2015 Heisman Watch

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August has arrived, which means it is time for the 2015 Heisman HYPE Heisman Watch List. This year’s Heisman race should be interesting, particularly in light of the quarterback situation at Ohio State. Additionally four of last year’s top 10 Heisman votegetters return this year and should be prominent in the Heisman discussion (Heisman HYPE Rule of Three #1). Let’s get to the list. (An asterisk indicates a player previously finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting, and any of the Heisman HYPE Rule of Three (RoT) that apply to a candidate are indicated)

JT Barrett*(RoT #1)/Cardale Jones/Braxton Miller* – Quarterback, Ohio State
Why he they should finish in the top 10… As of this writing, we still don’t know who the starting QB will be (but apparently Braxton Miller is out of the discussion). Either way, the Buckeye’s starting quarterback will likely garner some serious Heisman consideration. Barrett had a Big Ten conference record of 45 total touchdowns and finished 6th in Heisman voting. Cardale Jones went 3-0 as a starter in the three of the biggest games in college football, helping secure the National Championship.
but probably won’t win: Ohio State has a stud running back in Ezekiel Elliott who will likely be the focal point of many voters once a starting QB is named. While there is precedent for a QB to win the Heisman with a stud running back (Jason White won in ’03 with Adrian Peterson and Matt Leinart won the following year with Reggie Bush), it ‘s going to be tough with a solid Heisman field.
Trevone Boykin*(RoT #1) – Quarterback, TCU
Why he should finish in the top 10… He had an outstanding 2014, finishing 4th in Heisman voting. He led TCU to a dominant 42-3 win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl to cap the season.
but probably won’t win: The perception is that the Big 12 is inferior to the SEC, Big 10 and Pac-12 (although the Peach Bowl win last year helped that a bit). As a result, TCU (and Boykin) will need to be dominant in their conference (their toughest non-conference game is the season opener against Minnesota) for him to have a chance.

Nick Chubb – Running Back, Georgia
Why he should finish in the top 10…Todd Gurley was a popular pick to win the Heisman going in to 2014. With off-field issues and his season-ending injury, Nick Chubb stepped in and performed. His 1547 rushing yards and 1760 yards from scrimmage in 2014 are more than Gurley put up in any of his seasons. Chubb put up those impressive numbers despite Gurley starting six games. His 7.1 yards per carry is the best among returning running backs in Power 5 conferences.
but probably won’t win: The last two running backs to win the Heisman were on undefeated teams playing for national championships and Georgia is unlikely to find itself in that situation this year.
Ezekiel Elliott – Running Back, Ohio State
Why he should finish in the top 10… Elliott rushed for 1878 yards in 2014, the most of any returning running back in FBS. He put up 696 rushing yards and EIGHT rushing touchdowns in the final three games of last season (which happened to be the Big Ten Championship, the College Football Playoff Semifinal and the National Championship). Four of last year’s starting offensive linemen return. Plus he has a pretty dope song promoting his Heisman campaign.
but probably won’t win: As I alluded to earlier, it could be that Heisman votes get split between Elliott and his quarterback. It will be tougher on Elliott’s Heisman chances if Barrett is named the starter. No running back has won a Heisman trophy in a season which his quarterback rushed for 1000 yards (Barrett came dangerously close with 938 last year). Most was Conelius Greene with 842 in 1974 when Archie Griffith won. Of the last 10 Heisman winning running backs, only 2 had a QB who rushed for over 500 yards (Rashaan Salaam in 1994 at Colorado with Kordell Stewart at QB and Mike Rozier in 1983 at Nebraska with Turner Gill at QB). Only 5 of the 43 Heisman winning running backs have had quarterbacks rush for over 500 yards.

Rashard Higgins – Wide Receiver, Colorado State
Why he should finish in the top 10…Higgins led the NCAA in receiving yardage and receiving touchdowns in 2014. He had an impressive 18.1 yards per catch. He was a consensus All-American at wide receiver. He’s on the Biletnikoff award watch list.
but probably won’t win: The quarterback with whom Higgins had so much success last year, Garrett Grayson, moved on to the NFL. He plays wide receiver and there have only been two wide receivers ever to win the Heisman. Perhaps most importantly, Higgins plays outside the Power 5 conferences.
Cody Kessler – Quarterback, USC
Why he should finish in the top 10… Kessler had a solid 2014, throwing a USC record-tying 39 touchdowns (more than Heisman winning former USC quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart ever threw) to only 5 interceptions. He was largely overshadowed by his in-conference quarterback counterparts Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The last three USC quarterbacks who started for 3 or more years earned top 10 Heisman finishes (for whatever that’s worth).
but probably won’t win: Since 2000, Heisman votes for USC quarterbacks tend to be correlated with the team’s wins (r=.536 of votes to team wins). Despite being picked to win the conference, the Pac-12 is very close and Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and UCLA all stand to be touch match-ups for the Trojans.

Semaje Perine – Running Back, Oklahoma
Why he should finish in the top 10… As a true freshman in 2014, Perine set the FBS record for rushing yards in a single game with 427 yards (albeit against Kansas). He had 1713 rush yards and 21 touchdowns. Perine put up these numbers getting only 58.7% of the Sooner’s “RB carries” (rush attempts by non-quarterbacks and non-wide receivers). By comparison, the top three backs in terms of yardage in 2014 broke down as follows: Melvin Gordon had 62.2% of such carries for Wisconsin, Ezekiel Elliott had 72.2% for Ohio State and Tevin Coleman had 64.4% for Indiana.
but probably won’t win: As with Boyking, playing in the Big 12 will hurt Perine’s campaign. Similarly to Nick Chubb and Georgia, Oklahoma does not seem poised to be a national title contender this year.
Dak Prescott*(RoT #1) – Quarterback, Mississippi State
Why he should finish in the top 10… A leading Heisman candidate for much of 2014, Prescott finished 8th in voting. He had 4470 total yards, 42 total TDs last year (for comparison, Tim Tebow had 4181 total yards and 55 TDs Cam Newton had 4369 yards and 51 total TDs in their respective Heisman winning-seasons). He’s returning most of his top receiving targets (although the Bulldogs spread the wealth pretty evenly) and Josh Robinson returns to the backfield as well.
but probably won’t win: In short, the Bulldogs play in the ‘Group of Death’ that is the SEC West. Prescott and Mississippi State played well above expectations last year, but losses to Alabama and Ole Miss at the end of the season ended hopes of a Heisman and national championship. This year won’t be any easier.
Dashaun Watson – Quarterback, Clemson
Why he should finish in the top 10… He only played 8 games last season due to injuries, but he performed at a very high level. His passer rating and yards per attempt were both higher than Marcus Mariota. Cole Stoudt is gone so the reigns are securely Watson’s. The majority of the talent at the skill positions around Watson is returning as well.
but probably won’t win: Remember in 2013 when Tajh Boyd was a Heisman contender and then Jameis Winston and the Seminoles embarrassed Clemson and brought an end to that? Despite all of the off-field issues, the Seminoles seem to continue to handle business on it. Couple that with a solid Georgia Tech team who beat Clemson fairly handily last year and Watson’s Heisman hopes could be in jeopardy.
Scooby Wright*(RoT #1 & #2) – Linebacker, Arizona
Why he should finish in the top 10… Pardon the cliché, but Scooby Wright was a beast in 2014, leading the nation in total tackles, tackles for loss and fumbles forced, finishing 2nd in solo tackles and 4th in sacks. He finished 9th in Heisman voting and looks to garner serious consideration again. Defensive returning finishers
but probably won’t win: First the obvious: there has been one primarily defensive player to win the Heisman in 80 years. Arizona had a solid season last year, but they are picked to finish 4th in the Pac-12 South which will likely hurt Wright chances as well.
Other intriguing players: Joey Bosa: Defensive End, Ohio StateConnor Cook: Quarterback, Michigan StateBrandon Doughty: Quarterback, Western KentuckyLeonard Fournette: Running Back, LSUDerrick Henry, Running Back, AlabamaTaysom Hill: Quarterback, BYUGunner Kiel: Quarterback, Cincinnati

My pick: Trevone Boykin
Boykin is the highest returning votegetter from last year’s Heisman ballot so that means, taking into account all of the assessments of the players I presented above, voters deemed Trevone to have had a better 2014 season than anyone else listed (it is worth stating that the Heisman is presented before any bowl games have been played). TCU is ranked 2nd in the preseason coaches’ poll, and 13 of the last 25 Heisman winners were on teams that were ranked in the top 5 in the preseason poll. He’s a dual threat quarterback, which definitely fits the current trend of Heisman winners.

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