|Phil Steele Blog • August 7, 2015|
Who will win the Heisman in 2015.
As I mentioned in one of my recent blogs, one of the fun aspects of college football is watching great individual performances in a particular game and throughout the season. While there are numerous individual awards to recognize great play, the preeminent award in college football is, of course, the Heisman Trophy, which has been awarded since 1935. I am honored to serve as a Heisman voter and I enjoy listening to the weekly debates that invariably take place during the season as players rise and fall from the projected list. Obviously, it is often difficult to predict the winner in the preseason, especially in the current era of college football in which it seems many underclassmen are prepared to burst quickly onto the scene, but it is nonetheless worth previewing how the race might develop.
For a quick trip down memory lane, here is a brief summary of where the winners rated at the start of the season:
- 1998: I listed Ricky Williams (Texas) as my Heisman Trophy favorite. Things did not look good for Williams when Texas was humiliated in consecutive weeks. However, when the smoke cleared (pun intended), Williams broke the NCAA career rushing record and took home the Heisman.
- 1999: I listed Ron Dayne of Wisconsin as my Heisman favorite. Like Williams, his chances of winning appeared to go out the window early but Wisconsin surged down the stretch to make the Rose Bowl behind Dayne, who broke Williams’s career rushing mark in the process and won the Heisman.
- 2000: I had the only preseason publication to call for Florida State QB Chris Weinke to win the Heisman. This long shot simply delivered my THIRD straight winner, despite the big odds. Michael Vick was by far the preseason favorite in 2000 but came up short.
- 2001: I missed with Texas QB Chris Simms, but did have Heisman winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska listed as #3 coming into the year. It would have been tough to pick who the winner even on the day of the ceremony, as the voting was one of the closest ever.
- 2002: USC QB Carson Palmer was not on the radar of most folks in preseason as he was about a 100-1 long shot over the summer. I did not pick him, but he was #7 on my list of preseason Heisman favorites.
- 2003: Oklahoma QB Jason White was posted at 30-1 odds to win the Heisman with 20 players listed ahead of him, so another dark horse won the award.
- 2004: White finished 3rd in the voting with one of the favorites, USC QB Matt Leinart, taking home the trophy.
- 2005: Leinart was my pick, but he didn’t repeat as his teammate Reggie Bush beat him out (later vacated). If the vote had taken place after the bowls, Vince Young of Texas probably would have won on the basis of his sensational championship game performance to beat the Trojans.
- 2006: The QB of the #1 team in the country led from start to finish in the Heisman race as Ohio State’s Troy Smith took home the award in a landslide.
- 2007-08: QB Tim Tebow of Florida became the first sophomore to win the award and was followed immediately of Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, who won as a sophomore in 2008.
- 2009: RB Mark Ingram became Bama’s 1st ever Heisman winner despite the preseason favorites being Tebow, Bradford and Colt McCoy. Stanford RB Toby Gerhart finished a very close 2nd!
- 2010: Auburn QB Cam Newton surprised everyone as a 1st year starter one year removed from junior college after having been previously dismissed from Florida. I had him as a “Possibility” but no one had him on their main preseason list.
- 2011: QB Robert Griffin III of Baylor, whom I had listed again as a “Possibility,” edged out Andrew Luck of Stanford and my preseason favorite, Trent Richardson of Alabama.
- 2012: Matt Barkley of USC was everyone’s favorite prior to the season and yet again there was another surprise winner out of nowhere. Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, who was not projected by most to be the starting QB for the Aggies (I had him projected as starter, however) became the first frosh ever to win the award.
- 2013: Jameis Winston became the 2nd straight frosh to win the award and, while no one had him as a favorite in the preseason, I did list him as a contender in last year’s magazine.
- 2014 Last year, Marcus Mariota was my choice for the Heisman and he finished with the 2nd highest vote share at 90.9%. Mariota came into the season as the third favorite behind returning winner Jameis Winston and Braxton Miller. QBs have now won 5 straight Heismans.
2015 Heisman: The Favorites (Odds as of 7/28 at Bovada)
1. QB Cody Kessler • USC (+1200): The previous 5 Heisman winners were all QBs. If you take the average of their Heisman winning seasons they threw for 300 ypg, 68.9% with a 36-7 ratio. Cody Kessler’s numbers last year were 294 ypg, 69.7% with a 39-5 ratio. It also doesn’t hurt to have all 5 starting OL back as well as 13 VHTs playing WR or TE.
2. QB Trevone Boykin • TCU (+450): How do you get to be the preseason Heisman favorite? You start all 13 games, lead your team to 13 wins, have the #2 scoring offense and the #5 overall offense and your team returns a total of 9 offensive players. Those factors have Boykin starting in the pole position.
3. RB Ezekiel Elliott • Ohio State (+700): Elliott became a household name after averaging 232 ypg, 9.2 ypc and 8 TDs vs Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. He will be the bell cow for an OSU team that returns 4 starting OL and figures to be in playoff contention throughout the season, if not a wire to wire #1 in the polls.
4. RB Derrick Henry • Alabama (+1800): Given the great wealth of talent at Alabama, Henry has split carries over his first 2 years in Tuscaloosa, primarily with TJ Yeldon. Alabama will be relying on an inexperienced QB this year, however, and Yeldon has departed for the NFL, so Henry will have the stage to himself, where he can use his devastating power to build on his 990 yd, 11 TD campaign of 2014.
5. RB Nick Chubb • Georgia (+1200): It didn’t take long for Nick Chubb to carry on the proud tradition of tailbacks at UGA. As a true frosh, Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 16 TDs in only 8 games, impressing former Bulldog great and Heisman winner Herschel Walker in the process. With a full season of work, Chubb is poised to pile up the statistics again in 2015 under new OC Brian Schottenheimer.
6. RB Leonard Fournette • LSU (+1200): Although it may have been premature for Fournette to strike a Heisman pose after a TD against Sam Houston State last year, he is clearly capable of a serious Heisman run in 2015. LSU eased Fournette into the mix as a true frosh, but he emerged as a physical, explosive talent as his workload increased, capped with 143 rushing yards and a 100 yd KR TD in the Music City Bowl against ND.
7. RB Paul Perkins • UCLA (+3300): While his HS teammate Brett Hundley received most of the headlines for the Bruins last year, Perkins quietly put together a tremendous season at tailback. Perkins rushed for 1,575 yards and 9 TDs, along with 26 catches and a pair of TDs out of the backfield. With Hundley off to the NFL, look for UCLA to lean heavily on Perkins to carry the offensive load, which should lead to gaudy statistics again.
8. QB Dak Prescott • Mississippi State (+1600): With 4 of the last 8 Heisman winners coming from the SEC, it is not a shock that Prescott is in the mix. Last year, Prescott threw for 3,449 yards along with 986 rush yards and 14 rush TDs. To claim the Heisman, however, Prescott must improve is his 27-11 ratio, which will be a challenge against a difficult slate of SEC defenses.
9. RB Samaje Perine • Oklahoma (+2000): Perine, an unheralded true frosh who was 3rd on the Sooners’ depth chart to start the year, burst on the scene in a big way last year. He set the NCAA single game rushing record (set one week prior by Melvin Gordon), with 427 yards against Kansas, and eventually finished with 1,713 yards for the year. Look for another big year from Perine, as QB play remains a question mark for OU.
10. QBs JT Barrett/Braxton Miller/Cardale Jones • Ohio State: Cardale Jones is currently +1200 odds to win the Heisman but I think JT Barrett will win the job this year. Barrett’s +900 odds are very attractive because they are discounted to reflect the fact that he must win the job, although they have actually fallen from +2000 at the time that my magazine went to press. Surprisingly, Miller’s odds are currently 10-1 despite the fact that he missed all of last year, though there is some potential value derived from his potential ability to play multiple positions if he cannot win the starting QB job outright.
11. QB Everett Golson • Florida State (+3300): Golson already led one team to the National Title game and he has a solid supporting cast. I think he will protect the ball a lot better than 2014, which could allow him to reenter the Heisman discussion this year.
2015 Heisman: Other Contenders (Odds as of 7/28 at Bovada)
The following list of secondary contenders is heavy on experienced QBs and RBs who could put up big time numbers for a National Championship contender, which is a proven formula for getting into the Heisman conversation:
- (+1200) QB Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
- (+1600) QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
- (+2000) QB Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
- (+2500) QB Connor Cook, Michigan St
- (+3300) RB Royce Freeman, Oregon
- (+3300) QB Seth Russell, Baylor
- (+5000) RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin
- (+5000) WR/RB DJ Foster, Arizona St
- (+5000) RB Dalvin Cook, Florida St (facing possible suspension)
- (+5000) RB James Conner, Pittsburgh
- (+5000) QB Jared Goff, California
- (+6600) QB Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
- (+6600) QB Brad Kaaya, Miami, Fl
- (+10000) QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma St
- (+10000) RB Nick Wilson, Arizona
- (+10000) QB Taysom Hill, BYU
- (+10000) QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State
- (+10000) RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
- (+10000) WR Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi
- (+10000) QB Marquise Williams, UNC
- (+10000) LB Scooby Wright, Arizona
- (+10000) WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
2015 Heisman: Longshots
Finally, here are some players that are way off the radar- and perhaps have not even nailed down a starting position- but could make a surprising charge toward the Heisman Trophy like Johnny Manziel in 2012:
- RB Jovon Robinson, Auburn
- QB Anu Solomon, Arizona
- QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
- QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
- QB Jake Coker, Alabama
- QB Will Gardner, Louisville
- RB Jon Hilliman, Boston College
- QB Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech
- WR/KR/PR Ryan Switzer, North Carolina
- QB Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
- WR Corey Coleman, Baylor
- RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
- WR Dom Williams, Washington State
- RB Daniel Lasco, California
- QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
- QB Mike Bercovici, Arizona State
- CB/WR/KR Adoree’ Jackson, USC
- LB/RB Myles Jack, UCLA
- QB Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
- RB Devon Johnson, Marshall
- QB Vernon Adams, Oregon (if eligible)
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