S, Michigan

All signs point to Peppers looking the part of the highly touted recruited he was a couple of years ago. Solid play at safety, success on special teams and a highlight-reel play or two on offense could put him on the Heisman radar.

12. Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois

The "do-it-all" back is going to again be the focal point of the Illini offensive attack. If he can carry his team into the conversation for the Big Ten West title, he'll deserve some attention from voters.

13. Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers

It's tough for a pure receiver to win the Heisman. In fact, it's only ever been done twice and both previous winners were significant contributors on special teams. Be that as it may, Carroo is probably the most talented wideout in the conference. He's a long shot, but one worth mentioning.

14. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State

He's going to do much more than just line up at receiver. That said, Miller will need to maximize his production in limited touches. The Buckeye offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions. Miller's position change adds to that talent, but does not guarantee that he'll be the focal point of any offensive package.

15. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska

It wouldn't be the first time in recent memory that a Nebraska defensive tackle generated Heisman buzz. Collins plays with the same level of intensity and violence as Ndamukong Suh once did for the Huskers. He's going to jump off the TV screen this season. How much attention it will get him remains to be seen.

Others to watch: DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State, Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana, Tommy Armstrong, QB, Nebraska, Mitch Leidner, QB, Minnesota, Jalen Myrick, CB/KR, Minnesota

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.