NCAA Football

Jameis Winston and the Top 25 Heisman Trophy Candidates for 2014

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Top 25 Candidates for the 2014 Heisman Trophy

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the 2013 Heisman Trophy is in the books after Florida State quarterback, Jameis Winston became the second redshirt freshman in as many years to claim the award, we can take a look at the nominees for next year’s award.

The quarterback position has claimed 12 of the past 13 winners of the bronzed stiff-armed statue, so it should come as no surprise that the signal-callers are well represented on this early look at the top candidates for 2014. Naturally, Winston is on the list as he will attempt to do what Johnny Manziel was unable to do this year and win a second Heisman. Archie Griffin is still the only two-time winner of the most prestigious award in college football, but Winston will attempt to make a run at history.

Mark Ingram is the only running back to win the Heisman, not including Reggie Bush in 2005, to win the award since Ron Dayne won in 1999, but the position is in great shape to end the drought in 2014. With a plethora of standout sophomore backs not eligible to declare for the NFL Draft, the position is as loaded as it’s ever been with running back candidates.

The SEC is tied with the Pac-12 in regard to watch-list candidates with the Big Ten coming in third, so unlike this year’s ceremony which didn’t include any finalists from the West Coast, the 2014 ceremony could have a lot of West Coast flavor.

The list includes some dark horse candidates because no one would have imagined four of the six finalists in the 2013 ceremony would have played their way to New York, so it’s important to look past the first wave of favorites.

Players widely expected to declare for the NFL draft have been omitted from consideration, but any player who is on the fence about his decision was included in this discussion and will update as their final decisions are announced.

The 80th annual Heisman Memorial Trophy presentation was earlier tonight at 8 p.m. ET from the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.

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25. Leonard Williams-DL-USC

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Leonard Williams is not going to win the Heisman trophy because he's a defensive lineman, but he gets the token defensive nomination here as the sophomore will enter 2014 as arguably top defensive lineman in the country. Other defensive players considered include Florida's Dante Fowler Jr., Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Noah Spence, Alabama's Landon Collins and A'Shawn Robinson and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

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24. Leonard Fournette-RB

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Let's start this list with the ultimate long shot, because what fun is a list if there isn't a long shot to root for. Fournette is the No. 1 ranked recruit in the nation and is considered to be the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson came out of Palestine, Texas and starred for Oklahoma when he ran for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns while finishing second to Matt Leinart in the 2004 Heisman. Fournette, who is a strong LSU lean at the time of publishing, would be the focal point of a young offense and will have every chance to put up huge stats for a team that figures to be in the national title picture.

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23. Connor Cook-QB-Michigan State

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The Big Ten champion Connor Cook had his best game of the year for Michigan State vs. Ohio State to get to the Rose Bowl when he threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on 60 percent passing. A string of performances like he has in the Big Ten title game and a return trip to Pasadena for the Spartans will get Cook more and more Heisman notoriety. A win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl on the heels of that performance will give him a lot of momentum heading into 2014.

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22. Myles Jack-RB/LB-UCLA

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Myles Jack became a fan favorite at the close of the season when he started playing running back in addition to his duties at outside linebacker for UCLA. His 120 yards and a touchdown on six carries in the Bruins win over Arizona was a precursor to the four-touchdown game he would have a week later vs. Washington. He finished with seven touchdowns on 37 carries for 237 yards. He added 71 tackles, five for loss, an interception and forced a fumble with his sideline-to-sideline range. If Jack continues to get carries in 2014 and gets double-digit touchdowns and adds some splash plays on defense like Manti Te'o did in 2012, he'll be a popular player for his throwback ability.

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21. Alex Collins-RB-Arkansas

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Alex Collins became the 10th freshman running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards this season and only the second at Arkansas to accomplish the rare feat joining two-time Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden. Collins was named the SEC Freshman of the Year and if there's one back in the country I'm banking on making a significant leap into his sophomore year and opening up eyes across the nation, it's Collins.

In order to garner Heisman pub, he absolutely has to play better in SEC play where he only had 545 yards and two touchdowns this year. He dominated non-conference play with three 100-yard games to start his college career, but the production trailed off in conference play. I think he'll see a bigger workload as a sophomore and approach 1,450 yards and at least 10 touchdowns. If that helps Arkansas get back into the bowl picture and make some noise in the tough SEC West, he could be the 2014 version of Tre Mason.

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20. Javorious "Buck" Allen-RB-USC

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Javorious Allen came on strong for USC at the end of the season with four games of 123 yards or more on the ground after being named the starting running back. He had 10 touchdowns in the final five games of the regular season and showed skills in the pass game as well with at least three receptions in four of those five games, including a 57-yard touchdown at California.

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19. Dak Prescott-QB-Mississippi State

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Look, I realize Dak Prescott is a total long shot, but no one had Manziel in the Heisman picture in 2012, no one thought Jordan Lynch would find himself in New York in 2013 and Prescott could be the 2014 version of these two. His talent is on par with some of the dual-threat guys ahead of him on this list, but the big impediment for him is how many wins he can lead Mississippi State to in 2014.

He faces an uphill climb, but if he can get four SEC West wins, he'll be a real sleeper as ESPN's Jesse Palmer said after he led the Bulldogs to an overtime win over rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Provided he grows along with the young Bulldog receivers on the roster and improves his completion percentage, as well as limits interceptions coupled with his ability to rush for 1,000 yards, that could all make him a real sleeper to monitor in 2014.

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18. Amari Cooper-WR-Alabama

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Amari Cooper didn't have a good sophomore season at all in 2013 as he was slowed by injuries from the start and never could get back to the form he showed as a freshman when he had 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. He only had 36 for 615 and four this year entering the Sugar Bowl, but did have six catches for 178 and a 99-yard touchdown vs. Auburn to show what he is capable of doing when healthy. With A.J. McCarron gone and a new quarterback under center for Alabama, look for whoever wins the job to look Cooper's way early and often.

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17. Byron Marshall-RB-Oregon

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Byron Marshall has star power and is going to be the next great Oregon running back to run wild in Eugene. He ran for 14 touchdowns on only 155 carries for 995 yards entering the Duck's bowl game. With De'Anthony Thomas likely headed to the NFL he and rising sophomore Thomas Tyner will battle for the first-team carries. Marshall will receive those carries, although Tyner will get enough to make a big impact, but Marshall will have the lion's share to approach 1,500 yards and 18-to-20 touchdowns in a potent offense that likes to run the ball.

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16. Kevin-Hogan-QB-Stanford

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Kevin Hogan will be hamstrung because he plays in a run-oriented offense and won't put up the prolific passing numbers as some of the other quarterbacks on this list, but his value will be boosted with Stanford's win-loss record. He can be next year's version of McCarron and put up solid, if not spectacular passing statistics, but if he engineers an offense for a top-three team, he could sneak into the conversation. However, he can't have stretches like the six-week run where he had only three passing touchdowns and a the nine-game stretch to enter the Rose Bowl with one touchdown or less.

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15. Everett Golson-QB-Notre Dame

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Remember him? Everett Golson missed the 2013 Notre Dame season after academic impropriety forced him out of school, but the quarterback who helped guide the Irish to the BCS Championship game as a redshirt freshman is back in school. He passed for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns and ran for an additional 298 and six more scores. If he's able to knock the rust off this spring, take his game to the next level and have the same kind of team success in 2014 as he did in 2012, he'll make for an interesting candidate.

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14. Dorial Green-Beckham-WR-Missouri

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Dorial Green-Beckham had the light turn for the former top overall recruit toward the end of the season for Missouri. His four touchdowns vs. Kentucky was a sign of things to come for the 6-foot-6 receiver who had at least 93 yards in three of the final four games of the season entering the Cotton Bowl, including seven receptions for a career-high 144 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game. He is just beginning to realize his vast potential and when he becomes more consistent next season, he could put up ridiculous numbers with Maty Mauk at quarterback. A season similar to Larry Fitzgerald's 2003 season at Pitt is not unfathomable for the talented receiver.

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13. Christian Hackenberg-QB-Penn State

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Christian Hackenberg came to Penn State as the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation and a great deal of hype was placed on his right shoulder before he set foot in Happy Valley, and the freshman phenom lived up to the billing. He had four 300-yard games, two games with more than three touchdowns and capped the season with a career-high four passing touchdowns in an upset win at Wisconsin.

Year two under Bill O'Brien's tutelage will result in a significant jump in statistical production and more importantly wins for the Nittany Lions who finished 7-5. Second-year quarterbacks have been popular with Heisman voters recently, so Hackenberg could go from dark horse candidate in the preseason to legit contender by season's end with a 9-to-10 win season and 3,750 yards and 30 touchdowns.

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12. Duke Johnson-RB-Miami

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Duke Johnson was on my Heisman watch list earlier in 2013 before being lost for the season with a broken ankle in the Florida State game, but should be 100 percent for his junior season in 2014. Johnson ran for 920 yards and six touchdowns before the injury and averaged 6.3 yards per carry, so with a bigger workload next year with quarterback Stephen Morris in the NFL and becoming more involved in the passing game, he had only four receptions for 77 yards in 2013, Johnson could make headlines in the ACC all year. Helping Miami to the ACC Championship Game will go a long way toward his Heisman campaign.

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11. Mike Davis-RB-South Carolina

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Mike Davis looked like he might run away with the SEC rushing title after his seventh 100-yard game in South Carolina's first nine games, but an ankle injury slowed him late in the season to finish fourth in the conference with a very respectable 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. In a loaded conference for star running backs, Davis gets overshadowed by a couple who are ranked higher on this list, but if Davis can lead the Gamecocks to an SEC title in 2014 and 1,600 yards with at least 16 touchdowns, he'll have the Heisman resume.

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10. Melvin-Gordon-RB-Wisconsin

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The 6-foot-1, 203-pound Gordon ran into the spotlight with six 100-yard games in Wisconsin's first seven games, putting up 144.5 rushing yards per game and 11 touchdowns in that span. His numbers cooled off after that hot start and only had one 100-yard game and one touchdown in the final games, but still managed a nice 90.8 yards per game. If he returns to Wisconsin for his redshirt junior season, some reports are saying he'll declare if he can be a second round pick, he can be a threat to eclipse 2,000 yards with his big-play ability.

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9. Taylor Kelly-QB-Arizona State

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Taylor Kelly started off on fire with Arizona State in 2013 before his passing numbers cooled off down in the final five games, but still entered the Sun Devil's bowl game with 36 total touchdowns and 3,510 yards. He will need to cut down on the interceptions, he has 11 entering the bowl, and get back to the Pac-12 Championship Game and likely win it to get an invite, but I like his chances of a huge 2014 which will be his third season as a starter.

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8. T.J. Yeldon-RB-Alabama

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T.J. Yeldon will see a bigger workload next year with McCarron no longer under center for Alabama, so the offense will run through the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Daphne, Ala. native who ran for more than 1,000 in his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide backfield is as deep as any in the nation with Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry in line for more work and a trio of rising sophomores biding their time, but Yeldon could be in line for Ingram or Trent Richardson-like numbers in 2014. What boosts his candidacy is the way he plays on the big stage. In eight SEC games in 2013, Yeldon averaged 123.5 rushing yards per game and had 11 touchdowns.

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7. Bryce Petty-QB-Baylor

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Baylor has already produced a Heisman trophy winning quarterback in Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty is putting up better passing numbers than RG III. In his second year as a starter in Art Briles' quarterback-friendly offense, it will all but guarantee another 4,000-yard passing season and around 35 touchdowns. Petty threw only two interceptions prior to his team's bowl game and if Baylor wins the Big 12 again next season and he makes the anticipated leap I project, his numbers will be so prolific he just may be the second Bears QB to win the award in the last four seasons.

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6. Nick Marshall-QB-Auburn

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Nick Marshall got better each week with Auburn as the Tigers were the biggest surprise in college football in 2013. Marshall will need to improve as a passer to rival the quarterbacks I have ahead of him on this list, but his rushing numbers could be on par with some of the nation's top running backs in 2014. Gus Malzahn has a history of developing quarterbacks, including Cam Newton at Auburn, so if Auburn can repeat their 2013 success in 2014, Marshall will be the integral reason why and in the Heisman running.

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5 Brett Hundley-QB-UCLA

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Brett Hundley is being re-recruited by UCLA to stick around for his redshirt junior season at UCLA after an up-and-down 2013 that has resulted in a uncertain NFL Draft stock. He could go in the top 10 or he could be a mid-second round pick. I think he'll return which is why he's on this list. He has the dual-threat ability (nine rushing scores and seven games with at least 50 rushing yards) and an arm capable of a 3,500-yard season with 35 touchdowns. Hundley needs to win against the Pac-12 elite (Oregon, Stanford) and beat Arizona State and USC to overcome the knock on him that he puts up big stats against inferior opponents, but can't beat great teams.

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4. Jameis Winston-QB-Florida State

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Winston will experience the same hurdles that Manziel and other Heisman winners have faced trying to repeat in recent years, as every pass will be dissected and analyzed and nothing short of perfection will be good enough. I don't envision his production dropping too significantly, but I think the Heisman voters will prefer not to vote for a repeat winner if at all possible. That's the only reason why I have him at No. 4.

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3. Braxton Miller-QB-Ohio State

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I expect Braxton Miller to return to Ohio State for his senior season and try to get the Buckeyes in the national title picture after falling short in 2013. His combination of rushing and passing and an easier path to an undefeated mark will help Miller put up career-high numbers across the board in his third year in Urban Meyer's spread offense.

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2. Todd Gurley-RB-Georgia

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Todd Gurley was on my short list for candidates to win the 2013 award, but injuries beset his Heisman campaign and the Georgia Bulldogs season suffered as a result. He will enter the 2014 season as the top running back for the draft and with Aaron Murray gone, it will be Gurley's team and a potential 2,000-yard season is within reach. A return to the SEC Championship Game and that many yards could see the award go to the 230-pound running back.

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1. Marcus Mariota-QB-Oregon

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Marcus Mariota was the front-runner for the 2013 award until stumbling vs. Stanford and again vs. Arizona, but his decision to return to Oregon and bypass the NFL Draft puts the Duck's quarterback firmly in position to take the 2014 award. His dual-threat ability in a high-octane offense will ensure he has gaudy statistics both passing and rushing, and provided Oregon can get over the hurdle that is the Cardinal and win the Pac-12, Mariota is the guy that can overcome the stigma of West Coast players getting overlooked by the Heisman voters.