The watch list for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, given annually to the top performer in college football, was released Friday afternoon.
"We are proud to continue the great work of Walter Camp and recognize the best college football players in the nation," said Walter Camp Football Foundation president James Monico, per the official release. "This watch list is a great start to what is shaping up to be another exciting year of college football."
The list consists of 50 players (33 offensive, 17 defensive), headlined by last year's winner, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. But this trophy, unlike some of the other major awards in college football (*cough* the Heisman), has been fairly accessible to other positions: Five of the last 12 winners did not play quarterback.
Winston will try to become the first back-to-back Walter Camp winner since Colt McCoy (Texas) in 2008-2009 and the second since Archie Griffin (Ohio State) in 1974-1975.
Here is his primary competition:
|RB Ameer Abdullah||Senior||Nebraska||Big Ten|
|WR Nelson Agholor||Junior||USC||Pac-12|
|RB Jay Ajayi||Junior||Boise State||MWC|
|LB Chi Chi Ariguzo||Senior||Northwestern||Big Ten|
|DL Vic Beasley||Senior||Clemson||ACC|
|DL Shilique Calhoun||Junior||Michigan State||Big Ten|
|QB Shane Carden||Senior||East Carolina||AAC|
|QB Rakeem Cato||Senior||Marshall||C-USA|
|DB Landon Collins||Junior||Alabama||SEC|
|WR Amari Cooper||Junior||Alabama||SEC|
|WR Jamison Crowder||Senior||Duke||ACC|
|RB Mike Davis||Junior||South Carolina||SEC|
|WR Stefon Diggs||Junior||Maryland||Big Ten|
|DB Lorenzo Doss||Junior||Tulane||AAC|
|DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu||Senior||Oregon||Pac-12|
|OL Cameron Erving||Senior||Florida State||ACC|
|DL Devonte Fields||Sophomore||TCU||Big 12|
|WR Devin Funchess||Junior||Michigan||Big Ten|
|QB Everett Golson||Senior||Notre Dame||Independent|
|RB Melvin Gordon||Junior||WIsconsin||Big Ten|
|QB Garrett Grayson||Senior||Colorado State||MWC|
|DL Randy Gregory||Junior||Nebraska||Big Ten|
|RB Todd Gurley||Junior||Georgia||SEC|
|DB Vernon Hargreaves III||Sophomore||Florida||SEC|
|DB Anthony Harris||Senior||Virginia||ACC|
|DL Brock Hekking||Senior||Nevada||MWC|
|WR Austin Hill||Senior||Arizona||Pac-12|
|QB Taysom Hill||Junior||BYU||Independent|
|QB Brett Hundley||Junior||UCLA||Pac-12|
|LB Myles Jack||Sophomore||UCLA||Pac-12|
|RB Duke Johnson||Junior||Miami||ACC|
|QB Matt Johnson||Junior||Bowling Green||MAC|
|QB Taylor Kelly||Senior||Arizona State||Pac-12|
|QB Trevor Knight||Sophomore||Oklahoma||Big 12|
|LB Qushaun Lee||Senior||Arkansas State||Sun Belt|
|WR Tyler Lockett||Senior||Kansas State||Big 12|
|QB Sean Mannion||Senior||Oregon State||Pac-12|
|QB Marcus Mariota||Junior||Oregon||Pac-12|
|QB Nick Marshall||Senior||Auburn||SEC|
|QB Braxton Miller||Senior||Ohio State||Big Ten|
|WR Ty Montgomery||Senior||Stanford||Pac-12|
|OL Andrus Peat||Junior||Stanford||Pac-12|
|QB Bryce Petty||Senior||Baylor||Big 12|
|LB Terrance Plummer||Senior||UCF||AAC|
|DB Cody Prewitt||Senior||Ole Miss||SEC|
|QB Keenan Reynolds||Junior||Navy||Independent|
|DB Derron Smith||Senior||Fresno State||MWC|
|LB Ramik Wilson||Senior||Georgia||SEC|
|QB Jameis Winston||Sophomore||Florida State||ACC|
|RB T.J. Yeldon||Junior||Alabama||SEC|
Of those 50 preseason candidates, here are five who stick out as favorites, along with some other names to keep an eye on.
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston led the nation in quarterback rating (by a substantial margin) last season and still hasn't lost a game as a starter. He was cited for stealing crab legs from a supermarket this offseason, which did not curry favor with the general public, but once the season starts and Winston gets back on the field he should (hopefully) be able to keep his head down and get back to doing what he does best: winning.
RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
Georgia has a first-time starter at quarterback and a defense that should be better against the run (its front seven is loaded) than the pass (its secondary is…not). Its best game plan will be running the ball, controlling the clock and making teams earn every inch—on both sides of the line. Todd Gurley is the most gifted skill-position player in America, and if he stays healthy he is perfectly suited to take advantage of that system and post Walter Camp-type numbers.
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Marcus Mariota was a Heisman candidate—if not the downright Heisman front-runner—at the halfway point of last season. But a blown-out knee hindered his production, and losses to Stanford and Arizona effectively ended his bid for the major awards. He's back for his redshirt junior season, though, and a quarterback doesn't turn down the money from a likely first-round NFL draft pick unless he has some unfinished business. Winning the Walter Camp is part of that.
QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
It feels weird to say this, but given how they ended last season, the Buckeyes might sneak up on some people. A big reason for that is the return of Braxton Miller, the two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year who forewent the NFL draft to play his senior year in Columbus. With Carlos Hyde gone, an even bigger offensive onus will fall on Miller's shoulders—something that seems absurd given his usage rate the past two seasons. If Ohio State makes the College Football Playoff, Miller will have a legitimate shot at this trophy.
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Wisconsin's normally run-heavy system might get even run-heavier this season. Questions under center and (especially) at receiver exist more than ever, but the offensive line should remain great, and Melvin Gordon is finally the No. 1 option. If he keeps up his per-carry pace from 2013, Gordon would turn 250 carries into 1,950 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. There are sure to be some highlight-worthy plays in there as well. That would make for a compelling case.
Other Names to Watch: RB Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska), RB Mike Davis (South Carolina) WR Tyler Lockett (Kansas State), QB Nick Marshall (Auburn), QB Bryce Petty (Baylor)
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BleighDAT