Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.
There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.
First, quarterbacks have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.
Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.
Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.
Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.
With this in mind, here are the SEC’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):
1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (12/1)
He is the most gifted player at his position in the nation and it’s one that has Heisman pedigree. On just 202 touches due to injuries, the 230-pounder rolled up 1,430 yards from scrimmage and scored 16 times. When healthy, he is unstoppable.
2. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn (10/1)
He is a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense — a unit that should be even better and more balanced this year. He should blow past last year’s passing totals (1,976 yds, 14 TDs) and could easily match last year’s rushing production (1,068 yds, 12 TDs). And another run at an SEC title could put Marshall back in New York.
3. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama (18/1)
Alabama’s starting tailback has been in the Heisman conversation ever since Nick Saban arrived in 2007. Yeldon is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons and has scored at least 13 times in each of his first two years. Another big year could mean a berth in the College Football Playoff and a Heisman Trophy for Yeldon.
4. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina (28/1)
The situation around Davis is extremely conducive at a run for the Heisman. He plays for a top-15 team with marquee showdowns, has a shot at a playoff berth and his entire offensive line returns intact. If he can stay healthy, Davis — who posted six 100-yard games in his first seven last fall — could pace the SEC in rushing.
5. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (N/A)
He’s already been compared to Michael Jordan by his coach and to Adrian Peterson by his teammates. No pressure, young fella. Fournette is going to be great. The question is how quickly? And will the rest of his offense support him? The ground game will be electric in Baton Rouge but this unit needs balance to get the true freshman into the Heisman conversation.
6. Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss (N/A)
Who finished second to Johnny Manziel last year in the SEC in total offense? Not Aaron Murray, Nick Marshall, A.J. McCarron or Connor Shaw. No, Wallace’s 3,701 yards were well ahead of third place (and well behind Manziel). Now fully healthy and with a developing young corps of supporting players, Wallace is in store for a monster final season.
7. Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri (N/A)
The youngster is brimming with confidence and now has the keys to an offense known for producing big-time stars at quarterback. Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin have all run Gary Pinkel’s offense to perfection. Mauk is just the next and might be the best pure passer in the SEC.
8. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (40/1)
State is dying for a star at quarterback and Prescott could be the guy. He posted big numbers in the second half of the season, topping 300 yards of total offense in four of his last five games. With another year of seasoning, Prescott could become State’s first 3,000-yard passer.
9. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (25/1)
He’s a load to tackle and has all the ability in the world. As fans should expect from the nation’s most prolific high school running back in history. He got just 35 carries last fall but eight of them (and 100 yards) came in the Sugar Bowl win over Oklahoma. Look for a breakout campaign from Henry this fall even if he has to share carries with Yeldon.
10. LaQuon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss (N/A)
From a talent standpoint, few are as gifted as Treadwell. He has the size, speed, power and agility to be a star in the NFL. With his quarterback healthy and a move to his more natural outside position, Treadwell could blossom into one of the nation’s elite pass catchers.
Others to consider: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama; Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas; Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama; Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia; Jerron Seymour, RB, Vanderbilt
Five defensive players who should but won’t be in the mix:
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Not many players earn first-team preseason All-American honors as a true sophomore but that is what VH3 has done. He might be the nation’s top pure cover corner and should only build on his excellent first season in Gainesville.
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
He is a big-time playmaker on defense. But what could give him some national notoriety would be his contributions on offense. If Butch Jones (which is unlikely) decides to use him like Derek Dooley did in 2012 (6 rush TDs), Johnson would be a household name nationally in no time.
Landon Collins, S, Alabama
He is one of the most gifted tacklers in the nation. When Collins arrives at the ball, the entire country knows about it. The lone returning starter in the secondary could be the nation’s best safety. And he plays a position that has recently become a marquee spot with names like Mark Barron and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix excelling for the Tide.
Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
Fowler is a beast and can simply take over games but he will need to improve his consistency in order to get mentions for national awards. Physically, he is nearly impossible to stop and he should lead the Gators in sacks and plays made behind the line of scrimmage.
Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State
As a true freshman, Jones — who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds — made a much bigger impact than even his five-star status indicated. He posted 32 tackles, 7.0 for a loss, 3.0 sacks and constantly disrupted the opposing backfield. He is a sure-fire future NFL star.