On the surface, having last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston back this season, would make it appear that everyone else is playing for second. Of course that didn’t work last year though when reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel finished behind Winston before leaving for the NFL.
In predicting this year’s winner, one thing we know is that Heisman voters favor quarterbacks over any other position, with running backs a distant second. Each of the last four winners, and 12 of the last 14, lined up under center and there’s little indication that that trend won’t continue. Here are the leading Heisman contenders heading into the 2014 season:
5. RB T.J Yeldon, Alabama (2013 stats: 1,235 rushing yards, 14 TDs)
Yeldon has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Tide, while averaging better than 6.0 yards a carry each of the last two years. Although running backs are always a long-shot to win the coveted award, Yeldon plays for an annual contender and ‘Bama will run the ball more if given the right running back—think Alabama alum, and former Heisman winner, Mark Ingram in 2009 when he ran for 1,658 yards.
4. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor (2013 stats: 4,200 passing yards, 32 TDs, 3 Ints, 62.0 comp. percent)
Petty put up some pretty impressive numbers last season with Baylor as the Bears posted a school best 11–2 mark. Running a pass-happy offense will deter voters a bit, but if he improves his completion percentage and Baylor remains a contender (only three 10-win seasons in school history), Petty’s numbers won’t be ignored.
3. QB Jameis Winston, Florida State (2013 stats: 4,057 passing yards, 40 TDs, 10 Ints, 66.9 comp. percent)
Winston is probably the best quarterback pro prospect in the college ranks, but winning the Heisman is a different deal. For one thing, it’s difficult to repeat winning any major award and the Heisman is no different—only Archie Griffin in ’74 and ’75 has turned the trick twice. Winston put up tremendous numbers last year, but his stock was also boosted by Florida State’s undefeated run—one that he was a big part of.
2. QB Brett Hundley, UCLA (2013 stats: 3,071 passing yards, 24 TDs, 9 Ints, 67.2 comp. percent)
Hundley was a major part of UCLA’s successful 10–3 season last year. He’ll have to cut down on his interceptions a bit to climb the Heisman ladder this year, and the dual-threat QB (he ran for 748 yards in 2013) will have to come up with better performances in the big games. In back-to-back midseason losses to Stanford and Oregon, Hundley was picked off twice and failed to reach 200 yards passing in either game.
1. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon (2013 stats: 3,665 passing yards, 31 TDs, 4 Ints, 63.5 comp. Percent)
Heading into the Nov. 7 game against Stanford last year, Mariota had a sparkling 25/0 touchdown to interception ratio for the then 9–1 Ducks, before throwing a pair of picks in back-to-back contests, that put him behind Winston in the voting. Like Hundley, Mariota is a dual threat in the backfield (715 rushing yards) but he’ll need the Ducks to have a strong season around him for him to bring home the hardware.