The Heisman Top 25 countdown complete earlier this week, with Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller edging out reigning champion Johnny Manziel for top honors.
Those players who missed the cut need not fret, though. The last few seasons have proven that landing on the Heisman radar in the summertime doesn’t necessarily translate to carrying home the award in December, though. Robert Griffin III likely would have been a fringe candidate in 2011. Cam Newton in 2010 and Johnny Manziel in 2012 were completely off the radar before the season kicked off.
Below are candidates who missed the Heisman Top 25 rankings, but could emerge as contenders in the always-unpredictable race for college football’s most prestigious individual honor.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Injuries slowed Rex Burkhead last season, turning over primary rushing duties to the talented Abdullah a year ahead of schedule. Those 226 carries garnered in 2012 seasoned Abdullah and could have him primed for a breakout turn in what looks to be a loaded Nebraska offense.
Dri Archer, Kent State Golden Flashes
Dynamic play-maker who scored touchdowns via rush, reception, punt and kick return in 2012. His is one of the more unlikely Heisman campaigns, although he is coming off All-American recognition for his play on special teams.
David Ash, Texas Longhorns
Is Year 3 when Ash breaks out? As a sophomore, Ash cut down on his interceptions (eight total, but in 140 more pass attempts) and completed better than 67 percent of his throws.
Still, the bar at Texas is set high after predecessors Vince Young and Colt McCoy were both Heisman finalists. Ash isn’t the runner either was — he scored two touchdowns and went for 141 yards last season, but averaged fewer than 3 ypc — but he has a multifaceted backfield surrounding him. More importantly, UT’s receiving corps is loaded, which should translate into big passing numbers for the third-year quarterback.
George Atkinson III, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Atkinson functioned nicely as Notre Dame’s second running back option, complementing No. 1 Cierre Wood. Wood is gone, leaving Atkinson as the likely primary ball carrier.
He averaged better than 7 yards per carry last season and scored five touchdowns — one every 10 carries. The dismissal of dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson and replacement with more traditional, Pro Set play-caller Tommy Rees should translate to more rushing responsibilities for Atkinson.
Kolton Browning, Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
Remember when Browning captured national focus after leading the Warhawks in a win over Arkansas and a shootout against Baylor? Well, La.-Monroe’s talented two-way quarterback returns, and he has a veteran team surrounding him.
Browning will get more opportunities to strut his stuff against high profile competition; the Warhawks open the season at Oklahoma, and travel to Baylor in September.
Rakeem Cato, Marshall Thundering Herd
The nation’s leading passer in 2012, Cato follows in the great tradition of great Marshall quarterbacks like Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich — both of whom finished in the top six of Heisman voting.
Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State’s pass-heavy attack allows for impressive quarterback statistics. That will especially be the case this year, with the Cowboys boasting one of the nation’s premier receiving corps.
OSU is a popular pick to win the Big 12, and leaders of contending teams from that conference have been Heisman finalists every year since 2007, save 2010.
David Fales, San Jose State Spartans
Amazing what a difference a couple years can make. Just two summers ago, SJSU was coming off a 1-11 finish and the football program seemed to be on the brink of extinction. Now, the Spartans are coming off 11 wins, a top 25 ranking and feature one of the nation’s best quarterbacks.
Fales is among the darkest of dark horse Heisman contenders — he’s not even the most celebrated quarterback in his region, let alone in his non-BCS conference — but another season of 33 touchdowns and 4200 yards and contention in the Mountain West would command attention.
Devin Gardner, Michigan Wolverines
Gardner was recruited to run Rich Rodriguez’s spread zone-read, but late last season adapted nicely to Al Borges’ West Coast system. An off-season spent working with quarterback guru George Whitfield could be the necessary step for Gardner to take his game to a higher level.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford Cardinal
Dual-threat freshman quarterback Hogan helped Stanford to an impressive finish, with wins over nationally ranked Oregon State; at BCS-contending Oregon; and in the Rose Bowl for the Cardinal’s first victory at the Granddaddy Of ‘Em All since 1971.
Hogan just began to scratch the surface of his potential down the stretch. With an off-season gaining more familiarity with his teammates and the speed of the college game, the Cardinal offense should see measured improvement in 2013 as it contends for another Pac-12 crown.
John Hubert, Kansas State Wildcats
With Collin Klein gone, Hubert becomes the offensive star of the reigning Big 12 Conference champions. A smaller, speedy back, Hubert isn’t the typical Heisman-contending feature back. He was rushed for nearly 400 carries over the past two seasons though, and last year scored 15 touchdowns. That was despite sharing plenty of goal line opportunities with Klein.
Duke Johnson, Miami Hurricanes
Johnson had a stellar debut campaign at The U., contributing in all facets of offense. He averaged almost 7 yards per carry, racking up 947 yards on just 139 attempts. As the focus of the run game turns more toward him in 2013, he will produce a higher yardage yield, and improve on his already impressive 10 touchdowns.
Johnson is also a steady receiving target, evident in 27 receptions. Add an explosive return game to his repertoire, and Johnson is one of the most exciting players in the country.
Chuckie Keeton, Utah State Aggies
Like Fales at SJSU, Keeton emerging in the Heisman conversation is a long shot. Yet, Keeton is coming off an outstanding 2012 in which he led his Utah State team to 11 wins and a final ranking in the Top 25.
Keeton threw for 27 touchdowns and rushed for another eight last season. All of his rushing scores came in the second half of the season. Carrying that momentum into 2013 and parlaying it into early season victories over Pac-12 opponents Utah and USC could earn Keeton some national attention.
Keith Marshall, Georgia Bulldogs
Backfield tag team partner Todd Gurley garners more attention — to wit, Gurley is No. 11 on the Heisman Top 25 — but Marshall had a freshman season worthy of recognition. He rushed for 759 yards and eight touchdowns on 117 carries, and proved to be an effective target in the passing attack with 11 receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Should something slow Gurley, the Bulldog run game won’t miss a beat with Marshall as its No. 1 option.
Stephen Morris, Miami Hurricanes
Morris is entering his fourth year at Miami and second as the Hurricanes’ clear cut offensively leader. He showed flashes of brilliance last season in accruing 3345 yards through the air. Should he shore up his completion percentage, which was below 60, and find the end zone more than 21 times, the Hurricanes will benefit.
Miami is a viable, underdog candidate to take the ACC. Should Morris lead such a turnaround, he will command some voter attention.
Bryce Petty, Baylor Bears
Much like Baylor predecessor Griffin, Petty has the tools and the personnel around him to put together a surprise Heisman campaign.
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech Hokies
Hype surrounding Thomas before the 2012 season proved to be undue. The big, dual-skilled Thomas generated said hype with impressive play his sophomore year though, at that time drawing comparisons to Cam Newton.
With a new offensive coordinator and the spotlight turned off him, Thomas has an opportunity to reestablish himself. Week 1 provides no greater launching pad for a Heisman campaign than the Hokies’ match-up with defending national champion Alabama. The pressure might be off, too — Virginia Tech is a sizable underdog. Should Thomas thrive against that defense, he’ll have the foundation for a Heisman season.
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss Rebels
Year One of the Hugh Freeze era vastly exceeded expectations, thanks in part to the two-way play of quarterback Wallace.
He completed a rare trifecta for a quarterback, scoring via the pass and run, but also as a receiver. Freeze’s unorthodox playbook certainly allows for some spectacular moments, which are essential to any Heisman campaign. Equally as essential are high profile wins, and Ole Miss has no shortage of opportunities to secure some of those.
Should the Rebels emerge as surprise contenders in the SEC West a la Texas A&M last season, Wallace will be at the forefront. He needs to cut back on his interceptions, but a year of experience should help with that.
Damien Williams, Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma’s offense has been predicated on the pass in recent years, but replacing Landry Jones with dual-threat Blake Bell lends itself to a more ground-oriented attack.
Williams did not record the most impressive stats last season, falling short of 1000 yards and reaching the end zone multiple times in just two games — one of which was against Florida A&M. But he demonstrated his powerful rushing style in wins over TCU and Texas, and was somewhat limited in his opportunities overall.
He had his number called 20-plus times in just three games; expect that to change in 2013.
Stefon Diggs, Maryland Terrapins
If Diggs had a real QB – and not a converted linebacker – throwing him passes over the final half of the season, he might have cracked the top 25 list. As it stood, he still made an immediate impact on a Maryland team that easily could have been a couple wins worse without him.
The crown jewel of Randy Edsall’s 2012 recruiting class – landed, incidentally, by former New Mexico coach Mike Locksley – gave Terps fans hope despite a largely bleak campaign. Diggs recorded three 100-yard games despite playing exclusively with freshmen, walk-ons and (it can’t be stressed enough) converted linebackers throwing him passes. The Gaithersburg native also showed game-changing ability, going for 15.7 yards per reception, 10 yards per punt return and breaking two kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Diggs will get a chance to play with QB C.J. Brown this season and, with an extra year of experience now under his belt, could blow by the 1,000-yard receiving mark the way he does so many defensive backs. Look for him to emerge as an all-conference player in 2013 and, with a few breaks, he could break into peripheral Heisman conversations.