Bleacher Report's Preseason 2014 Heisman Rankings

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterAugust 27, 2014

Bleacher Report's Preseason 2014 Heisman Rankings

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    The Heisman Trophy isn't won in August or September, but that's not stopping anyone from guessing who the winner will be.

    Just as the preseason is a time for predicting the first four-team playoff field, it is a time for predicting who has a legitimate shot to win college football's top honor. It's also the perfect time to throw out a list of names who have an outside chance.

    Remember, everyone is undefeated before Week 1. Everyone has a shot. Rankings reflect players previously named to either All-American or all-conference watch lists.

    How do Bleacher Report's preseason Heisman rankings look heading into season openers? The answers are on the following slides. And, of course, any omissions are purely out of hatred for your team.

Honorable Mentions

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    The usual suspects will be on the main list, so here's a group of players who just missed the cut. Don't discard these guys so easily, however. They just might find themselves in New York before it's all said and done. 

      

    South Carolina running back Mike Davis

    Here's what Davis has going for him: He's the feature back with name recognition on a preseason top-10 team. Now that quarterback Connor Shaw is gone, Davis' carries should go up.

     

    Miami running back Duke Johnson

    There aren't many candidates who have more upside in these rankings than Johnson.

    He's an electric running back capable of making big plays, and he can contribute in the return game (the latter of which can sometimes be necessary for Heisman consideration).

    With a freshman quarterback, Brad Kaaya, Johnson could be the heart and soul of the Hurricanes offense. 

     

    Houston wide receiver Deontay Greenberry

    With all the star power lost at wide receiver across college football, this will be a year when a new crop of names emerges.

    One to keep an eye on is Greenberry. He posted 82 catches for 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Another year with rising star quarterback John O'Korn, and those numbers should go up even more. 

     

    Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty

    Petty is a numbers machine. In 2013, he threw for precisely 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

    "Do those numbers again this year, he'll be in New York. Might win it," head coach Art Briles said at Big 12 media days. 

    Petty will have primary target Antwan Goodley back, as well as some young, newer faces at receiver. So repeating those numbers is entirely possible. 

     

    Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton

    Keeton is coming off a season-ending injury, but he is one of the most entertaining dual-threat quarterbacks in college football. 

5. UCLA Quarterback Brett Hundley

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    This spot could have gone to Petty, but it feels like UCLA and quarterback Brett Hundley are on the verge of a big year after winning 10 games last year. 

    Hundley certainly can run—he led the team with 748 yards and 11 touchdowns—but he can be an even better passer.

    Another year under offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone should help in that department. If Hundley can eclipse 40 total touchdowns, he'll be on the short list of Heisman candidates by December.

    Hundley will have early opportunities to strengthen his Heisman spotlight against Texas (Sept. 13) and Arizona State (Sept. 25).

    If he can lead the Bruins to wins over Oregon (Oct. 11) and Stanford (Nov. 28), two teams he's struggled against in the past, it would show he's taken a huge step forward. 

    Hundley has the physical tools to match his hype, but this is a year he has to deliver in big moments.

4. Clemson Defensive End Vic Beasley

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    Let's be honest before going any further: This is a pick that probably has zero chance of panning out. The last defensive player to win the Heisman was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997. Since then, it's been all quarterbacks and running backs. 

    But that doesn't mean Vic Beasley shouldn't be under consideration as one of the best players in college football. There are enough quarterbacks on this list, anyway.

    Beasley is a terror off the edge of the Tigers' defensive line, tying for second a year ago nationally with 13 sacks. 

    He also happens to be a part of one of the best defensive lines heading into this year. There's so much talent beside him that offensive lines can't afford to put too much focus on him. Therefore, Beasley could rack up double-digit sack numbers again. 

    A big game against Florida State on Sept. 20—the Seminoles did a good job of keeping Beasley under control a year ago—would help his Heisman cause.

3. Georgia Running Back Todd Gurley

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    The way the running back position has evolved in football—or devolved, if you will—it's rare anymore to see an NFL team use a first-round selection on one. 

    But B/R's Matt Miller has Georgia running back Todd Gurley going in the first round of the 2015 draft.

    Todd Gurley is the right kind of back to break the NFL's devaluation of the position. At 6'1" and 232 pounds, he's built like a cross between Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch but still has the speed to pull away from defenders and beat down a defense. He's special, and as long as he can stay healthy, he should be a first-round talent in 2015.

    Gurley is the total package: He's a bruising, downhill runner who has good explosiveness, and he can also contribute in the passing game. The only thing that held Gurley back in 2013 was his health.

    But, make no mistake, Gurley is the feature back for the Bulldogs. Provided he stays healthy, he could be a touchdown machine and eclipse 1,500 yards on the ground.

2. Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota

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    Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was a Heisman favorite for a portion of last season, but a knee injury hampered those chances. Now fully healthy, Mariota is once again near the top of the conversation. 

    Mariota plays in an offense that caters to the stat-friendly Heisman voting system. A year ago, he tallied 3,665 passing yards, 715 rushing yards and 40 total touchdowns.

    The reported injury to Bralon Addison and general turnover at wide receiver leave question marks about Mariota's passing numbers, but the Ducks have long executed the "next man up" philosophy. 

    Mariota's numbers last year weren't good enough to merit an invitation to New York, so he may have to surpass 4,000 yards passing and get closer to 1,000 yards rushing to get it done. Not to mention he has to stay healthy.

1. Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston

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    Only one player, Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, has ever won back-to-back Heismans. And putting Jameis Winston at No. 1 isn't to say he'll win a second consecutive Heisman. 

    However, Winston was considered the best player in college football in 2013, and until it is proved otherwise on the field, he earns the top spot. 

    If there's one thing to watch, though, it's how Winston looks in the passing game. Veteran Rashad Greene is back, but Florida State loses Kelvin Benjamin, who accounted for a team-best 15 touchdowns and 18.7 yards per catch. 

    Coupled with the departure of receiver Kenny Shaw, who had 17.3 yards per catch, Florida State's explosiveness in the passing game could go down. What does that mean for Winston's Heisman chances?

    It could mean his passing numbers go down, even if he's improved as a passer. It could mean a larger focus on the running game, which, again, takes numbers away from Winston. 

    But if Florida State is in the playoff conversation at year's end, it's likely Winston is in the Heisman conversation as well. 

     

    Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of ESPN.com. All quotes obtained firsthand unless cited otherwise.