Dark-Horse SEC Players Who Could Jump into 2014 Heisman Discussion
Guess what time of year it is? Watch list time!
Arkansas running back Alex Collins, South Carolina running back Mike Davis, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Alabama running back Derrick Henry, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon, Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker, LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk all appeared on one or both of the lists.
That's quite a few running backs listed as contenders for the quarterback-driven award. Who outside the two lists could jump into the Heisman discussion?
Our list is in this slideshow.
South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson
Running back Mike Davis is getting all of the preseason Heisman Trophy love in Columbia, but don't forget about quarterback Dylan Thompson.
The senior signal-caller for the Gamecocks is finally getting his shot to take the first-team snaps full time for head coach Steve Spurrier after serving as Connor Shaw's backup/fill-in for the last three seasons.
How can Thompson step into the Heisman discussion? The offense will be more of a traditional "Head Ball Coach" scheme with Thompson's arm strength and the attention Davis will draw. As a result, you may see Thompson light up the stat sheet off play action to his talented receiving corps, which includes Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd.
If he does, and the Gamecocks stay dancing around the same 11-win plateau they've been at over the last three years, don't be surprised to see Thompson in New York in December.
Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott's inclusion on this list shouldn't be a surprise.
I touched on his dark-horse candidacy earlier this offseason, and you can even bet on Prescott winning college football's most prestigious award on some offshore sites.
He's going to have the numbers. Prescott ascended into the starting role early last season when Tyler Russell was banged up and now has the entire offseason to build off last season—one in which he passed for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 829 and 13 touchdowns.
Those numbers will jump in 2014, but will that be enough to vault Prescott from dark horse to true contender?
He's fighting an uphill battle based on his team's relative lack of exposure. If those numbers coincide with a few SEC West upsets and Mississippi State is in the division title race in November, Prescott could jump into the discussion.
Florida RB Kelvin Taylor
All eyes were on quarterback Jeff Driskel in Gainesville this spring as the Gators adjusted to new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. But if there's a Heisman contender on that offense—and let's be real, it's an offensive award—it's running back Kelvin Taylor.
Sure, he's just one piece of a running back committee in Gainesville. But he could be the leader of that committee.
Roper is known for his hurry-up, no-huddle scheme that gets playmakers in space in a hurry. Taylor is, arguably, his most reliable playmaker after rushing for 508 yards and four touchdowns, including 213 and two touchdowns over the Gators' final three games of last season when everybody on the planet knew what was coming.
If Florida's hurry-up offense evolves into more of a "Gus Malzahn-style" smashmouth style, Taylor will likely be the beneficiary—and may end up in the Big Apple as a result.
Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Running back Todd Gurley is the best running back in the SEC and quite possibly the country, but he's not the only Heisman Trophy candidate in Athens.
Quarterback Hutson Mason patiently waited his turn behind Aaron Murray for four years, and now is his one shot to lead the Bulldogs back to their first SEC title since 2005. Change the jersey number to "11," and it's hard to tell the difference between Murray and Mason.
They both have a firm grasp of the offense and can hit that back shoulder fade—either in the red zone or downfield. And like Murray, Mason will have a phenomenal cast of characters around him to be successful.
Georgia's offense is going to be predicated on the run thanks to the presence of Gurley in the backfield, which will open the door for Mason to have a banner year in his final campaign in the "Classic City."
Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has been pretty solid over his last two seasons, throwing for 6,340 yards and 40 touchdowns, but 27 interceptions over the same two-year span won't cut it for Heisman voters.
But he's fought through nagging shoulder issues for the better part of his Rebel career, and his responsibilities as a ball-carrier over that same span didn't help matters. But now Ole Miss has some help for Wallace in the running game with Mark Dodson and Jordan Wilkins, which should allow him to be more consistent in the passing game.
With weapons like wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram, he should put up solid numbers. But as is the case with Prescott, he'll have to lead his team to a few upsets and into the division title discussion in November in order to legitimately contend for the Heisman.
Auburn RB Cameron Artis-Payne
Tre Mason got hot in the 2013 season and rode that wave of momentum all the way to the Heisman Trophy ceremony as a finalist.
Could another Auburn running back repeat the feat?
Absolutely, and it could be senior Cameron Artis-Payne. Artis-Payne was "1B" to Mason early last season, before Mason took control of the top spot on the depth chart and Corey Grant settled into his role off the edge. Despite taking a back seat, Artis-Payne rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns, including two games in which he topped the 100-yard mark.
He'll be fighting with Grant, redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and incoming freshman "Roc" Thomas for carries next season. Barber has all the talent in the world, but Artis-Payne will likely get the first shot at taking control of the job.
If he does, he'll likely have the numbers and exposure to make a run at New York.
Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen
Dual-threat sophomore Kenny Hill and pro-style freshman early enrollee Kyle Allen will take their quarterback battle into the fall, and both have shots to make it to New York.
Well it's simple. Head coach Kevin Sumlin already has proven that he can produce successful offenses with both types of quarterbacks, the spotlight will be on the winner of the battle since he's replacing Johnny Manziel and that winner might have to make up for A&M's porous defense.
That defense, which finished last in the SEC at 475.8 yards per game, returns largely intact, but it's going to have to take a giant leap forward unless one of these two quarterbacks can keep that offense clicking at a level similar to where Manziel had it.
Whoever wins the job will have a coach with a great scheme and a ton of weapons around him. That's a recipe for Heisman success.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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