10 Seniors with the Best Chance to Win the Heisman Trophy in 2018

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2018

10 Seniors with the Best Chance to Win the Heisman Trophy in 2018

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield is gone from Oklahoma and heading for the NFL draft, and he's joined by a slew of playmakers who were fellow seniors or juniors.

    So, who's left in college football who can bring home the hardware in 2018?

    There is a deep pool, as always, but there aren't a lot of seniors who are expected to contend for it. Believe it or not, that's not a surprise. Mayfield was the first senior to win the award since Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. 

    Before that, Carson Palmer in 2002 was the last senior winner, completing a five-year run when fourth-year players took home the award.

    Was Mayfield's triumph the beginning of another trend or an aberration? Though there aren't a lot of seniors who are expected to win the 2018 Heisman, there are some big names on the contenders' list.

    Bryce Love was the runner-up a season ago, and he should contend. Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley will be asked to do even more in Happy Valley with Saquon Barkley gone. 

    Let's take a look at the top senior contenders for college football's biggest individual prize.

Jake Browning, Washington Quarterback

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    2017 stats: 230-of-336 (68.5 completion percentage), 2,719 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions


    Why he has a shot

    If there's anybody in college football who deserves a career achievement Heisman Trophy, it would be Washington quarterback Jake Browning. While it isn't fair to award the trophy based on that, we won't act like it hasn't happened before (Archie Griffin, Chris Weinke and Mark Ingram).

    If Browning is going to win it in his fourth year as a steady starter in coach Chris Petersen's system, he needs a year more like he had in 2016, where he threw for 3,430 yards, 43 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Without John Ross around last year, his numbers took a big hit.

    The 6'2", 206-pound signal-caller from Folsom, California, also needs to perform better in the biggest games. Two years ago, he struggled in the Pac-12 Championship Game and against Alabama in the College Football Playoff.

    Last year, he sputtered in losses to Arizona State and Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. But Browning is capable of putting up big numbers and leading a team that should compete for the playoff.

    If they get there and he has a year like two seasons ago, he'll be right in the mix.


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    There's no better place to get started than at the beginning. The Huskies start the season in Atlanta against SEC foe Auburn and its vaunted defense in a game that will get a ton of national exposure.

    If he lights up the Tigers, the campaign can begin.

    There won't be a bigger game than November 3 at home against Stanford in a battle that should be for the North Division. If Browning leads the Huskies to the win and the division title, it'll pad his resume.

Parris Campbell, Ohio State Athlete

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    2017 stats: 40 catches, 584 yards, three touchdowns; 10 rushes, 132 yards and one touchdown; 36.6 average on nine kickoff returns


    Why he has a shot

    The 6'1", 208-pounder has the potential to be a big-play threat in three phases of the game for Ohio State, and he proved in 2017 that he deserves more touches.

    He figures to get those with a more passing-centric quarterback in Dwayne Haskins. The speedster also is a threat running the ball as an H-back, getting the ball in space and returning kicks.

    "After 50 combined catches and rushing attempts with four touchdowns, Campbell isn't exactly a mystery," Land of 10's Austin Ward wrote. "But he's now poised to become a household name with his potential and the position he plays."

    A concussion a season ago kept him from dominating and heading off to the NFL a year early. The Buckeyes are glad he's around. Heisman voters love a player who can make an impact from different areas, and Campbell is right there with Bryce Love with that potential.


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Whether or not he's a candidate will already be written by the time the Buckeyes host Michigan on November 24, but Campbell could really elevate his chances then if he's on the cusp.

    The Wolverines finally look like they'll be a formidable opponent in coach Jim Harbaugh's third year, and if Campbell shreds them for some big gains, it'll get national attention. If he wants to catapult into the conversation, a three-week span between September 15 and 29 when they play TCU and Penn State is key.

Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State Quarterback

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    2017 stats: 159-of-286 (55.6 completion percentage) 1,782 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions; 162 rushes for 984 yards (6.1 average) and 14 touchdowns


    Why he has a shot

    Last year, Nick Fitzgerald was an early-season dark-horse candidate for the Heisman until a reality check in the forms of a 31-3 loss to Georgia and a 49-10 walloping at the hands of Auburn sent him back to earth.

    The season sputtered a bit from there for Fitzgerald, who was coming off a monstrous junior campaign. He finished with too many turnovers a season ago to be in the Heisman running, and an injury in the Egg Bowl cost him a bowl appearance, too.

    Now, Fitzgerald is back in Starkville with a major chance to rebound. He's big and talented, and he's got an ideal maestro directing the band. It's a tough loss for the Bulldogs that Dan Mullen left to go to Florida, but they replaced him with former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

    Moorhead has been sculpting a similar star quarterback in Trace McSorley the past two years, and he's a great fit for Fitzgerald's continuing development. If the two hit it off, the Bulldogs have a ton of talent around him and could be poised for a strong season.


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Fitzgerald is going to toss up some big statistics this year; there are just too many good players around him on that MSU offense.

    On November 10, the Bulldogs travel to Tuscaloosa to take on an Alabama team that is always at or near the top of the rankings, and he is capable of wreaking havoc on what is going to be a young Tide defense. A season ago, Fitzgerald nearly led State in an upset in Starkville before 'Bama won 31-24.

    If Fitzgerald can complete the conquer the SEC West, he'll be in a position to get some votes.

Myles Gaskin, Washington Running Back

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    2017 stats: 222 rushes, 1,380 yards (6.2 average), 21 touchdowns; 19 catches, 232 yards (12.2 average), three touchdowns


    Why he has a shot

    Browning gets most of the headlines in Seattle, but Myles Gaskin has been just as big of a part of the Huskies' success for just as long.

    Petersen has been blessed with tons of talent that he's recruited and developed to fit his system, and Gaskin plays bigger than his 5'10", 191-pound frame. Each year, he's improved, but if you want to talk steady, look at his numbers.

    As a freshman, he finished with 1,302 yards on 5.7 yards per carry. His sophomore year, that surged to 1,373 yards and a 5.8 average, and last year, he improved both of those numbers again to 1,380 and 6.2, respectively. He's scored 14, 11 and 24 total touchdowns in his three seasons.

    If the Huskies are more committed to the run, he can make it over 1,500 yards and score 25-30 touchdowns. If Washington is in the College Football Playoff, he'll be mentioned.

    He's one of the most underrated players in the country.


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Much like Browning's opportunity, Gaskin can prove in the season opener against Auburn on a national stage that he can shred a quality run defense in Kevin Steele's Tigers.

    The Huskies play at Oregon on October 13, and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt's unit was second in the Pac-12 in run defense behind Washington a year ago in a dramatic turnaround from the porous group in 2016.

    With big games against the Tigers and Ducks and some huge opportunities against lesser opponents, Gaskin's stats will swell.

Will Grier, West Virginia Quarterback

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    2017 stats: 250-of-388 (64.4 completion percentage) 3,490 yards, 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions


    Why he has a shot

    Just how vital was junior quarterback Will Grier to West Virginia a season ago? When he was lost late in the year to an injury, the Mountaineers didn't win again. They weren't even an offensive threat.

    Thankfully for coach Dana Holgorsen, Grier is back along with top receivers David Sills V and Gary Jennings. Having two stars back on the perimeter means the former Florida standout has a chance to put up some massive numbers.

    Secondaries in the Big 12 are going to be young, and so are the quarterbacks. That means Grier is going to get a lot of headlines, and the Mountaineers could get a lot of wins. They should be the top competition to Oklahoma along with possibly Texas.

    "If Grier stays healthy, and West Virginia's defense improves, the Mountaineers might be Big 12 title contenders," ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach wrote.

    Grier has a big arm, is a legit NFL prospect and is playing in the perfect system for pass production under Holgorsen. He has to be in the top five possibilities if he stays healthy.


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Grier's Heisman campaign can get off to a resounding start against a big-name opponent that isn't going to be ready for prime time. The Mountaineers start the year in Charlotte, North Carolina—Grier's home state—against a Tennessee team that has a first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt and a young secondary.

    The senior quarterback may light them up like the last time he played UT as a redshirt freshman with Florida.

    The end of the year is even more important, though, as the Mountaineers will take on Oklahoma in Morgantown on November 23 for a massive game that could mean a shot at the Big 12 title.

Drew Lock, Missouri Quarterback

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    2017 stats: 242-of-419 (57.8 completion percentage) 3,964 yards, 44 touchdowns and 13 interceptions


    Why he has a shot

    A year ago, Mizzou struggled to win games until head coach Barry Odom realized he had a generational talent at quarterback and let Drew Lock start slinging the ball 40 times a game.

    Look for that trend to continue in 2018. Why wouldn't it?

    The worst thing for Lock and the Tigers is offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has left for Central Florida to take over Scott Frost's job as the Knights head coach. Odom made an interesting choice in first-time offensive coordinator Derek Dooley, the former Tennessee head coach.

    If Lock meshes with Dooley, he'll be dynamic this year. 

    Not only are running backs Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III back, so are J'Mon Moore, Emanuel Hall, Alex Okwuegbunam and Johnathon Johnson. That's basically all of Mizzou's offensive production.

    With Lock running the show, huge numbers could follow. 


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    The Tigers from the second half of the season were an exciting, intriguing group who could improve and battle Georgia for the SEC East crown in 2018. They're that elite on offense.

    With the Bulldogs losing 31 seniors, they may take a dip for a year until all those talented freshmen learn to play together. In other words, it's a good year for Mizzou to be a senior-laden, upstart team.

    Lock should look like a superstar if UM can beat the Bulldogs on September 22, and there will be plenty of buzz around a quarterback who can put up PlayStation numbers in the SEC.

Bryce Love, Stanford Running Back

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    2017 stats: 263 rushes for 2,118 yards (8.1 average) and 19 touchdowns


    Why he has a shot

    There's no bigger game-breaker in the country than Bryce Love, who went from Christian McCaffrey's backup to the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Baker Mayfield a season ago. 

    Love has the ability to torch defenses for 60-yard runs in the blink of an eye. He also proved time after time a season ago that he's capable of being coach David Shaw's behind-the-tackles workhorse as well as getting to the perimeter in a hurry. He can do it all.

    If Stanford can shore up its defense this year, it will compete for a berth in the Pac-12 title game. The offense is going to be there, and opponents may not be able to rely as much on stopping Love now that K.J. Costello has emerged as a blossoming quarterback who can beat defenses with his arm.

    A more balanced attack means Love gets a little more room to do his thing. While he won't sneak up on anybody this year, he may not have to.

    Love does all the little things, too, like working hard in pass protection. If he can become more of a weapon in the passing game and if the Cardinal put him returning kicks or punts, he'll have even more opportunities for showcase plays.


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Stanford's November 3 date with Washington looms as perhaps the biggest game on the schedule for the Cardinal if they're going to make it to the conference title game, and it's also an opportunity for Love to post some big numbers against a big-name opponent.

    By now, everybody knows Love, and his name is going to be at the height of the Heisman talk.

    But if he rolls out a monster game against the Huskies, who lost defensive tackle Vita Vea, that is going to make headlines. If Stanford wins that game and goes on to bigger things, Love will reap the benefits.

Trace McSorley, Penn State Quarterback

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    2017 stats: 284-of-487 (66.5 completion percentage), 3,570 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; 144 rushes, 491 yards (3.4 average), 11 touchdowns


    Why he has a shot

    Trace McSorley hasn't done anything quietly since seizing the starting quarterback job for the Nittany Lions and holding a firm grasp on it the past two years. But he plays much bigger than his 6'0", 198-pound stature, and though you wouldn't think of him as a running threat, he's a sneaky-good dual-threat quarterback.

    With Saquon Barkley gone to the NFL, a lot more responsibility will fall on McSorley.

    It helps that Penn State returns a quality running back in Miles Sanders as well as wide receivers Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins back, though it hurts that Mike Gesicki and Saeed Blacknall are gone.

    Justin Shorter, Ricky Slade, Jahan Dotson and Daniel George are all capable offensive playmakers coming in the '18 recruiting class, and McSorley has the type of playmaking ability to help them along. 

    He doesn't have a big arm, but McSorley has a propensity for the big play and is one of the most clutch players in college football. If PSU has a big post-Barkley year, McSorley could haul home the hardware. 


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    The Lions host Ohio State in Happy Valley on September 29 and travel to the Big House to take on Michigan on November 3.

    That's the three biggest "name" programs in the Big Ten, and Wisconsin belongs in that conversation, too. McSorley can take his Heisman campaign a long way with huge performances in those games. By the way, the Badgers come to town the week after that Michigan trip.

    If McSorley can go 2-1 or 3-0 in those games and put the Lions on his shoulders, the trophy will be his.

Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska Wide Receiver

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    Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

    2017 stats: 61 catches for 986 yards (16.2 average), 10 touchdowns


    Why he has a shot

    There's no way that first-year coach Scott Frost isn't going to come into Lincoln and immediately have an impact on the Cornhuskers offense. It doesn't matter than Tanner Lee left before his senior year; Nebraska has some capable quarterbacks on their roster.

    While guys like running backs Tre Bryant and Mikale Wilbon and wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey should see their careers rejuvenated, Morgan was already an important player for the Huskers.

    He's capable of stretching the field, and at 6'1", 195 pounds, he isn't scared to go across the middle, either.

    There are huge plans for Morgan, who eschewed the NFL to return and play for Frost.

    "We're going to count on him to be the guy," Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters told HuskerOnline's Robin Washut. "At UCF we had Tre'Quan Smith and he was our guy, and Stanley will be that guy."

    Smith had 13 touchdowns and 1,171 yards, and if Morgan can post similar numbers in leading a resurgence in Lincoln, he'll get some votes.


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Nobody is giving Nebraska a chance to win the Big Ten in 2018—not in Frost's first season. But if the Cornhuskers are going to shock the world and win the West Division, they've got to start hot and then stun Wisconsin at Camp Randall on October 6.

    Wisconsin is steady and normally strong on defense. If Morgan breaks free for a couple of scores, he could have a Heisman moment, even though it's normally difficult for players at his position to win the award.

David Sills V, West Virginia Wide Receiver

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    Ray Thompson/Associated Press

    2017 stats: 60 catches for 980 yards (16.3 average), 18 touchdowns


    Why he has a shot

    There's no better wide receiver in the country at being the go-to guy in the red zone than David Sills V. He's no longer known only as the 14-year-old quarterback that USC and Lane Kiffin offered. Now, Sills is a star in his own rights, and he's poised for a breakout year in Morgantown.

    It helps tremendously that quarterback Will Grier is back, and the two have perhaps the best rapport of any signal-caller and pass-catcher in the country. It also helps that the Mountaineers return a 1,000-yard receiver in Gary Jennings.

    That means Sills will see fewer double-teams.

    With all that firepower, coach Dana Holgorsen will air it out often. Grier is going to put up huge numbers, and if everybody stays healthy and everything is clicking, Sills' biggest competition for the hardware may be his buddy throwing him the ball.

    Anything is possible, though, and if Sills puts up massive touchdown numbers (he had 12 last year), he could earn the Heisman.


    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    The good thing about playing in a loaded Big 12 is there are opportunities for marquee moments every week, but the Mountaineers' schedule is backloaded. A huge close to the season could mean big things for Sills and Grier.

    West Virginia's final four games are against Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. If the Mountaineers can sweep that gauntlet and Sills is the catalyst with seven or eight touchdowns during that stretch, he will be on everybody's short list, most likely along with Grier.

    There hasn't been a receiver to take home the Heisman since Desmond Howard did in 1991. It's a long shot for Sills to do it, but it's not out of the question.


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