It’s March, so it’s time to start turning our attention to the most important issues in college football, like the Heisman trophy. With a mere 9 or so months to go, Saturday Blitz is putting together it’s ridiculously early contenders list. Unsurprisingly, the list is all offensive players, and mostly quarterbacks at that. This early, everyone on the list has a season of football under their belt, and it’s hard to believe that the freshman lightning will strike again in December. Compared to last year, when trying to narrow down the list was nigh on impossible, this season sees a far shorter list of apparent prospects. Saturday Blitz’s infallibility is mere conjecture, so feel free to let us know if we have omitted anyone you feel is noteworthy. Like half the PAC 12 quarterbacks. Players are in alphabetical order.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
One of the most overlooked, if not underrated, running backs in the FBS last season, Abdullah was more than just a prodigious ground-gainer, he was the heart-and-soul of a Husker offense that was lacking its star quarterback, Taylor Martinez. Abdullah rushed for over 100 yards in every game bar two (98 & 85), totalling 1690 yards and 9 TDs. Adding to his value, he’s also a useful receiver, and caught 26 passes for 232 yards and another 2 scores. On the negative side, the senior has the occasional fumble, and his lack of size often sees him taken out in favor of Imani Cross in goal line situations.
Alabama Running Back, Alabama
TJ Yeldon is the obvious candidate here, as he was the starter last season and knocked out 1235 yards and 14 TDs in 12 games, some of which he hardly played in. However, while he is an excellent runner, there’s no guarantee he will continue to start next season. His primary backup, Kenyan Drake, ran for 694 yards and 8 TDs, and also caught a scoring pass. Don’t forget about Derrick Henry, who displayed big play ability as he ran for 382 yards and 3 TDs on 35 carries, and also caught another. Of course, how much of the reserves’ success came at the hands of defenses dealing with fresh legs? Regardless, all three will see carries, and that in itself could hurt any Heisman chances.
Shane Carden, East Carolina
Possibly the least well-known on the list, Carden is a two-year starter at ECU who has gone from strength-to-strength over his career. Last season, he led the Pirates to a 10-3 record, blowing out both North Carolina and North Carolina State along the way. While the Pirates were mired in a non-AQ conference in 2013, the move to the AAC this year makes Carden’s Heisman chances a little better, even if it is essentially Conference USA. Last season, the senior threw for 4139 yards and 33 TDs, against 10 interceptions. Eight of his interceptions came in three games, so if he can cut down here, he will significantly help his chances. While not a running quarterback, he added 103 yards and 10 scores on the ground, and also caught a TD pass.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Gordon was in the Heisman running early last season, before a knee injury against Ohio State hindered him for much of the year. So, a slowed-down Gordon, who split carries with James White all season, ran for 1609 yards and 12 TDs – what will he do when fully healthy and the main focal point of the offense? He’s a strong runner, but more importantly, he has the speed to score from anywhere on the field and is dangerous in the open field. Want a negative? He only caught 1 pass last season, which takes potential big-play touches away from him, but he makes the kind of plays that draws attention from voters. If he can stay healthy, don’t be surprised to see Gordon finish in the top 5, at the very least, when the votes are cast in December.
Taysom Hill, Brigham Young
The other “reach” on the list, Hill may not be a fashionable name, but he has the traits of the kind of quarterbacks in vogue at the moment. He’s an okay passer, although if he repeats the leap he made from 2012 to 2013 this year, the Cougars could be in for a treat this season. More importantly, HIll is an electric runner, capable of taking over games on his own, even when he couldn’t hit the ground if he threw the ball at it. Don’t take my word for it, just ask Texas. BYU are building a strong squad around their star, and if he can take another step forward in his development, Hill could hang around the fringes of the Heisman contenders, waiting for others to slip up. Last season he passed for 2938 yards and 19 TDs, although he threw 14 interceptions, and also ran for 1344 yards and another 10 scores.
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
The Spartans uncertainty at running back continued into the season last year, before they realized the answer was right under their noses. After splitting carries with Nick Hill through the first 5 games, the running back turned-cornerback turned-wide receiver turned-running back again got the bulk of the carries the rest of the way, not gaining less than 104 yards until the Rose Bowl. For a guy who tried his hand at finesse positions, Langford could pack a wallop, and was at his best late in games. He also showed a nose for chains/endzone. With the running back situation settled going into 2014, we’ll get to see what Langford can do as a full-time starter. Last season he started every game, rushing for 1422 and 18 TDs on 292 carries, and chipped in with 28 receptions for 157 yards and another score.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
One of the best quarterbacks in the country since his freshman season, Mariota was well in the running for the Heisman trophy before a knee injury and Stanford put paid to his hopes. When healthy, Mariota is a laser-accurate passer who runs Oregon’s offense almost to perfection, and is probably the best run/pass quarterback in the nation. While he’s not the most prolific of runners, he’s very dangerous and can score from anywhere. Instead of bolting when holes appeared, Mariota keeps his eyes downfield as defenders step up to cover the run. Last season Mariota passed for 3665 yards and 31 TDs, with just 4 interceptions, and ran for 715 yards and another 9 scores. He will undoubtedly be in the top 3 preseason Heisman contenders this year.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Miller’s no stranger to the Heisman rankings – he finished fifth in 2012 – and was on the preseason rankings last year. However, a knee injury hurt his chances, and the stellar play of backup Kenny Guiton, as the offense didn’t miss a beat with Guiton in. In fact, it could be argued that Miller wasn’t even the top player on his own offensive unit. That would more likely go to running back Carlos Hyde, who carried the Buckeyes down the stretch. This season, with Hyde and Guiton gone, Miller has all the attention to himself. His ability to make big plays is beyond reproach, but he still needs to work on his passing, as he has bouts of inaccuracy. If he stays healthy, his running skills may just cover up for his occasional off day passing. Last season Miller passed for 2094 yards and 24 TDs, with 7 interceptions, and ran for 1068 yards and another 12 scores. Assume he’ll be in the preseason top 5.
Bryce Petty, Baylor
Baylor fans may have felt aggrieved last season when Petty was snubbed as a Heisman finalist, and it wasn’t a case of sour grapes. Petty led the Bears to an 11-1 record (at the time of voting), spearheading one of the most explosive offenses in NCAA history. Petty was second in the nation in passer rating, behind eventual winner Jameis Winston, and while he wasn’t really going to leapfrog the Florida State star, he may have a case for being higher up the list. This year though, Winston is the only returning member of that 6-man list who was invited to New York. There are other very worthy contenders, but Petty should get a fairer crack of the whip this season. Last year he passed for 4200 yards and 32 TDs, with just 3 interceptions, and ran for 209 yards and another 14 scores.
Jameis Winston, Florida State
Is there a better resume than that of returning champion? Well, in the case of the Heisman, unless you’re Archie Griffin the answer is yes, as there are no other repeat champions in its lengthy history. Having already won the award as a true freshman, Winston will be happy to break that streak too. He was outstanding last year, leading the Seminoles to the national title and passing for 4057 yards and 40 TDs, with 10 interceptions. He also chipped in with 219 yards and 4 more scores on the ground. Consider him number 1 going into the season.
Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Ameer Abdullah Baylor Bears Braxton Miller Brigham Young Cougars Bryce Petty BYU Cougars Derrick Henry East Carolina Pirates Florida State Seminoles Jameis Winston Jeremy Langford Kenyan Drake Marcus Mariota Melvin Gordon Michigan State Spartans Nebraska Cornhuskers Ohio State Buckeyes Oregon Ducks Shane Carden Taysom Hill Tj Yeldon Wisconsin Badgers