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Which Schools Can End Their Heisman Droughts?


Note to the uninitiated: Charles Woodson is not a good name to drop around Knoxville.

In 1997, the Michigan defensive back beat out Peyton Manning for the Heisman Trophy, one of the greatest Heisman heists if you ask anyone in SEC country.

Tennessee had Heisman runners up before (four of them total) and had been closer in the voting (Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung beat out Johnny Majors by 72 points in 1956). But Peyton is Peyton, and Tennessee fans will have trouble forgetting Wooden’s Heisman win.

The Volunteers haven’t produced a Heisman contender since Manning's bid in 1997. Since Yale’s Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy in 1935, no team has won more games without winning the Heisman than Tennessee.

Unless Butch Jones pulls a miracle in Year Two, the wait for a Heisman in Knoxville will stretch on. A handful of other schools, though, could have a chance to end their Heisman futility in the short term.

1. Oregon
Post-Berwanger wins:
383 (ranks 23rd among teams without a Heisman)
Closest calls: LaMichael James (third in 2010, 10th in 2011), Dennis Dixon (seventh in 2007), Joey Harrington (fourth in 2001)
Hope for 2014: Marcus Mariota
The Ducks have come a long way from the team that put a billboard in New York advertising Joey Harrington for the Heisman. Their contenders stand on their own merits as Oregon has become a national title contender in the last decade. Both Mariota in 2013 and Dixon in 2007 suffered injuries that derailed their Heisman hopes. Otherwise, the palatial football facility in Eugene might have a Heisman in the trophy case. Mariota has all the name recognition and team around him to make another bid for the award in 2014.

2. Arizona State
Post-Berwanger wins:
516 (fourth)
Closest calls: Jake Plummer (third in 1996)
Hope for 2014: Taylor Kelly
Taylor Kelly may be one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, in part because of the shadow of Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley in his own league. That said, Kelly was the Pac-12’s second-team all-conference quarterback last season, ahead of Hundley. Kelly will have a chance to finish third on Arizona State’s all-time passing list, passing Plummer, but Kelly may have to defeat UCLA and Hundley head-to-head for the Pac-12 South to be a realistic Heisman contender.

3. Missouri
Post-Berwanger wins:
458 (18th)
Closest calls: Chase Daniel (fourth in 2007), Paul Christman (third in 1939)
Hope for 2014: Maty Mauk
Missouri has some of the best conditions to win a Heisman in the current landscape: The Tigers run a spread offense, consistently produce above-average quarterback play and — as they proved last year — can contend in the SEC. Though he hasn’t started a full season, Mauk may provide the highlight reel to be a potential contender in 2014 and beyond.

4. Michigan State
Post-Berwanger wins:
479 (14th)
Closest calls: Lorenzo White (fourth in 1985 and 1987), Sherman Lewis (third in 1963)
Hope for 2014: Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford, Shilique Calhoun
A quarterback in Michigan State's system is not anyone’s idea of a Heisman contender — not even Kirk Cousins — so this may rest on the shoulders of Jeremy Langford for now. Only two running backs since 1999 have won the Heisman (Alabama’s Mark Ingram and USC's Reggie Bush), so even a workhorse like Langford might be a tough sell for voters enamored with productive quarterbacks.

5. Ole Miss
Post-Berwanger wins:
496 (ninth)
Closest calls: Eli Manning (third in 2003), Archie Manning (third in 1970, fourth in 1969), Jake Gibbs (third in 1960)
Hope for 2014: Bo Wallace
Like Missouri, Ole Miss has the spread offense and plenty of opportunities for Heisman moments against SEC opponents in their prime. Wallace has thrown 27 interceptions in two seasons, so that will need to change if he’s a realistic name to watch in 2014. If Hugh Freeze continues to recruit at his current level, Ole Miss will have another contender sooner or later.

6. Texas Tech
Post-Berwanger wins:
484 (13th)
Closest calls: Graham Harrell (fourth in 2008), Michael Crabtree (fifth in 2008)
Hope for 2014: Davis Webb
The “system quarterback” label doesn’t haunt Texas Tech quarterbacks quite like it used to. Meanwhile, the numbers at Texas Tech won’t be all that different than what Mike Leach produced. In Kliff Kingsbury’s first season at Texas Tech, Red Raiders quarterbacks topped 5,100 yards and 35 touchdowns. Davis Webb accounted for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns in that total, and he won’t share the job in 2014.

7. Kansas State
Post-Berwanger wins:
332 (57th)
Closest calls: Collin Klein (third in 2012), Darren Sproles (fifth in 2003), Michael Bishop (second in 1998)
Hope for 2014: Tyler Lockett, Jake Waters
Bishop may have been the best hope for Kansas State to win the Heisman when he led the Wildcats to an 11-0 start and No. 2 ranking heading into the Big 12 title game. The problem, though, was that Ricky Williams was on his way to a 2,000-yard season and the career rushing record at Texas that season. The Longhorns running back won in a rout. In 2014, Waters finished the season on a high note with 10 touchdown passes in the final four games. The best contender for postseason awards in Manhattan is Lockett, one of the Big 12’s top receivers and returnmen.

8. Mississippi State
Post-Berwanger wins: 387 (41st)
Closest call: None
Hope in 2014: Dak Prescott
Mississippi State has produced one legitimate Heisman contender in its history — and he garnered a 10th place finish 70 years ago. Dan Mullen has coached a Heisman winner (Tim Tebow) and a No. 1 overall draft pick (Alex Smith), and now he might have his top quarterback since he arrived in Starkville. Prescott passed for 1,943 yards and rushed for 829 last last season and could be one of the SEC’s breakout players.

9. Washington
Post-Berwanger wins: 485 (11th)
Closest call: Steve Emtman (fourth in 1991)
Hope in 2014: Cyler Miles, Shaq Thompson
Washington may end up as one of the better teams on this list, but the Huskies don’t have many established superstars, especially on offense. Miles may flourish in Chris Petersen’s system, but he’s never played a down and missed spring practice with a three-month suspension. Thompson may be an intriguing contender if he indeed plays on both sides of the ball this season.

10. Maryland
Post-Berwanger wins:
443 (22nd)
Closest call: Jack Scarbath (second in 1952)
Hope for 2014: Stefon Diggs, C.J. Brown
A Terrapin winning the Heisman is a long shot for the time being, but Maryland is much closer to producing any kind of award-winner than it was two years ago. Diggs, a draft-eligible junior, is the best hope in the short term, even as a receiver. He’s a multi-threat athlete with 1,435 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns (nine receiver, two returns) in 18 career games.

11. Washington State
Post-Berwanger wins:
350 (54th)
Closest call: Ryan Leaf (third in 1997)
Hope in 2014: Connor Halliday
Washington State had a run of productive quarterbacks in 90s and early 2000s, with Leaf, Drew Bledsoe and Jason Gesser all finishing in the top 10 of the Heisman voting. Halliday may put up bigger numbers in Mike Leach’s offense, but he won’t be the top quarterback in his own division in the Pac-12.

12. Marshall
Post-Berwanger wins:
280 (71st)
Closest calls: Byron Leftwich (sixth in 2002), Chad Pennington (fifth in 1999), Randy Moss (fourth in 1997)
Hope in 2014: Rakeem Cato
Marshall may never again produce three Heisman contenders in a five-year period as the Thundering Herd did under Bob Pruett. Cato, though, could be worth watching. If he puts up video game numbers and Marshall goes undefeated — possible against this Conference USA schedule — Cato could be a Heisman finalist.

13. Utah State
Post-Berwanger wins:
381 (43rd)
Closest call: None
Hope for 2014: Chuckie Keeton
Keeton’s return from ACL surgery will be one of the season’s major storylines. When healthy, Keeton is one of the most electrifying players in the nation. In 29 career games, he’s accounted for 70 total touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’ll be appointment viewing, but Utah State may have to challenge for that automatic “Group of Five” spot in the College Football Playoff contract bowls for Keeton to have a chance at the award.

14. Arkansas
Post-Berwanger wins:
517 (third)
Closest calls: Darren McFadden (runner up in 2006 and 2007)
Hope for 2014: Alex Collins
No one would suggest Arkansas can do what Auburn did last year by improving from winless in the SEC to winning the league, but the Razorbacks can be respectable in Bret Bielema’s second season. Collins is in good company, joining McFadden as the only freshman running backs to top 1,000 yards for the Hogs. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to build on those numbers in Bielema’s offense.

15. Northwestern
Post-Berwanger wins: 314 (63rd)
Closest call: Darnell Autry (seventh in 1996)
Hope for 2014: Venric Mark
Mark had most of his season wiped out by injury last season, playing a major role in Northwestern’s 5-7 collapse. In his last healthy season, Mark accounted for 13 touchdowns on offense and two on punt returns.

Five Teams That Temporarily Missed the Heisman Window

Clemson. As long as Chad Morris is the offensive coordinator, Clemson will have productive players on offense. This may be a transition season, however, with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins gone and Deshaun Watson a year away.

Louisville. Teddy Bridgewater leaves a void, but Bobby Petrino teams generally have standout quarterback play. With a move to the ACC, the level of competition won’t be the barrier it was in the Big East and Conference USA.

Arizona. Ka’Deem Carey finished first or second in the country in rushing in the last two seasons yet never finished higher than 10th in the Heisman voting. He’s gone from Arizona, and the Wildcats are rebuilding on offense.

West Virginia. Geno Smith had the Heisman locked up midway through the 2012 season. Unfortunately, he had to finish the rest of the season with a dreadful defense. Unless another Pat White or Steve Slaton is around campus, West Virginia may have to wait a while for another viable candidate.

Boise State. Kellen Moore finished no higher than fourth. Boise State will have trouble replicating those conditions again for another Heisman contender.