Top 25 Heisman Candidates for 2014

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIDecember 15, 2013

Top 25 Heisman Candidates for 2014

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Florida State's Jameis Winston has claimed the 2013 Heisman Trophy, making him the obvious favorite to repeat in 2014.

    However, he'll receive stiff competition from several other players, including Oregon's Marcus Mariota. The Ducks recently announced that he'll return for his redshirt junior year in Oregon.

    Elsewhere, the race will be widely determined by which juniors decide to jump to the NFL. Johnny Manziel, Braxton Miller and Teddy Bridgewater are all still contemplating their futures.

    While their choices will shape the race, several running backs will figure into the mix, including current sophomores Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon.

    An asterisk (*) indicates player is eligible for the NFL draft.

25. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU*

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    Odell Beckham Jr., along with fellow junior receiver Jarvis Landry, is still undecided on his future, though Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune suggested that it is likely they both go pro.

    Both have the potential to make a run at the Heisman Trophy if they return. 

    Beckham has a leg up on Landry because of his involvement in the return game. He finished the 2013 regular season No. 3 nationally in all-purpose yards, averaging more than 185 yards per contest.

    If he returns and leads LSU to a strong season, he'll earn some Heisman attention.

24. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M*

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    Texas A&M's Mike Evans is another underclassman who is weighing his options for the NFL draft.

    He was a Biletnikoff Award finalist and finished eighth in the nation at an average of 110.2 yards per game.

    At 6'5", 225 pounds, Evans is one of the most physically imposing receivers in college football and will make an enticing NFL draft prospect.

    But if he decides to come back, he'll once again be a top-level wide receiver. His overall Heisman chances will depend on whether or not A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel returns.

23. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State*

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    Fresh off a remarkable season that culminated with being named the Biletnikoff Award winner, Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks' draft stock might be as high as it can possibly go.

    Given that reality, there is a good chance Cooks will go pro.

    However, if he returns, he will be poised for another prolific season—particularly if quarterback Sean Mannion, also a junior, returns as well.

    With another year of experience and rapport, the duo will put up ridiculous numbers yet again. At times, OSU looked like a legitimate contender in the Pac-12.

    If the Beavers can become more consistent next season, a conference title might be possible. 

22. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson*

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    Sammy Watkins might be the first wide receiver selected if he decides to leave Clemson early.

    The junior has been on the NFL radar since his remarkable freshman campaign. Given his history with injury, it would certainly be a logical decision.

    However, if he returns, he'll be right back on the Heisman radar. With his return skills, he could lead the nation in all-purpose yardage if healthy. 

    If he does that and leads Clemson in the fight for the ACC title, he'll be right in the thick of the race.

21. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

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    Penn State's Christian Hackenberg was one of the best freshmen quarterbacks in college football this season and perhaps the best of all true freshman signal-callers.

    He led a depleted Nittany Lions squad to a 7-5 record, tallying nearly 3,000 passing yards in the process.

    The biggest detriment to his Heisman campaign might be Allen Robinson. Robinson spent this season as Hackenberg's go-to target, amassing nearly 1,500 receiving yards.

    If the junior decides to jump to the NFL, Hackenberg will need to find a new No. 1 option. 

20. Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri

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    Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk was outstanding, leading Missouri to a 3-1 record after an injury to starter James Franklin.

    In just four full games, Mauk tallied 1,039 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.

    Next year, Franklin will be graduated, and Mauk will take the lead of a Mizzou squad that is a legitimate SEC and national title contender.

    He'll also have an outstanding receiver, Dorial Green-Beckham, at his disposal. DGB might become a Heisman candidate himself.

19. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU*

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    Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune suggested that it is likely Jeremy Hill will take off for the NFL. But until he announces his decision, he should be considered a Heisman threat for 2013.

    Hill amassed nearly 1,200 rushing yards with 14 touchdowns despite missing the season opener due to suspension.

    The Tigers will have to deal with the loss of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but they look to be in good hands with Anthony Jennings at the helm. The freshman looked strong in engineering a comeback win against Arkansas.

    If LSU can maintain a balanced offense, Hill will have a chance to put up enormous numbers yet again.

18. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

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    Ameer Abdullah said back in November that he would not be entering the NFL draft, per Sam McKewon of the Omaha World Herald.

    That's great news for Nebraska. Abdullah finished the regular season No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing with 1,568 yards.

    The Cornhuskers will be better off offensively with one set quarterback, Tommy Armstrong Jr. 

    The offense will yet again be based around Abdullah, who will look to improve on his outstanding junior season while leading the Huskers toward a Big Ten title.

17. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State*

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    Sean Mannion had a decent Heisman Trophy campaign going through the first half of the 2013 season.

    In connecting with star receiver Brandin Cooks, Mannion was the most prolific quarterback in college football.

    He threw for more than 360 yards in each of Oregon State's first seven games. The Beavers were riding high at 6-1 before they fizzled out late, losing their last five contests. In that span, Mannion didn't break 350 passing yards once.

    If he can make it back to his early-season form from this season and carry it through a full slate next year, he'll be right in the Heisman race statistically.

16. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon*

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    De'Anthony Thomas could be taking his elite speed to the professional level. He hasn't made his decision yet, but if he returns, Oregon will be on the short list of national title favorites. 

    Quarterback Marcus Mariota will be the most likely Heisman candidate for the Ducks, but Thomas won't be far behind.

    He's coming off a somewhat disappointing season, as he was limited by injury through much of the year. With a high ceiling for next season and an underwhelming 2013 in his rearview, Thomas could decide to come back.

    If he does, he'll garner plenty of Heisman consideration.

15. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington*

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    The biggest possible recruiting coup for new Washington head coach Chris Peterson would be to persuade running back Bishop Sankey to return for his senior year.

    With head coach Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Keith Price both departing, Sankey has good reason to just move on as well.

    He also has good reason to come back. After finishing No. 3 nationally with 1,775 rushing yards, he will be on the short list for the Doak Walker Award in 2014.

    UW will be once again be in contention for the Pac-12 title, and he could make a Heisman run. If the Huskies are in the Pac-12 title race, Sankey will have some Heisman hope.

14. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

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    A major concern for South Carolina this season was finding a strong running game after Marcus Lattimore's departure.

    Mike Davis eased those concerns almost immediately and broke 100 yards rushing seven times on the season. He finished fourth in the SEC in rushing, averaging 103.1 yards per game.

    He will be the focal point of the South Carolina offense again next season, and if the Gamecocks are again in the league and national title pictures, Davis will be a Heisman candidate.

    That might be his biggest obstacle, as South Carolina will have to replace several key contributors, including quarterback Connor Shaw and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

13. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona*

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    Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey told Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star that his draft decision will depend on feedback he receives from the NFL draft advisory board:

    Carey spoke with the Star about the decision he faces on whether or not to declare for the NFL draft. The running back told us he filed his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board to see where he's projected to be picked and will wait to see what the results are before making a final decision.

    "First round, second round, that's comfortable stuff you can't pass up," Carey said. "Anything after that I think you have to get your degree. There's a lot of things boiling in the pot affecting my decision."

    If he elects to come back, there's little doubt that he'll have elite numbers yet again. After leading the country in rushing last year, he finished second this season.

    His top roadblock will be the team around him. Arizona just isn't a national contender and will be replacing B.J. Denker at quarterback.

12. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

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    T.J. Yeldon finished third in the SEC in rushing and posted his second straight 1,000-yard season.

    This was despite sharing time with both Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry.

    The sophomore tallied 1,163 yards (105.7 yards per game) with 13 touchdowns and will be a key part of the offense yet again next season.

    Alabama will likely be in the national picture yet again, and if Yeldon stays healthy, he'll be in the Heisman discussion.

11. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor*

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    Before the 2013 campaign even began, Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk proclaimed that he would win the Heisman.

    He came up short of that goal, much thanks to injury, but he will be on the short list of contenders if he returns. He'd also be a high draft pick with his unique blend of size, speed and quickness.

    On the other hand, Baylor will be a national title contender if he returns along with quarterback Bryce Petty.

    Decisions, decisions.

10. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

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    Georgia isn't sure what it'll have at the quarterback position after Aaron Murray's departure.

    However, the Bulldogs know that they'll have one of the deepest groups of running backs in the nation, and that the unit will be paced by Todd Gurley.

    Gurley missed three-and-a-half games but still finished with more than 900 rushing yards and ranked at No. 5 in rushing yards per game with 100.3.

    The immense depth behind him could end up detracting from his carries, but if Gurley is healthy, he'll receive more than enough touches to mount a Heisman campaign.

9. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn*

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    After an incredible finish to the 2013 regular season, Mason raced his way into the Heisman Trophy picture.

    He recently told Brandon Marcello of that he his still contemplating his future:

    I'm not sure. I've been talking to my family, talking to a couple guys that I know that are already there like (Baltimore Ravens safety) Matt Elam and guys like that. I've been discussing those things with them and they said don't worry about it, leave it in God's hands. He's going to make the right decision for you, so I'm just going to let time wind down.

    He led the SEC with 1,621 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, even while Auburn was breaking in a new quarterback and still coming together under a new head coach through much of the early going.

    If he returns along with quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers will again boast one of the nation's most dangerous offenses.

8. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

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    Though Auburn already has one Heisman candidate in running back Tre Mason, the Tigers could see a campaign from quarterback Nick Marshall instead.

    If the Tigers are back in the national title hunt and Marshall is playing at a high level, he'll receive a look for the Heisman.

    He will have to improve his throwing, but given his ground production, he won't have to make a drastic change.

    Between Mason and Marshall, it might come down to which of the two makes more plays in big circumstances. This season, Mason was that guy. In a read offense, that can change like the wind.

7. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA*

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    Brett Hundley could be a first-round selection if he elects to leave for the NFL draft.

    However, the redshirt sophomore's father recently hinted to Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register that his son might return, saying, "I know Brett. He tends to want to finish what he starts."

    If he comes back, he'll lead one of the best offenses in college football and a team that has a shot to take a step to the upper echelon of the Pac-12.

    UCLA's offense was inconsistent, as it lacked a reliable option at running back due to injury. If the Bruins can stay healthy, they can win the Pac-12. If they're there, Hundley will be earning the recognition.

6. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

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    Baylor proved this season that it is ready to be a full-time player in the Big 12 conference.

    The Bears won the first BCS berth and Big 12 title in their history and will return talent again next season. They have also seen an improvement on the recruiting trail and will be opening a new stadium in 2014.

    It appears as though Petty will return, and his coach, Art Briles, was recently launching his campaign for the 2015 draft. Briles went on the College Football 24/7 podcast and had this to say of his signal-caller and what his return will mean for BU, per Dan Greenspan:

    Now we have a good feel how Bryce functions, what he can do, and next year I think he'll be phenomenal. I think he'll be a top-five pick in 2015, no question.

    That's the next step for us as a program is maintaining, and then ... hitting that 1 or 2 (ranking) in there where it really gives you a chance to play for the national title.

    Petty finished eighth in the nation in passing, averaging 320 yards per game this season. With a year of experience now under his belt, he'll be ready to take Baylor to the next level.

5. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville*

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    Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is expected to be one of the top field generals in the 2014 NFL draft class—if he leaves.

    John Middlekauff of CSN Bay Area recently reported that Bridgewater is considering a return to Louisville.

    He was thought to be a Heisman Trophy favorite this season, but he didn't live up to those expectations. Next year, he'll also benefit from playing a tougher schedule, as the Cardinals head from the AAC to the ACC.

    If they are back in the race for a national title, it'll be because of Bridgewater.

4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State*

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    If Braxton Miller hadn't been injured this season, he would've at least been a Heisman finalist. He finished fourth among all quarterbacks in rushing last season, averaging about 94 yards per game.

    Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer recently broke down cases both for and against Miller leaving for the draft.

    The Buckeyes will have a shot at the national title that eluded them this season, and Miller will have a full season to showcase his skills and compete for the Heisman.

    Miller is one of the most skilled quarterbacks in college football, and if he returns and has an enormous year, his draft stock will skyrocket.

3. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

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    Marcus Mariota was running away with the Heisman Trophy.

    Oregon was on track to play for a national title, and Mariota was posting incredible numbers to lead the charge. The Ducks boasted one of the best offenses in the country, and Mariota was slashing apart defenses through the air and on the ground.

    His Heisman and Oregon's national title berth were becoming more and more likely before the wheels fell off. The Ducks skidded over the final few weeks of the season, ending Mariota's Heisman hopes and their BCS dreams.

    Mariota will have several key players back around him, and the Ducks will have a clean slate, ready to battle their way back to the promised land.

    Oregon will have new life for a national title berth, and Mariota will have an outstanding shot at the Heisman.

2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M*

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    The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel will be a Heisman favorite if he comes back. He is still college football's most exciting player, even though he didn't take his second straight Heisman.

    He recently said that he believes he is ready for the NFL, though he will still weigh his options, per David Jones of USA Today:

    You don't want to go be unprepared for the National Football League or leave two years on the table. You don't want to do that. So in the grand scheme of things it all comes down to making the best decision for you. Whether you're ready, whether teams are quarterback-needy, whatever it may be. You look at all your factors. 

    Simply because of his unique playmaking ability and skill set, he'll always remain a coveted NFL draft choice and one of college football's best players.

    His biggest motivator for heading to the draft might be injury, as he was hampered by several minor ailments this season. If he comes back and stays healthy, he could take Heisman No. 2 after all.

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

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    Jameis Winston carried a great deal of hype into his first season on the field for Florida State, and he lived up to every bit of it. 

    Naturally, he'll bring along even more this season.

    After becoming the youngest player ever to win the award, at 19, he'll be a front-runner to repeat in 2014. FSU will again be in the ACC and national title picture, making it a definite possibility.

    The biggest barrier for Winston is just the general difficulty in repeating. Manziel failed to do it this year, just like several winners before him.

    Winston will be expected to show improvement; otherwise, he'll have a tough time repeating. As difficult as it has proven to be, it will still be Winston's award to lose.