Heading into 2015, many college football players, both old and new are looking to make a name for themselves, not only for their team, but individually.
While some past winners of this award haven’t embarked immediate success at the professional level. They still became college football’s best player that season, and that is an outstanding achievement to hold onto.
Marcus Mariota was the pre-season favorite to win the 2014 Heisman, and as you all know did in fact win the award convincingly. Though, chances are that this time around, the eventual winner come early December turns out to be someone you haven’t heard of, such as Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel. Regardless, the Heisman Memorial Trophy will be awarded to someone new this year.
So here the list of the top candidates for this year’s Heisman trophy, remember there are no guarantees with any of them.
5. Nick Chubb
Running Back- Georgia
Nick Chubb wasn’t supposed to make such a drastic impact for Georgia as a freshman. Due to an injury to then Heisman front-runner Todd Gurley early last fall in Athens. Chubb was held responsible for filling in the shoes of a first round draft pick. Now, he is the sole leader behind the Bulldogs’ backfield.
Chubb responded early on in his freshman emphatically with a TD run against Clemson in September, which generated just one of his 14 total TD runs he accounted for in 2014. Overall, he carried the ball 219 times for 1,547 yds. (7.1 avg). Not only can Chubb make his presence felt on the ground, but his ability to go down field as a vertical threat became apparent in the latter courses of last season, where he caught 18 passes for 213 yards and 2 TDs.
Making a name for himself won’t be easy as far as voting is concerned. He needs help from his team the entire season. A home game against Alabama and a road match up with Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium are likely the best chances for Chubb to create a “Heisman moment” for himself in front of the nation. As it stands, Chubb won’t be alone in a lethal Georgia offense next year. He is alongside fellow running back Keith Marshall and sophomore QB Hutson Mason, who is trying to make an even better showing under his second year with head coach Mark Richt.
Granted the position he plays doesn’t help matters, especially for this year. A running back hasn’t hoisted the bronze statue since Mark Ingram in 2009, and given the fact that a multitude of tailbacks are contending for the same award this season. Nick Chubb will have to out-perform basically everyone, every way imaginable.
4. Leonard Fournette
Running Back- LSU
A sluggish start to his freshman season for a moment conceived speculation of his highly anticipated arrival. Though, eventually, Leonard Fournette was able to turn his slow beginnings into a promising finish that has now shaped him into a Heisman candidate.
Back in September, Fournette’s impact to LSU’s offense wasn’t appealing at all. In fact, through the first four weeks of the season, the only positive feedback that Fournette was ushering in was his attitude. Seemingly, it took him until a Week 5 home game against New Mexico State to rush for 100 yards in a game.
Later, after completing the slight milestone. Fournette soon became a regular hero, which at times was the cause of rescuing the Tigers’ lethargic offense out of many untimely ruts. This became apparent when he saved LSU in Gainesville, by rushing for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns on 27 carries. Perhaps, when discussing Fournette’s ceiling, it is very easy to first notice his burly frame. This sets himself apart from the usual running backs. By being dealt with a height of 6’1” and a sculpted 230 lb. body provides relentless physicality amid punishing SEC defenses.
At times a little slow on his feet, Fournette overcomes it with his powerful charge up field; this is featured with him being in many cases a “downhill” runner. Even with a much stagnant start to his collegiate career. Fournette kicked it into overdrive a bunch towards the end of 2014.
He rushed for well over 100 yards in 3 of LSU’s last 5 games. The big one came in their bowl game loss to Notre Dame, where he torched the Irish run defense for 143 yds., 2 TDs on just 11 carries. Who knows what Fournette can bring to the table this year. However, he will have to perform at critical levels.
LSU loses dependable running backs Terrance Magee and Kenny Hilliard, putting a great deal of the offensive load on Fournette’s shoulders. In addition, the Tigers’ quarterback position, which ranked 116th in passing yards, will need rescuing this year. After quarterback Anthony Jennings was arrested on Sunday, Brandon Harris and Purdue transfer Danny Etling might be the new front-runners at QB.
Even though Fournette should no doubt be one of the best running backs in 2015. He will have to hope for a prayer in order for LSU to win a highly formidable SEC West. If he is able to lead his mangled team to a conference crown, no doubt will he emerge as College Football’s best.
3. Royce Freeman
Running Back- Oregon
Oregon may have lost their Heisman Trophy Winner, Marcus Mariota, but they have another potential Heisman candidate returning in 2015. Royce Freeman is the leader of Oregon’s backfield and now entering his sophomore season, will look to build upon his past success.
As a true freshman in 2014, Freeman quickly established himself as Oregon’s most powerful running back. On the season, Freeman ran for 1,365 yards, (ranked No. 27 nationally) and scored 19 touchdowns, an Oregon freshman record. In fact, the previous freshman rushing record was previously held by LaMichael James back in 2009.
Considering what Freeman has to work with, Freeman will be a definite starter amid a crowded Ducks backfield. A backfield that contains junior tailback Thomas Tyner, who has been riddled with injuries throughout his career. Tyner came up huge in the big games last year, rushing for 150 yards vs FSU, yet the main question for him will be staying healthy. The battle for carries will take an immediate effect among both Freeman and Tyner, but also incoming freshman Taj Griffin and Kirk Merritt will look to make an impression early on also.
Freeman really wasn’t depicted as the team’s for sure starter at the start of 2014 until a breakout performance in a statement home win against Michigan State in early September. He learned the basics of working hard and being patient throughout the process. Now, Freeman’s showcase of a relentless work ethic and canny durability has become a main-stay for Mark Helfrich. On average, Freeman was handed the ball off 17 times per game, but if you add in the times where Tyner missed the majority of games or didn’t play. Freeman’s rush rate soared to almost 26 per game.
While Freeman isn’t the typical Oregon running back that the fans in Eugene have been accustomed of seeing. Freeman outlines as a more “physical” or “out of the way” type runner, something that is becoming more prevalent in Pac 12 offenses. For example, Freeman is listed at 6’0” and 230 lbs., which fits into more of fullback type role. In Freeman’s case, this isn’t true. He possess a quick first step once he gets the edge and is able to fly past linebackers using his low center of gravity. It also helps his broad frame keep his momentum moving forward down field.
His competitors make it a very steep task for him to win the award this year. However, if Oregon finds itself in the path of a Pac 12 Championship or even in the College Football Playoffs, chances are his recognition grows.
2. Ezekial Elliot
Running Back- Ohio State
Ezekial Elliot captured the nation by storm with his illustrious performance in College Football’s inaugural National Championship Game last January. Elliott put up some lofty numbers during his sophomore season at Ohio State. The promising finish last season is a cause to why many are tagging him as the preseason Heisman favorite.
While it wouldn’t be wise to predict a major drop-off in production from Elliott going into his Junior year, it would be interesting to see where Ohio State finds opportunities to score when Elliot isn’t featured in their offense. As a result of Ohio State’s injuries at quarterback, Elliott was handed the ball 273 times of 690 Buckeye carries in Ohio State’s run dominated offense in 2014. Ohio State only threw the ball 409 times. In 2015, Ohio State returns three proven quarterbacks, any of whom could emerge as a Heisman candidate in their own right.
Ohio State also returns 67% of their receiving yards and 75% of their catches from a year ago, so it seems likely the Buckeyes will throw more than 37% of the time. This, coupled with Ohio State losing four of their starting offensive linemen from a year ago, could signal a step back this year for Elliott. Despite those possible reductions in his numbers for 2015, Elliott is the front-runner in some eyes for good reason. He ran for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago, and simply matching that this fall could put him in the mix. Heisman voters have looked favorably on players from teams near the top of the rankings as 7 of the last 10 winners have been on teams finishing their seasons undefeated. Ohio State and Elliott could find themselves in this position as their schedule looks favorable once again.
While Elliott certainly was productive for the Buckeyes last season, the newcomers at offensive line and returning passing threats indicate potentially fewer opportunities for him this season. That said, a better passing game for Ohio State could also increase Elliott’s yards as defenses are forced to focus more on the quarterback than they did a year ago. Elliott starts the season with high Heisman expectations, he may be involved with a challenging set of alignments. Still, the talent is there on paper to become college football’s most feared running backs.
1. Trevone Boykin
Listed as the lone QB poised for Heisman consideration, Trevone Boykin exploded on the scene for TCU a year ago as a Junior in his first season as a full-time starter. Boykin threw for 3,901 yards, 33 TDs with just 10 interceptions while also rushing for 709 yards and eight scores. Many felt the Horned Frogs deserved a spot in the Inaugural College Football Playoff with a 3 point loss at top-5 Baylor as the only blemish on their résumé. Following a 42-3 dismantling of Ole Miss in the Georgia Dome in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, many penciled in Boykin as a leading Heisman Candidate with ten offensive starters returning in 2015. While the losses aren’t numerous on offense for the Horned Frogs, they could be impactful as Boykin loses his blindside protector in All-Big 12 performer Tayo Fabuluje, who will now be playing on Sundays with the Chicago Bears. Boykin also loses dependable receiver David Porter, responsible for nearly 400 receiving yards and three touchdowns a year ago.
Perhaps more worrisome for Boykin’s chances are the defensive losses in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs lose five starters from their stout 8th ranked defense from a year ago. Gary Patterson has a strong defensive reputation, but it won’t take much of a drop-off for the high-octane offenses sported by the Big 12 to take advantage and potentially knock off TCU. The newcomers on defense won’t have months to get adjusted either, with tough tests at Minnesota and traditional gun-slinging Texas Tech during September. Further games at K-State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State as well as a potential top-10 match up against Baylor on the final weekend of the season could all prove to be pitfalls for TCU.
Even though the Heisman is an individual award, more often than not, quarterbacks winning the award in recent years come from undefeated teams. Boykin and the Horned Frogs have potential losses littered throughout their schedule. Yet, Boykin is capable of putting up monster numbers this season. Another factor to add in is also experience.
Marcus Mariota won the award as a Junior last year, and with exception of Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston both winning the award as freshman. Most of the time, Heisman winners have won it as upper-classman, which bodes well for Boykin as he enters his Senior season. Boykin is one of the best quarterbacks heading into 2015, which makes him a strong candidate to win the award. If in fact, he were to bring home the bronze statue to Fort Worth, it will be the school’s second Heisman winner since Davey O’Brien in 1938