Your guide to 2014′s big Heisman games

Melvin Gordan

The season is almost upon us. If you enjoy following the Heisman race, or if you are a Heisman voter, here are the games you must watch:

Week 1

UCLA at Virginia – Brett Hundley showcases his talents to the East Coast.

West Virginia vs. Alabama – We get our first peek at the new Bama offense under Lane Kiffin. Will either Derrick Henry or TJ Yeldon emerge?

Wisconsin vs. LSU – Melvin Gordon gets a chance to show his stuff vs. an SEC defense. Is this when Leonard Fournette breaks out, too?

Clemson at Georgia – Todd Gurley has a chance to get off to a great start in a high-profile matchup against the Tigers.

Florida State vs. Oklahoma State – Will defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston challenge for that second Heisman? This game could help reveal how close he’ll come.

Week 2

USC at Stanford – If either USC or Stanford is to have a Heisman contender emerge, it will likely come out of this game.

Michigan State at Oregon – Marcus Mariota and the explosive Oregon offense vs. the stingy Spartans defense. What more can you ask for?

Week 3

Georgia at South Carolina – If Gurley can put up back-to-back 100-yard efforts in wins versus Clemson and South Carolina, he’ll vault into the upper echelon of Heisman candidates.

Tennessee at Oklahoma – This is a curious matchup that will give us a good look at how much Trevor Knight has progressed since last season.

UCLA vs. Texas – Hundley needs a big game against Texas to stay in the middle of the early Heisman conversation.

Week 4

Auburn at Kansas State – Nick Marshall and the Tigers get a tough opponent on a Thursday night in Manhattan.

Clemson at Florida State – If any team in the ACC is going to stop FSU, it might be the Tigers.

Florida at Alabama – By this point, we should know which Bama running back is taking charge. And maybe Jeff Driskel shows signs of life.

Week 5

UCLA at Arizona State – It doesn’t get any easier for Hundley and UCLA. This is a tough Thursday night matchup.

Week 6

LSU at Auburn – Marshall will try to exact revenge for last year’s loss. Meanwhile, Fournette’s candidacy has a chance to take off.

Baylor at Texas – Bryce Petty should have outstanding statistics at this point. Beating Texas will help to validate them.

Marshall at Old Dominion – A great chance to see Heisman candidates Rakeem Cato and Taylor Heinicke in the same game.

Stanford at Notre Dame – Could this be where Everett Golson’s Heisman hopes blossom?

Nebraska at Michigan State – If Ameer Abdullah is going to challenge for the Heisman, he’ll have to prove himself here.

Week 7

Oregon at UCLA – Mariota and Hundley square off. The winner should emerge as the Pac-12′s leading Heisman candidate.

Texas vs. Oklahoma – This traditional rivalry showdown could be where Knight’s campaign gains traction.

Auburn at Mississippi State – Marshall takes it on the road against what should be a quality opponent. Does Dak Prescott make a little noise here?

Week 8

Notre Dame at Florida State – A classic matchup like this should do a lot to help or hinder Winston’s repeat chances.

Washington at Oregon – The Ducks host the dangerous Huskies a week after playing the Bruins.

Kansas State at Oklahoma – This will be a tough test for Knight.

Week 9

South Carolina at Auburn – Could Gamecocks running back Mike Davis emerge and make a late run at the trophy?

Ole Miss at LSU – By this time, we should know whether Fournette really is that rare true freshman who can compete for the Heisman.

Ohio State at Penn State – If Christian Hackenberg has a breakout season, this could be where he makes the most noise.

Week 10

Stanford at Oregon – Can Mariota finally beat his nemesis?

Auburn at Ole Miss – Marshall will need to avoid a letdown against the Rebels to have a shot.

Florida vs. Georgia – A traditional matchup for Gurley to impress voters. Would help more if the Gators were any good.

Week 11

Alabama at LSU – This could be a battle young superstar running backs named Henry and Fournette.

Baylor at Oklahoma – Petty can’t win the Heisman without beating OU.

Texas A&M at Auburn – We should see lots of scoring in this one. Marshall has a chance to have a huge game.

UCLA at Washington – Hundley in a tough environment in early November. Look out for rain.

Week 12

Auburn at Georgia – Marshall vs. Gurley. Can the Dawgs bounce back from last year’s heartbreaker?

Nebraska at Wisconsin – Abdullah vs. Gordon. Winner carries Big Ten’s Heisman mantle going forward.

Week 13

USC at UCLA – Hundley with yet another high-stakes matchup. Perhaps Javorious Allen has emerged by this point, too.

Week 14

Stanford at UCLA – Hundley nears the end of his season-long gauntlet by playing against the Pac-12′s most physical team.

Auburn at Alabama – If Marshall caps his season with another win over the Tide, he could be on his way to NYC.

Oregon at Oregon State – Rivalry games are tricky. Mariota needs to be at the top of his game if he wants to stay in contention.

Notre Dame at USC – College football’s greatest intersectional rivalry could feature a couple Heisman dark horses.

Week 15

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma – Bedlam has played an important role in the Heisman race over the last decade or so.

Kansas State at Baylor – With no Big 12 title game in place, this is Petty’s last chance to impress voters.

Pac-12 title game

ACC title game

Big Ten title game

SEC title game 

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The College Football Experience Podcast

Here’s the last couple podcasts (episodes 2 and 3) from the College Football Experience crew. HP is featured on episode 3.

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The 2014 preseason HeismanPundit Heisman Watch

mariota

The 2014 season is finally upon us.

Training camps have wound down. The first top 25 poll has been released. Every outlet imaginable has put out a preseason All-American team.

All that’s left on which to speculate is the race for the most prestigious award in sports.

Here are the 10 players with the best chance of actually winning the Heisman heading into 2014. The most effective way to look at this list is to imagine all of the players having huge statistical seasons while leading their teams to undefeated seasons. All those things being equal, who would the voters pick and why?

This list balances my educated guess of the likelihood of these players performing at a Heisman-worthy level with the built-in advantages they already possess with the Heisman electorate. In a sense, it is an odds list. Can a player not on this list win the Heisman or come close?  Absolutely. But predicting who will win the Heisman before the season starts is often a fool’s errand — see the last few years.  So we’ll be adjusting this list as the weeks go on. Players will come and go depending on the circumstances.

So without further ado, here is the 2014 Heismanpundit.com Preseason Heisman Watch:

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, JR, Oregon

Mariota checks almost all the Heisman boxes. He the third-year starting quarterback for a national title contending team. He has excellent name recognition and he plays in an offense that allows him to put up big numbers. He’s considered an elite football talent with a bright future and he’ll play high profile games against Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford. The main obstacles to Mariota’s candidacy are the expectation levels placed on him and his team. Those can be tricky to navigate, which explains why Mariota failed to finish in the top 10 of last year’s vote despite a stellar season. If he can help his team get over the hump and avoid that yearly letdown, voters will reward him accordingly.

2. Nick Marshall, QB, SR, Auburn

Marshall led Auburn on the most unlikely run to the BCS title game in history. What’s remarkable is that he did so in his first year as a starter, which makes you wonder what he can do in his second season in Gus Malzahn’s offense. Big things, I think. With Tre Mason gone, he’ll be the focal point for the Tigers, who are once again national title contenders. Malzahn has sent two players to New York in his last three seasons at Auburn. Marshall has a good chance to make it three in four.

3. Trevor Knight, QB, SO, Oklahoma

Knight’s placement at No. 3 is not entirely due to his performance against Alabama in this past year’s Sugar Bowl. But that game did tell us a lot about his untapped potential. He has the skill set to put together the kind of season we’ve been seeing from Heisman winners of late. Playing for a traditional Heisman power that is also a national title contender helps, too. If he plays all season like he did against Alabama, he’ll become Bob Stoops’ third Heisman winner.

4. Brett Hundley, QB, JR, UCLA

As with the other spread quarterbacks on this list, Hundley has the chance to put up big numbers for a team that is considered a legit national title contender. Hundley’s profile and name recognition rose in the offseason as various pundits began touting him as a potential Heisman candidate and high NFL draft pick. He’s got a tough schedule ahead of him, but if he can bring his team through it mostly unscathed, he’ll likely be a Heisman finalist.

5. Bryce Petty, QB, SR, Baylor

Petty’s first year as a starter was excellent, as he led Baylor to the Big 12 title on his way to finishing seventh in the Heisman voting. He should be even better as a senior and one shudders to think what kind of production he’ll have in Art Briles’ system. Games against Texas and Oklahoma give him a chance to showcase his Heisman credentials and, if things fall his way, he could be Baylor’s second Heisman winner in four years.

6. Melvin Gordon, RB, JR, Wisconsin

Running backs have taken a back seat to spread quarterbacks in the last eight seasons, with only one (Mark Ingram) winning the Heisman (in 2009). But Gordon is a special back who plays in a system that could allow him to approach or surpass the magical 2,000 yard mark — a statistical accomplishment that almost always guarantees a trip to New York for a player at an FBS school. He had 1,609 yards last season while sharing carries with a now-graduated back (James White) who gained 1,444. It’s certainly possible that Gordon’s new backup Corey Clement duplicates White’s production, but it seems reasonable to suggest that Gordon will increase his production this year if he stays healthy. And that should mean a huge season with a good deal of Heisman votes to go with it.

7. Todd Gurley, RB, JR, Georgia

Gurley is oozing with talent and has put up two strong seasons for the Bulldogs so far. If he can stay healthy, he should have a very productive fall, which will keep him on the short list of Heisman contenders. Unlike Gordon, he probably does not need to rush or 2,000 yards to make it to New York thanks to the SEC’s lingering reputation for defensive prowess. The schedule is friendly and gives him the opportunity to finish strong. If Georgia wins 10 games and Gurley performs at a high level, he’ll be a Heisman finalist.

8. Ameer Abdullah, RB, SR, Nebraska

It’s been so long since a Nebraska running back has warranted Heisman attention. Abdullah has quietly put together a fine career for the Cornhuskers and this could be the year that he makes it into the spotlight. The schedule lacks many high-profile games for him to make his case, but if he leads Nebraska to a division title and approaches Rozier-like levels of production, he’ll have a shot at the Heisman.

9. Everett Golson, QB, JR, Notre Dame

Golson led Notre Dame to a 12-1 record and a spot in the BCS title game as a redshirt freshman. He sat out last year due to academic issues, but he’s back again as quarterback of the Irish. He has the potential to produce a very good season and, as history shows, a very good season for a Notre Dame quarterback almost always results in considerable Heisman attention. Golson is a long shot, but the infrastructure is in place for him to make a run at it.

10. Javorius Allen, RB, JR, USC

The USC running back position, like the Notre Dame quarterback, is well-suited for a Heisman run. All that is required is very good production, about nine or 10 wins and, voila. By the looks of it, Allen is primed for a big season. He had four 100-yard games and scored 13 touchdowns in his final six outings of 2013. He’s now in the same spread offensive system that enabled Bishop Sankey to run for over 1,800 yards and score 20 touchdowns last year. He’s got a good combination of size and speed and a full season should see his production soar. Gaining 1,700 yards for a USC team that manages to capture the Pac-12 South should get him to New York.

The Dark Horses:

Derrick Henry, Alabama; Taysom Hill, BYU; Leonard Fournette, LSU; Thomas Tyner, Oregon; Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

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Who are the new quarterbacks for 2014? (Pac-12 edition)

NCAA Football: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl-Brigham Young vs Washington

Three of the last four Heisman winners have been quarterbacks who were first-time starters. To most observers, they seemingly came out of nowhere.

Could it happen again in 2014?

We’re taking a look at the first-time starters around the country to see if any of them have what it takes to challenge for the Heisman. If any of these players go on to win the Heisman, you won’t be able to say they came out of nowhere because we’re taking a good look at them now, right?

We  previewed the new SEC starters a couple days ago…now on to the Pac-12. We’ll rank them — all two of them! — in the order of how likely they are to mount an out-of-nowhere Heisman run.

1. Cyler Miles, Sophomore, Washington

Miles is an elite talent with great size, mobility and arm strength. His skill set is similar to that of Cam Newton’s. He started a couple games last season for the Huskies when Keith Price was hurt and he did a decent job, throwing for 418 yards and four touchdowns with two picks. He also ran for 200 yards on the year and averaged almost 9 yards per carry. He has to sit out the first game of the season against Hawaii due to an off-season altercation, but he should take up the starting mantle after that (or it could be Jeff Lindquist, a burgeoning talent in his own right). Miles has a chance to be a great college football player and, eventually, a high NFL draft pick — assuming he can develop the mental side of his game. Chris Petersen has a fantastic track record of developing quarterbacks and I’m sure he is salivating at the prospect of building his offense around Miles. Keep an eye on Miles, who could end up being one of the Pac-12′s best quarterbacks before the season is through.

2. Jerrard Randall, Junior, Arizona

Randall has actually made an appearance on HeismanPundit before, as I touted him as a future Heisman candidate from the class of 2011. He has had a checkered career, bouncing from Oregon to LSU to junior college and now to Arizona, where there’s no guarantee he’s even going to win the starting job for the Wildcats. But if he does, Randall’s combination of athleticism, speed and rocket arm should eventually produce big numbers in the Rich Rodriguez scheme. He has a chance to be scary good.

That’s it for the Pac-12 starters. Everyone else is back, including two or three Heisman candidates in their own right.

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Ohio State’s Braxton Miller is out for the season

milller

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has re-injured his right shoulder and is out for the season, according to reports.

With Miller gone, that means we’ve already got our first shake up of the 2014 Heisman race. I’ve not yet released my preseason Heisman Watch, but Miller would’ve placed second in it, meaning that his odds of winning heading into the season were the second-best of any other player.

The prime beneficiary of Miller’s exit should be Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Miller was, by far, the Big Ten’s leading Heisman candidate and he would’ve garnered a ton of support in the Midwest region following a stellar season. Gordon now moves into the role of leading Big Ten candidate, though his hold on that spot isn’t nearly as strong as Miller’s was. If Gordon has a big season and the Heisman race is splintered, his Midwestern base could be decisive.

Miller’s exit should also help the other quarterbacks jockeying for the award, including Marcus Mariota, Bryce Petty and Brett Hundley. Those three won’t have to share the spotlight with Miller all season long and will now be able to attract MidWest voters who tend to favor dual-threat quarterbacks.

It just goes to show you how important health is to the Heisman race. One injury can jumble it up pretty quick.

As for Ohio State, it has a capable backup in J.T. Barrett. Miller’s injury could actually lead to a more balanced Buckeyes offense, which tended to rely on the do-everything quarterback too much the last couple seasons.

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The College Football Experience Podcast

Here’s a new feature at HP. It’s a podcast featuring David Caple (otherwise known as HeismanPundit Jr.) and college football aficionado Kent Brown. We’ll be hosting it here every week on HP. Enjoy.

Here’s part one of their premier episode:

And here is part two:

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Who are the new quarterbacks for 2014? (SEC Edition)

hill

Three of the last four Heisman winners have been quarterbacks who were first-time starters. To most observers, they seemingly came out of nowhere.

Could it happen again in 2014?

Let’s go through the first-time starters around the country and see if any of them have what it takes to challenge for the Heisman. If any of these players go on to win the Heisman, you won’t be able to say they came out of nowhere because we’re taking a good look at them now, right?

First, let’s take a look at the new starting quarterbacks in the SEC, ranking them in order of their likelihood of making a run at the trophy.

1. Kenny Hill, Sophmore, Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin named Hill the starter over true freshman Kyle Allen, which isn’t a huge surprise given Hill’s mobility and playmaking ability. Hill has a strong arm and, like Johnny Manziel before him, can gain yards on the ground. Sumlin’s quarterbacks put up numbers, so expect Hill to hit his stride at some point and finish with a big year statistically. He doesn’t have Manziel’s magic — who does? — but he makes up for it somewhat with his physical gifts. The attention he’ll get for following in Manziel’s footsteps will help his Heisman hopes if he happens to have a good season.

2. Anthony Jennings (Sophomore) or Brandon Harris (Freshman), LSU

I have a feeling that this year’s LSU’s offense will not be your father’s LSU offense. The Tigers under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have decisively moved in the direction of utilizing a mobile quarterback. Keep in mind that Cameron tutored Antwan Randle-El at Indiana, so he knows what he’s doing in this area. Harris has more physical talent than Jennings and I like his potential to be a big-time player down the road, but Jennings is a better passer right now and has the leg up in experience, which means he will probably get the start. Both could benefit from the presence of freshman running back Leonard Fournette, who should loosen up the running lanes a bit. Heisman voters love dual-threat quarterbacks and both Jennings and Harris fit that bill, but one of them would need to dominate from the getgo.

Anthony Jennings

Brandon Harris

3. Jacob Coker, Junior, Alabama

Coker will get attention because he plays at a high profile school. He also has the athletes around him to put up quality production. However, as with previous Alabama quarterbacks, it’s going to be difficult to compete for the Heisman in a system that does not put the fate of the game in the quarterback’s hands. He’ll also have to overcome the Lane Kiffin reverse-Midas-touch factor (though if he can manage to do so, he’ll probably deserve the Heisman).  I’m not high on Coker’s chances as he doesn’t look to me to be a special talent.

4. Hutson Mason, Senior, Georgia

Mason actually started some games last year when Aaron Murray got hurt and he acquitted himself well, throwing for 968 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions.  To compete for the Heisman, he would have to have the kind of season Murray — the SEC’s all-time leading passer — never had. More likely than not, Mason will be a solid stop-gap until some younger talent emerges.

5. Dylan Thompson, Senior, South Carolina

As with Mason, Thompson has some starts under his belt. He’s 3-0 as a starter in Steve Spurrier’s offense and has had some big games in the past in relief of Connor Shaw. Thompson has a good feel for the game, though he can be streaky with his accuracy. He’s got a good group of playmakers to throw to. It’s been a while since a Spurrier quarterback had a monster season so I see no reason to expect Thompson to do so.

6. Patton Robinette (Sophomore), Johnny McCrary (Redshirt Freshman), Vanderbilt

We likely won’t know who will earn the starting job for Vandy until the first game kicks off.  Robinette started three times last season and threw for 642 yards and four touchdowns with five picks. He also rushed for 214 yards and seven touchdowns. I like his potential and he could end up being the guy for the Commodores. McCary is a decent athlete who is still growing into his body, but he’s an excellent touch passer with a good feel for the game. Whatever the case, I don’t foresee any Vandy quarterbacks emerging as Heisman candidates this year.

7. Patrick Towles, Sophomore, Kentucky

Towles is a big dude at 6-5, 240 pounds. He played a little bit in 2012 and then redshirted last season. He’s got a bit of a slow release and his arm, while solid, isn’t elite. He’s not the most mobile guy, either. Bottom line: Don’t look for Towles to come out of nowhere to win the Heisman.

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