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.
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.