With barely a meaningful game played in anger, it is time to turn our heads to the much debated topic of the Heisman Trophy. At this early stage of the season, most (read ‘all’) Heisman lists are based on previous seasons’ work, and it would be of little surprise if this list was completely different by the time the voting comes out in December. So, read on, and feel free to offer your own opinions, and corresponding circumstantial evidence, below. Players are in alphabetical order.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
The senior was ninth in the nation in rushing yards last season as the spearhead of the Nebraska offense, finishing with 1690 yards and 9 TDs on 281 carries, with just two games of fewer than 100 yards (98 & 85). He also caught 26 pass for 232 yards and another 2 scores. He’s not big at 5 foot 9 and 190 pounds, but he’s shown he’s able to carry the load. His biggest obstacle to the Heisman may be playing in the Big Ten, which has failed to impress so far this season.
2014 Stats: 38 carries for 286 yards and two TDs; Four receptions for 105 yards and one TD.
Rakeem Cato, Marshall
Cato was one of the most prolific passers in the country last season, completing 59.7% of his passes for 3916 yards and 39 TDs, with just 9 interceptions. He’s also shown some ability to get yards with his feet, adding 294 yards and 6 more scores on 99 carries. The Thundering Herd look to have CUSA to themselves this season, but Cato will need to finish 12-0 and rack up some mind-boggling stats. Do Marshall have the mental toughness to stay the course for the season?
2014 Stats: 35 completions on 61 attempts for 528 yards and five TDs; 16 carries for 133 yards and two TDs.
Amari Cooper, Alabama
It’s been a while since a receiver has held the Heisman Trophy aloft, but Cooper might be ready to change that. Cooper has caught 104 passes for 1736 yards and 15 TDs over the last two years in the Crimson Tide’s run-dominated attack, and comes up with the big plays when required. Despite uncertainty at quarterback for ‘Bama this season, the junior has already surpassed half of last season’s totals, and should continue to be the focal point of the attack. Cooper’s biggest stumbling block for the big prize might be the current backfield bias amongst voters.
2014 Stats: 25 receptions for 319 yards and 1 TD; One carry for 20 Yards.
Everett Golson, Notre Dame
Last time we saw this guy play was the National Championship game in 2012, when the Fighting Irish were trounced by Alabama. That season, Golson completed 58.8% of his passes for 2405 yards and 12 TDs, with six interceptions, and also ran for 298 yards and six scores on 94 carries. He was often relieved by Tommy Rees in key situations, but now he has the job all to himself. The Irish will likely need to dominate in the majority of their games for Golson to have a serious chance though.
2014 Stats: 37 completions on 56 attempts for 521 yards and five TDs; 15 carries for 28 yards and three TDs.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
The other star Big Ten running back on this list, Gordon was 10th in the country in rushing with 1609 yards and 12 TDs on 206 carries, despite being second on his own team in carries in the Badgers run-dominated attack. Gordon may have ranked even higher last season, if not for an injury that hampered him over the second half of the year. His big-play speed and strength makes him a threat, but he can’t afford any more niggling injuries. Also, Gordon only caught 1 pass last season, which reduces his value.
2014 Stats: 33 carries for 178 yards and one TD; Four receptions for 22 yards and one TD.
Todd Gurley, Georgia
After bursting onto the scene in 2012 with an impressive 1385 yards and 17 TDs, Gurley was on everyone’s preseason Heisman list going into last year. However, niggling injuries hampered his play, and he even missed a bunch of games, finishing with “just” 989 yards and 10 scores, although he also caught 37 passes for 441 yards and six more TDs. Now back to full strength, and looking good so far this season, Gurley is ready to impress the Heisman voters again. The beating his brutal running style entails may be his biggest obstacle.
2014 Stats: 15 carries for 198 yards and three TDs; One kick return for 100 yards and one TD.
Brett Hundley, UCLA
After a sterling redshirt freshman year, Hundley took it to the next level in 2013, leading the team in passing and rushing, taking the onus and leadership of the offense on his shoulders in the absence of star rusher Jonathan Franklin. Just a sophomore, Hundley completed 66.8% of his passes for 3071 yards and 24 TDs, with 9 interceptions, and ran for 748 yards and 11 TDs. Now entering his third season, and with a talented roster at his disposal, Hundley is poised for a run at the Heisman, and being a top NFL draft pick. So far this season though, his team’s inconsistent play may be his biggest hindrance.
2014 Stats: 53 completions on 77 attempts for 638 yards and three TDs, with one interception; 26 carries for 65 yards and one TD.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Back in 2012, Johnny Manziel won the Heisman thanks to a stellar season and a big win over Alabama. Mariota, also a redshirt freshman, had just as good a season, but didn’t have the weight of knocking off the mighty Tide to back up his resume. However, he’s since a regular Heisman contender A midseason knee injury slowing him down last year kept him out of the final voting, despite completing 63.5% of his passes for 3665 yards and 31 TDs, with just four interceptions. Despite the injury, he also added 715 yards and another 9 scores on the ground. He’s off to another hot start this season, including a big win over Michigan State to get this year’s Heisman race off to a good start.
2014 Stats: 31 completions on 48 attempts for 585 yards and six TDs; 15 carries for 85 yards and a TD.
Bryce Petty, Baylor
Call him the forgotten man. Petty was outstanding following in the productive footsteps of Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, yet didn’t get an invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Petty took over as a junior last season, and arguably had a better year than either of his predecessors, passing for 4200 yards and 32 TDs, with just three interceptions, and adding 209 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. More importantly, he led the Bears to their first (and last, I guess) ever BCS bowl. Even with the loss to UCF, it doesn’t take away from what he accomplished. A week one rib injury set him back a little this season, but he’ll hopefully be back to form soon.
2014 Stats: 13 completions on 23 attempts for 161 yards and two TDs; Two carries for 21 yards, one TD.
Jameis Winston, Florida State
Like Manziel the year before, Winston came out of relative obscurity to win the Heisman, and led Florida State all the way to the national championship. He completed 66.9% of his passes for 4057 yards and 40 TDs, with 10 interceptions, and ran for 219 yards and 4 more scores. Winston had some legal issues late in the season, but once they were cleared up, nothing could derail his Heisman campaign. He is the de facto favorite for this season, but it’s hard to win the Heisman twice, and those legal concerns haven’t quite gone away as expected. Winston may face an even tougher uphill battle this season to repeat.
2014 Stats: 47 completions on 67 attempts for 626 yards and three TDs with two interceptions; Seven carries for 11 yards and one TD.
*Section Photo credit to Stephen Dunn, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Atlanta Journal Constitution