Heisman Watch: Ranking the Pac-12's Top Candidates for 2018

Bryce Love returns after finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting. Can he win it in 2018?

Arizona Wildcats QB Khalil TateThe Pac-12 has produced four Heisman Trophy winners in the 21st Century, with another eight finalists. That's an impressive lineage. And, with one of those players back in the fold for 2018, the Pac-12 looks poised to send another representative to New York City come December.

 

Bryce Love, the runner-up in 2017, sets the pace for the conference, but he has some contenders right behind him in the pursuit of college football's top individual honor. From breakout stars, to established veterans, and including some surprise names, the Pac-12's class of 2018 Heisman Trophy hopefuls is not lacking in options.

 

Top 10 Pac-12 Heisman Trophy Candidates for 2018

 

10. Tony Brooks-James, RB, Oregon

No two programs have had more impressive running back lineages over the past decade or so than Oregon and Alabama. With Royce Freeman gone from Oregon, handing every-down duties to Brooks-James, first-year Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal brings his background having helped pave the way for productive backs at Alabama as offensive line coach.

 

Brooks-James has a body type similar to that of former Duck and 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James, and a similar career yard per carry average at 6.9 to James' 6.6 (albeit in fewer carries). With a heavier workload, including a potential uptick in his proving capacity as a receiver, Brooks-James is an intriguing dark-horse candidate in 2018.

 

9. Tyler Huntley, QB, Utah

In the decade since Utah ran the table and stunned Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the Utes' most glaring and consistent issue has been quarterback. Brian Johnson's departure after the 2008 season began a string of misfortunes for Utah signal-callers, starting immediately with promising Jordan Wynn suffering a variety of injuries. The same was true for talented dual-threat successor, Travis Wilson.

 

Likewise, Huntley spent some time on the sideline in 2017, but the signs he could be a special playmaker were clear when he was healthy. Huntley rushed for 537 yards and completed better than 63 percent of his pass attempts. With a full season and a more consistent passing touch, Huntley could be positioned as the Pac-12's breakout star of 2018.

 

8. Stephen Carr, RB, USC

With record-setting running back Ronald Jones II hobbled for a spell last season, then-freshman Carr dazzled with increased opportunities. Carr finished 2017 with 363 yards rushing at a stout 5.6 per carry clip, and was a dangerous option in the passing game with 17 receptions before his own injury issues benched him.

 

Carr is coming off of back surgery this offseason, but he's bounced back with a strong start to fall camp. Joey Kaufman of the Orange County Register reports offensive Tee Martin compares Carr to recent Trojans standout Javorius "Buck" Allen.

 

7. N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Arizona State Sun Devils WR N'Keal HarryThere may not be a better wide receiver in all of college football than Harry. Boasting size, speed and a remarkable vertical leap he once used as a promising basketball player, Harry (right) is the closest comparison the current college landscape has to newly minted Pro Football Hall of Famer, Terrell Owens.

 

Wide receivers in general have difficulty garnering much Heisman buzz; wide receivers on also-ran teams are at an especially tough spot. Still, Harry's coming off a 2017 in which he caught 82 passes for 1,142 yards with eight touchdowns, and could be even more productive in 2018. Arizona State's last-place predicted finish in the Pac-12 South might also work to the Sun Devils', and thus Harry's benefit: Overachievement from that projected mark is gravy on top of a huge individual campaign.

 

6. Manny Wilkins, QB, Arizona State

For a receiver to post Heisman-caliber numbers, he needs a quarterback feeding him the rock. N'Keal Harry is a future high-round NFL draft pick and sure to put up monster statistics in 2018, but the man getting him the ball has quietly established himself as a force in his own right.

 

Wilkins has routinely been an afterthought in Arizona State's quarterback situation. But he silenced doubters and gained himself some attention in 2017, passing for almost 3,300 yards with 20 touchdowns and rushing for another seven scores. Wilkins' own story of overcoming long odds to make it in football, and his determination to give back to kids, also represent the off-field tenets the Heisman Trust touts for its award.

 

5. Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

One of the driving factors in Washington's place atop Pac-12 preseason projections is the return of Gaskin. Despite starting at running back for each of the past three seasons, Gaskin opted to come back for a fourth in pursuit of Washington's first national championship since 1991.

 

Gaskin rushed for more than 1,300 yards each of the previous three seasons. With even more impressive numbers this season, and if the Huskies are in the national championship race, the senior will have support for a Heisman candidacy.

 

4. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Herbert could be the No. 1 overall pick in next spring's NFL draft. Before then, he could join Marcus Mariota's as the school's only Heisman Trophy winners.

 

Herbert emerged as a positive storyline from Oregon's otherwise dismal 2016 season, and when not nursing a shoulder injury in '17, Herbert continued to impress. He's thrown 34 touchdown passes against just nine interceptions in his first two seasons -- neither of which was a full campaign manning the Oregon offense.

 

Should he stay healthy throughout 2018, and Oregon emerges as a contender to Stanford and Washington in the Pac-12 North, the same skills catching the attention of NFL scouts will wow Heisman voters.

 

3. Jake Browning, QB, Washington

Washington Huskies QB Jake BrowningThe veteran quarterback of a national championship-contending team is typically a safe bet to contend for the Heisman. That's exactly what Browning (right) is entering his fourth year as the leader of the Washington offense.

 

Browning was a solid Heisman contender in 2016 before a late-season shoulder injury hindered his output. He never quite regained the same form last year. However, with one more autumn to bolster his NFL draft stock and position Washington for the national championship chase, expect a return to production more comparable to Browning first half of his sophomore campaign.

 

2. Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona

College football produced as many storylines quite as exciting or as unexpected in an altogether wild 2017 as the emergence of Tate. Beginning the season as a backup, Tate (above, right) blazed onto the scene with a variety of dazzling rushes in a four-game Arizona winning streak.

 

Tate also showed off a cannon arm in the Wildcats' narrow, Foster Farms Bowl loss. With quarterbacks guru head coach Kevin Sumlin taking over in Tucson, Tate should flourish as a true dual-threat playmaker. And, if Arizona finds itself contending for the Pac-12 South title, Tate will factor into the Heisman race.

 

1. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Stanford coach David Shaw called Love "one of the most explosive running backs in the history of college football," qualifying his rhetoric with: "Because that's what [2017] was for Bryce."

 

Indeed, with at least one run of 30 yards in every game, Love did something no other ball carrier had in the sport's documented history. As a result Love rolled off 2,118 yards at a staggering 8.1 per carry clip -- and he did so with Stanford suffering through inconsistencies in the passing game.

With K.J. Costello coming on strong late last season, Love should have more support around him in 2018. That's a scary proposition for opposing defenses, and a winning formula for the Heisman.

 

-- Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Event Date: 
Thursday, August 2, 2018 - 13:28
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