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Heisman Watch: Ranking the Big Ten's Top Candidates for 2018

Wisconsin Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor

Wisconsin Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor

The Big Ten’s Heisman Trophy drought continues as the 2018 season begins, but the conference may have a few players capable of bringing that to an end. The Big Ten’s last Heisman Trophy winner was Troy Smith of Ohio State in 2006, now the conference’s longest drought since Archie Griffin’s second Heisman in 1975 and Desmond Howard winning the award in '91. Could this be the year the Big Ten has another Heisman Trophy winner?

Ohio State Buckeyes RB J.K. Dobbins

The conference will begin the season with a couple of young running backs more than capable of earning an invitation to New York City, and the conference also returns arguably one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. And don’t forget about two of the top defensive players in the country that will surely have some people trying real hard to make a case that this should be the year a defensive player receives serious consideration for the stiff-arm trophy at the end of the season.

Here is a look at 10 players from the Big Ten to keep on your Heisman Trophy radar, some more seriously than others.

10. Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern

Northwestern has never had a player win the Heisman Trophy, so saying Thorson is fighting an uphill battle against history is no exaggeration. The Wildcats also have some challenging games coming their way that may prevent Thorson from ever really establishing himself in the Heisman race. But if Thorson plays well and stays healthy and is able to lead Northwestern to a Big Ten West run, there should be some media folks chirping enough to create some slight buzz.

9. Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan

The last defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy was Charles Woodson of Michigan in 1997. Could Michigan’s Rashan Gary fittingly end that drought? Odds are probably not, but we have to at least discuss some of the best players in the country even if they happen to play defense. A total of 66 tackles and 12.0 tackles for a loss with six sacks last season prove slowing down Gary is a tough feat for opposing offensive linemen. That won’t change this season.

8. Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State

If we’re naming one of the top defensive players in the country from Michigan, by rule we must also mention one of the best defensive players form the country from Ohio State. Take your pick, really, because neither player is likely to receive enough consideration to be the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy since 1997. But Bosa (right) should be very tough to beat in the trenches, and that should get some stumping for his Heisman chances.

Ohio State Buckeyes DE Nick Bosa

7. LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State

Michigan State’s running back fell just off the edge of the Big Ten Heisman radar last year when we did this list, but this year he is deserving of a mention within the top 10. He will have to have a much stronger season in the box score after rushing for 898 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago, but if he can help power Michigan State to some key wins, he will have a chance to stay in the long-shot category for a Heisman run.

6. Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan

Perhaps a bit of a wild card factor in the Big Ten picture this fall, Patterson has the potential to quickly move up the radar. If the Ole Miss transfer is the fix that Michigan’s offense desperately needs, he will receive an instant Heisman push considering the uniform he wears. A road win at Notre Dame in the opener with good stats to go with it will be enough to fuel some early Heisman buzz.

5. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

A lot will be riding on Ohio State’s sophomore quarterback considering the expectations placed on the Buckeyes this fall. As a freshman, Haskins was impressive in relief of J.T. Barrett, completing 70.2 percent of his passes for 565 yards and four touchdowns. The skill is there to make Haskins a key player to watch, although if Ohio State is stringing together a path to a College Football Playoff berth, Haskins may be chasing his own teammate, running back J.K. Dobbins.

4. Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State

Michigan State has never had a player win the Heisman Trophy, and that drought may continue. However, if the Spartans manage to stay in the Big Ten title hunt this season, Lewerke may be a big reason why. He’ll need the stats to back up any Heisman campaign because his 20 touchdown passes and seven interceptions with a completion percentage of 59.0 from a year ago won’t quite cut it.

3. Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State

The Big Ten’s best quarterback has Bovada’s second-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy among Big Ten players (+1500), and he also has the best chance to rocket up the board early on this season. After losing key pieces on offense and working with a new offensive coordinator, McSorley (right) will be looked to keep things stable on offense for the Nittany Lions. If he leads Penn State to a win over Ohio State at the end of September, there may be little slowing him down until a road trip to Michigan in November.

Penn State Nittany Lions QB Trace McSorley

2. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

As a freshman, Dobbins (above, right) had a phenomenal season in 2017 with the Big Ten’s second-highest rushing total (1,403 yards) on just 194 carries. Dobbins is already firmly on the radar as a Heisman candidate as he is expected to remain a key ingredient in the Ohio State offense this fall. Early monster road tests against TCU and Penn State will allow Dobbins the opportunity to stand out as a leading candidate as Ohio State looks to get an early jump on its playoff resume.

1. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

The Big Ten’s leading rusher from a year ago looks to build on a wildly successful freshman season. Taylor was third in the nation in rushing with 141.21 yards per game, and that production is expected to remain steady. The latest Heisman odds have Taylor as the top Big Ten player on the board (+800).

Taylor will have some excellent opportunities to make his case for the Heisman with Wisconsin entering the season a Big Ten West favorite and a top contender to challenge Ohio State and the Badgers playing their toughest games on the road. If Wisconsin hits the 10-win mark, Taylor should be a favorite to receive an invite to New York City at the end of the season.

-- Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.