Phil Steele’s awesome annual is out and, in my book, that means the college football preseason has officially begun.
Being the Heismanpundit, I naturally go right to his back page to see his list of Heisman candidates. Phil is not usually as good at predicting the Heisman as he is at other stuff, and he tends to hedge his bets more than usual on the subject, so I was a bit surprised by his top pick this year–Alabama’s Trent Richardson.
It’s not so much that I don’t think Richardson can win the Heisman. He is on my early Heisman watch list, after all. Instead, what struck me was how much has changed at Alabama in the last few years. The Tide went from never really coming close to winning a Heisman to finally breaking through with Mark Ingram (albeit by a whisker in a very weak year) and now, thanks to the talent Nick Saban is attracting, they are likely to be a much stronger factor in the Heisman race for the foreseeable future. Who knows, ‘Bama may yet build a Heisman tradition.
So it got me to thinking: What schools that have yet to win a Heisman are most likely to win one in the next five years?
Here are my picks…
1. Oregon – Whether you are a quarterback or a running back, you are going to put up big numbers in the Chip Kelly offense. The Ducks have a ton of top-level offensive talent stockpiled and should be formidable even after current stars Darron Thomas and LaMichael James exhaust their eligibility. Oregon has transitioned into a national power and, once that happens, Heismans naturally follow. If James or Thomas can’t get it done, look for future stars Lache Seastrunk, Marcus Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas or Tra Carson to be the first Duck so honored. (Note: this also assumes Oregon escapes heavy NCAA penalty as a result of the current investigations).
2. Arkansas — Bobby Petrino‘s offensive machine is just getting rolling. I expect the Razorback quarterback to be a staple at the upper end of the pass efficiency chart for the next few years. Tyler Wilson should do quite well replacing Ryan Mallett and junior running back Knile Davis is the SEC’s best running back. Down the road, look out for quarterback Brandon Allen. Petrino’s system is perfect for budding Heisman candidates. Just plug and play.
3. Boise State — Kellen Moore may not win the Heisman himself, but he will likely pave the way for future Bronco candidates with his masterful career. Moore should be in the top five of the race again this year, which means Heisman voters will be used to seeing a Boise State player in the spotlight. At some point very soon, Boise will sign a high-level talent at either quarterback or running back and that player will have a really good shot at winning the trophy.
4. West Virginia – As long as the Dana Holgorsen Era doesn’t come to an abrupt end as the result of some dumb off-the-field moves on his part, then I expect WVU to be the new offensive powerhouse coming out of the Big East. The most immediate beneficiary of Holgorsen’s fantastic scheme should be quarterback Geno Smith, but it’s Smith’s heir (whoever that is) who should get the most out of it once he matures in the system. This should be a fun team to watch and I expect a Mountaineer to emerge as a legit candidate very soon.
5. Missouri – Long an underachieving program, Missouri under Gary Pinkel is now well-respected. Chase Daniel was in the thick of the Heisman race as a junior and a preseason candidate as a senior. His replacement Blaine Gabbert was a first-round pick in the NFL draft. Missouri quarterbacks put up good stats and the Tigers play the kind of schedule that lends itself to a Heisman run, with games against Oklahoma and Texas usually on the docket.
While one of these five teams is likely to get on the Heisman scoreboard soon, a few others might take a bit longer. Here they are: Mississippi State, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Illinois, Michigan State, Arizona State, Cal, USF, North Carolina.