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Heisman Watch: Ranking the Big Ten's Top Candidates for 2020

Heisman Watch: Ranking the Big Ten's Top Candidates for 2020

Heisman Watch: Ranking the Big Ten's Top Candidates for 2020

Ohio State is the home to the most recent Heisman Trophy winner from a Big Ten school. It just so happens the Buckeyes could be the team most likely to bring an end to the conference's Heisman drought in 2020. Troy Smith posed with the most iconic award in college football back in 2006. Now, a decade and a half later, Justin Fields has the best shot the Big Ten has to offer to win the Heisman Trophy.

The 2020 season is going to be a strange one, of course, with notable players around the country choosing to opt out of the upcoming season amid concerns related to the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. That could lead to some intrigue in the Heisman race or allow it to be whittled down fairly quickly. The Big Ten has already seen three of its best players opt out, with Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, and Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore each choosing to forgo playing this fall and focus on their NFL futures. So who else from the conference can attempt to make a Heisman Trophy argument this modified season?

2020 Heisman Watch by Power 5 Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

Here are 10 players worth watching in the Big Ten this fall.

10. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State

Tight ends don't typically make much noise in the Heisman Trophy conversation, even when they are as good as Freiermuth. Freiermuth may be one of the best tight ends in the nation, but even he would be up against the odds to win the Heisman. He's worth paying attention to just because he might be Penn State's leading receiver.

9. Wan'Dale Robinson, WR, Nebraska

With Rondale Moore opting out, Robinson could assume the mantle of the Big Ten's most dangerous playmaker. Already expected to become the Cornhuskers' No. 1 target in the passing game, Robinson was the team's third-leading rusher as a true freshman last season and, like Moore, he's dangerous as a kick returner too.

8. Nakia Watson, RB, Wisconsin

It almost feels like it is a federal law to mention a running back form Wisconsin. While Jonathan Taylor is no longer a mainstay in Madison, and there may be no clear favorite to be the next true featured back, we may as well include last year's second-leading rusher. That would be Watson, who has room to improve.

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7. Paddy Fisher, LB, Northwestern

Look, if you are going to put a defensive player on the Heisman watch in the Big Ten, it has to be a linebacker. And with Micah Parsons opting out for the 2020 season, Fisher is the best linebacker available. He's also Northwestern's defensive leader.

6. Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State

It will not be easy to replace J.K. Dobbins, but Sermon ran for 947 yards and 13 touchdowns two seasons ago for Oklahoma. The graduate transfer comes to Columbus averaging 6.1 yards per carry in his career and he could see a heavy workload right away, with Master Teague III (second on Buckeyes with 789 rushing yards) recovering from an Achilles injury.

5. Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska

Is this the year Nebraska takes a fun step or two forward under head coach Scott Frost? That remains to be seen. But if the Huskers are fun to watch this season, Martinez will likely be a big reason why. Martinez will need to be more consistent at times if he and Nebraska are to take the next step toward a winning season.

4. Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State

Penn State may be led by its running game and have question marks at receiver, but Clifford's confidence level should be on the rise after a solid full year as the starter. That experience could lead to some big things for the Penn State offense, and if Clifford can lead Penn State to some big wins over Michigan and Ohio State, he could start building some momentum.

3. Journey Brown, RB, Penn State

Brown had a breakout season last year for the Nittany Lions, emerging as the go-to running back for Penn State and putting on a masterful performance in the Cotton Bowl. He will once again be a key player for Penn State, but he'll need more yardage to stay in the running with the Heisman conversation. Could he be the next in a line of great Happy Valley running backs after Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders?

2. Tanner Morgan, QB, Minnesota

Morgan is coming off a program record-setting season with 30 touchdowns and 3,253 passing yards, but he will have to find a way to mimic that kind of output without two NFL-caliber wide receivers this fall. His accuracy and efficiency may fly under the radar a bit, but Morgan is among the best quarterback prospects in the country.

1. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

The Buckeyes' starting quarterback is the easy favorite for the Heisman Trophy from the Big Ten, and he is entering the 2020 season widely considered among the choice favorites for the award this fall, in the same category as Clemson's Trevor Lawrence. Fields passed for 41 touchdowns and was intercepted just three times last fall, finishing third in the Heisman voting behind Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts. Another year like that, while guiding the Buckeyes in the national title hunt, should at minimum secure him a return trip to New York.

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, and Like him on Facebook.