Top 10 Group of Five Heisman Candidates for 2016

It's been 26 years since someone from outside of one of the current Power 5 conferences has won the Heisman

Winning the Heisman Trophy isn't easy. So many things need to go right and fall into place. Preseason hype, team record, national exposure, highlights and actual on-field production all come into play.

 

There’s also another factor to consider: conference affiliation. Along those lines, winning the Heisman while playing outside of the Power Five conferences has become nearly impossible as of late. Not since Houston's Andre Ware and BYU's Ty Detmer won it in back-to-back years in 1989 and '90 respectively has a player from one of the current Group of Five conferences (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt) won the award.

 

2016 Heisman Trophy Candidates by Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC I Group of Five

 

Regardless of that fact, these 10 players from the Group of Five have the talent to put up the numbers, make highlight-reel plays and gain the national attention necessary to win college football's most prestigious individual award.

 

Top 10 Group of Five Heisman Candidates for 2016

 

10. Matt Breida, RB, Georgia Southern

Few teams love to run the ball as often as Georgia Southern does, and Breida is going to get the bulk of those carries. In 2015, he made the most of his touches, toting the rock 203 times for 1,608 yards (7.9 ypc, No. 2 in the nation) and 17 touchdowns.

 

9. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

Davis is likely the next NFL star to come out of the MAC, but Sundays will have to wait. His Broncos are the favorites to win the MAC in 2016, and his presence is a big reason why. In 2015, the big (6-3, 205) wideout hauled in 90 passes for 1,436 yards and 12 scores.

 

8. Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss

Few signal-callers aired it out in 2015 like Mullens did. The Senior led the Golden Eagles to a nine-win regular season on the back of completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 4,476 yards, 38 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. If he can match that pace for the first half of 2016, he'll be getting serious Heisman consideration by midseason.

 

7. Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee

The Blue Raiders are expected to be one of the more dangerous Group of Five teams in the country, and Stockstill is a big reason why. As a freshman in 2015, he completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 4,005 yards, 30 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.

 

6. Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida

Flowers is quite simply one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. In 2015, he completed nearly 60 percent of his throws for 2,296 yards, 22 scores and only eight interceptions. He also ran for 991 yards and 12 touchdowns.

 

5. Duke Catalon, RB, Houston

There are no stats or solid production back up Catalon sitting this high on the list. What we do have, however, are highlights that show the Texas transfer hitting his top speed the second he touches the ball. The thought of his talent plugged into Houston's offense is scary. Even more frightening is the fact that his head coach, Tom Herman — always known to be a straight shooter — has mentioned him in the same breath as Ezekiel Elliott.

 

4. Donnell Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State

Pumphrey returned for his senior season to cap off one of the better careers a college running back has ever had. In three seasons at San Diego State so far, he has piled up 4,272 yards  and 45 touchdowns on the ground. He also has tallied 810 receiving yards. If the Aztecs are in the hunt for the Mountain West title like many expect them to be, Pumphrey will be in the Heisman conversation all season.

 

3. Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State

The Broncos should once again be the cream of the crop of the Group of Five. They'll have plenty of national exposure, and when people tune in to their games, they'll see an NFL-ready passer slinging the ball with precision all over the blue turf. As a freshman in 2015, Rypien threw for 3,353 yards and 20 scores. With the talent Boise State returns on the offensive side of the ball, it's not crazy to think he could improve those numbers by 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016.

 

2. Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State

The primary beneficiary of Rypien's increased production would likely be McNichols. As a sophomore in 2015, the Bronco running back piled up 1,337 yard (5.6 ypc) and 20 touchdowns on the ground and 460 yards and six touchdowns through the air. He is as complete a back as there in college football. Between the talent of his signal-caller, his offensive line, Boise State's scheme and schedule, McNichols has the potential to put up one of the greatest all-purpose production seasons we've ever seen.

 

1. Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston

The Houston Cougars seem to be the sexy dark horse pick to crash the College Football Playoff this season. If that is to be the case, it will be because Ward repeated and likely improved upon his outstanding 2015 numbers. The Tyler, Texas, native completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,828 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. It was on the ground, however, where he set himself apart. Ward ran for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns. Duke Catalon's presence will force defenses to respect the Houston running game even more than they did last season, likely opening up the secondary for Ward to do more damage through the air. If Ward can eclipse the 3,000-yard mark through the air and repeat his 1,000-yard performance on the ground, he should be a lock for an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

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