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, QBs 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 award.
Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated (Archie Griffin, 1974-75). 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 even 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).
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 top 25 candidates to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (11/2)
He is arguably the most gifted athlete in the country and he is running one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. Should he stay healthy, Oregon is also the front-runner to win the Pac-12 and play in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The talent, the numbers, the winning and championship could all be in Mariota’s corner.
2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (7/1)
The dual-threat signal-caller is a perfect fit for his offensive system and he is leading a team picked by many to win the Big Ten and land in the playoff. Add to it dynamic, highlight-reel plays and huge numbers and fans in Columbus have themselves a Heisman Trophy candidate under center. Staying healthy and winning the Big Ten are keys for Miller this fall if he wants to get to New York (which he should).
3. Jameis Winston, Florida State (4/1)
The only reason Winston wouldn’t be the front-runner is because he won the award last year. He is the most talented player on what should be the best team and will likely have the best numbers on a championship squad. He is competing with himself.
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor (12/1)
There is no question regarding the top Heisman candidate in the Big 12. The guy who scored 46 times and threw just three interceptions while winning his school’s first-ever Big 12 championship. Petty won’t have the same supporting cast this year but Art Briles' system is a proven commodity. If Petty can do something that’s never been done — Baylor winning at Oklahoma — then his numbers and team success will be enough to get him to New York.
5. Brett Hundley, UCLA (16/1)
One of my favorite bets on this list, the UCLA quarterback is eyeing everything that Mariota is targeting. His numbers should be comparable and the Bruins will have a chance at home to knock off the Ducks late in the year. If UCLA makes a run at the playoff, Hundley could easily be in New York.
6. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (20/1)
From a talent standpoint, few in the nation can match Gordon’s speed, power and explosiveness. And few players are in a better situation to make a run at the Heisman than the Wisconsin tailback. James White is gone, the offensive line is stacked and he plays for an offense predicated on handing the ball off.
7. Todd Gurley, 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.
8. Nick Marshall, 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). Add in another run at an SEC title and Marshall could wind up in New York by season's end.
9. T.J. Yeldon, 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 playoff and a Heisman Trophy for Yeldon.
10. Taysom Hill, BYU (--)
The BYU signal caller has an elite combination of size, power and athleticism that most quarterbacks only dream about. His ability to embarrass defenses with his feet is obvious — try 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground — but it’s his continued development as a passer that makes him a Heisman contender. He finished eighth in the nation with 4,282 yards of total offense — ahead of names like Winston, Boyd, Bridgewater and Bortles. With a schedule filled with solid but not overly taxing games, Hill will post monster numbers for a team with double-digit wins.
11. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma (16/1)
There were two Trevor Knights last year. The guy who played in the Sugar Bowl and the guy who played in every other game for Oklahoma. Knight has big-time, big-play ability and is leading the team who is clearly the front-runner to win the Big 12 and possibly land in the playoff. If he can stay healthy, he should post big numbers and win almost every game, making him an extremely viable Heisman candidate.
12. Mike Davis, 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.
13. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (33/1)
Gordon gets all of the headlines in the Big Ten but it was Abdullah who actually led the Big Ten in rushing (1,690). The Nebraska ball-carrier is a special talent who can catch passes, constantly gets critical yards and has proven capable of a heavy workload. The key for Abdullah is team success, as the Huskers need to make a run at the Big Ten title for the Big Red runner to get into the Heisman mix.
14. Duke Johnson, Miami (33/1)
From a talent standpoint, Johnson is the only other option in the ACC who can compete with Winston. He has elite-level breakaway speed and explosiveness. The biggest speed bump in The Duke’s Heisman campaign will be staying healthy. The smallish back has dealt with injuries but if he can stay on the field and post 250 touches, his numbers could be ridiculously good.
15. Everett Golson, Notre Dame (14/1)
Irish fans are happy to welcome back their starting quarterback after a one-year hiatus. Golson took major strides during his one year as the starter, not only leading Notre Dame to the national championship game, but also proving to be a dynamic playmaker along the way. He is a perfect fit in the Brian Kelly system, a scheme that allows for big statistics from the QB position. Big numbers and lots of marquee wins at Notre Dame generally means national acclaim.
16. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (66/1)
Not many players have thrown for at least 3,000 yards and rushed for at least 500 in the last two years but Kelly is one of them. He led ASU to the Pac-12 title game a year ago and another run at a league title — along with another 4,000-yard season — could get Kelly into the national discussion.
17. Byron Marshall, Oregon (--)
The Ducks have five starters back along the offensive line and an offense that has churned out Heisman candidates at running back. Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 168 carries last fall. If he can get upwards of 250 touches, he could lead the nation in rushing for Oregon. His only concern might be that backup Thomas Tyner is too good to keep off the field for very long.
18. Leonard Fournette, LSU (66/1)
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.
19. Cole Stoudt, Clemson (--)
The keys to one of the shiniest offenses in the nation have fallen in Stoudt’s lap and he deserves his opportunity. Stoudt has waited his turn behind Tajh Boyd and all signs point to him being more than capable of running Chad Morris’ attack. He’s all about tempo and is a solid fit for an offense that consistently posts huge statistics. An early upset over Georgia or Florida State is almost a must, however, to get into the mix.
20. Karlos Williams, Florida State (33/1)
By default, the starting tailback at Florida State should be a high-profile, highly productive position. And Williams has all the raw physical tools to become a star on the national level. He averaged over eight yards per carry and scored 11 times while splitting time with two other guys — both of whom have moved on. With a full workload, Williams could post Doak Walker Award-worthy numbers.
21. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (--)
There aren’t too many players with as many physical skills as Hackenberg. He is a sure-fire, first-round, NFL Draft pick in two springs, as he set 11 school records as a true freshman last year. The offensive line and overall depth is a major concern and keeps him from being mentioned alongside names like Hundley, Petty and Miller, but Hackenberg is just as talented. Look for the PSU QB to continue to grow with no limits on his upside.
22. Connor Cook, Michigan State (33/1)
Michigan State entered last fall with questions under center. By the time the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl were over, they had a star at quarterback. Cook posted back-to-back 300-yard games (setting career highs) in wins over Ohio State and Stanford. Look for more development from the underrated athlete in his second season as the starter.
23. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State (--)
In 2012, Keeton was exceptional by throwing for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns with only nine picks while also rushing for 619 yards and eight touchdowns. The Aggies were 11-2. Last year, Keeton accounted for 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions with 1,629 yards of total offense in just six games before getting hurt for the season. Utah State has some marquee games at Tennessee, BYU and Boise State.
24. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (50/1)
The Beavers quarterback threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns last year, trailing only Derek Carr as the nation’s leading passer. If he can cut back on interceptions — he threw 12 in the last five games — and lead his team to a few more wins, Mannion should have the numbers to get to New York.
25. Rakeem Cato, Marshall (66/1)
Marshall could go undefeated and Cato should be able replicate his monster season from a year ago (4,210 yards of total offense and 45 total TDs). Should those two things happen, the Herd is likely to be ranked in the top 15 so the star QB (See: Blake Bortles) has a chance to get into the national conversation.