10 Senior Stars with the Best Shot at the 2014 Heisman Trophy

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IMarch 28, 2014

10 Senior Stars with the Best Shot at the 2014 Heisman Trophy

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    A senior winning the Heisman Trophy? Stop it. It's not as if it that's happened only once in the past decade. Remember that memorable Troy Smith season in 2006? Yes, that was the last time it happened.

    Since then, the old men on campus haven't been so lucky. 

    However, there is a great case to be made for a senior breaking that streak this season.  

    It nearly happened last season with Boston College running back Andre Williams breaking the 2,000-yard mark. While Williams didn't win the award, it was progress for the increasingly rare breed of senior skill position players. 

    It begs the question—who will carry the torch for the senior class in 2014? Let's take a look at 10 candidates who could do just that. 

    All stats courtesy of CFBstats.com.

10. Devante Davis (UNLV)

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    If you haven't heard of Devante Davis, let us introduce you to one of the best wide receivers in the country. He finished last season with 87 receptions for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

    Davis' numbers put him among the elite in returning receivers in an FBS conference (Mountain West). He is third in receptions, second in yards and first in receiving touchdowns among returning receivers. If that doesn't qualify one for potential Heisman status, what does?

    There's no doubt that playing at UNLV works against him, but last season we saw a huge season matter more than team marks for Andre Williams of Boston College.

    He is a long shot to win the Heisman Trophy, but we've seen players come out of nowhere to win the award in each of the last three seasons. Keep Davis in the back of your mind, especially if the Rebels continue to make bowl appearances. 

9. Taylor Kelly (Arizona State)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Everyone loves a dual-threat quarterback these days, and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is one of the best returning for the 2014 season. 

    Kelly threw for 3,635 yards, completed 62.5 percent of his passes and had 28 touchdowns in 2013. He also ran for more than 600 yards and nine touchdowns last year. 

    How does Kelly go from good numbers to Heisman hopeful? Considering he's competing with Brett Hundley of UCLA, winning a game against UCLA would help. 

    Kelly will likely play a big role in whether ASU is a contender in the Pac-12 South, and as long as that happens, he will garner the attention necessary to be in the Heisman conversation. 

8. Shane Carden (ECU)

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    Yes, Shane Carden plays on a team that won't get a lot of attention early on, but he also plays in an offense that allows him to put up ridiculous numbers. 

    When you complete 70.5 percent of your passes, throw for more than 4,000 yards and have 33 touchdowns, people tend to take notice. Those were the numbers for Carden last season, and that should get the nation's attention this season. 

    If Carden can replicate those numbers, he's got a chance—especially because East Carolina moves to the American Athletic Conference. 

    An increase in the level of competition and a high-flying offense equal a potential Heisman run. Now, if ECU's defense can come along for the ride, Carden could be in the mix as the season goes along. 

7. Tyler Lockett (Kansas State)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    We already highlighted one receiver, but if there is a better wideout candidate than UNLV's Devante Davis, it is Kansas State's Tyler Lockett. 

    He was K-State's most electric player last season and also its most clutch. Lockett finished last year with 81 receptions for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns. 

    Those are good numbers, but in order to win the Heisman, Lockett and any other receiver needs to have a spectacular season. A look inside Lockett's numbers last season shows he at least has a flair for the dramatic

    Lockett will need some help at the quarterback position, and as long as the Wildcats get that settled, he could be in for an even bigger season in 2014. That is the biggest thing holding him back from being higher on this list. 

6. Sean Mannion (Oregon State)

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    While Lockett may need a quarterback, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion needs someone to catch the ball. He will be without the services of all-everything receiver Brandin Cooks, and that means there's a 128-reception hole in the OSU offense. 

    Mannion's numbers last season were very good, as he completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. It was a marked improvement over his sophomore season, when he threw for just 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. 

    So what makes Mannion a serious Heisman contender? He needs to lead his Beavers to at least late-season contention in the Pac-12 North. Oh, and he must continue to put up the eye-popping numbers, too. 

    Playing out West and in Corvallis won't help, but there are few better pure quarterbacks in college football coming into the 2014 season. Mannion might slip under the radar for awhile, which is why we don't have him higher.  

5. Devin Gardner (Michigan)

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    Michigan might have a quarterback battle, but Devin Gardner goes into the fall as the front-runner. 

    There might not have been a more maligned quarterback in FBS football last season than Gardner. Yet his raw numbers suggest someone who is very capable of leading the Wolverines back to prominence. If only the offensive line would've helped him out. 

    Gardner finished last season with 2,960 yards, completed more than 60 percent of his passes and threw 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. 

    All of that happened while running for his life for about 90 percent of the season. Thanks to that, he also added 483 yards (2.9 per carry) and 11 touchdowns rushing. 

    New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier could be the difference-maker in turning Gardner from a good quarterback to a great one. Given the visibility of playing at Michigan and the flashes of greatness Gardner has shown, he could have a chance at the Heisman if he wins the job. 

4. Jeremy Langford (Michigan State)

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    Michigan State found itself an offense to go along with its elite defense in 2013, and a big reason for it was the emergence of running back Jeremy Langford. 

    The junior finished the season with 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns, with the touchdown total leading all Big Ten rushers. He did all that despite not taking over as the lead back until four games into the season. 

    Given Michigan State's increased status and the competition it will face in 2014 (Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, etc.), Langford will have plenty of time to showcase his skills for a full year. 

    With more carries coming his way, that 4.8-yard-per-carry average could allow him top the 1,600-yard mark this season. 

    Langford will also be competing for Heisman attention with teammate Connor Cook. However, Langford's ability to run and catch out of the backfield makes him an ideal candidate to put up the stats that will make people pay attention. 

3. Bryce Petty (Baylor)

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    Baylor has been on the upswing over the past three years, and there is precedent for a Baylor quarterback to be associated with the Heisman Trophy. After all, Robert Griffin III did win it in 2011. 

    It may not be long before another Bears quarterback wins the award, as Bryce Petty put himself in a good situation to be in contention this season, thanks to last year. 

    Petty threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions, all while leading the Bears to their first-ever BCS bowl game. 

    Come this season, Petty's name will be among the front-runners for the Heisman, and if he can lead Baylor to the Big 12 championship, his odds will increase. 

    Vegas appears to be high on Petty as well, with Odds Sharks pointing out that he is one of the early front-runners. So be on the lookout for Petty if he stays hot from the start of this season.  

2. Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska)

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    The Big Ten may not be in its heyday right now, but its senior class of 2014 rules the roost, and when it comes to running backs, there's no bigger senior than Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. 

    It seems as if he's been around forever, but this will be his last go-around. After putting up 1,690 yards, averaging six yards per carry and scoring nine rushing touchdowns last season, Abdullah proved 2012 was no fluke.

    Now, all Abdullah needs to do is find a way to put the ball in the end zone more and he'll be in business. It will also help should the Huskers make a run toward the Big Ten championship as well. 

    Abdullah's size, speed and hands are a unique combination, and it could result in him hoisting the stiff-arm trophy come December. 

1. Braxton Miller (Ohio State)

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    Braxton Miller's choice to come back for a senior season was a big one for the Buckeyes, and it also makes him an instant contender for the Heisman Trophy. 

    After setting the all-time OSU record for most yards in 2012, Miller followed it up with another 2,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing season—all of it despite missing two games and three-quarters of another. 

    Miller showcased more patience in the pocket, and his passing game took a big step forward in 2013. If that kind of improvement happens again for Miller, he could be poised for another record-setting year.

    He upped his completion percentage from 58 to 63 percent last year. Add in 24 touchdowns to seven interceptions and you have the makings of a quarterback with the passing game to match what he can do with his feet. 

    The trick for Miller will also be to stick around for an entire season. He hasn't been able to produce a full season since his freshman year, and in order to stay in the Heisman race, health is a requirement for a quarterback. 

    Given his overall numbers the last two years, Miller enters this season as the senior with the best chance to hoist the Heisman.

    Andy Coppens is a college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndyOnCFB.