NCAA Football

2014 Heisman Trophy: Top 25 Star Contenders to Keep an Eye On

Top 25 College Stars to Watch in 2014 Heisman Race

Heisman Trophy 2014
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Although the 2014 college football season is still months away, it's never too early to look at the players that could contend for the most prestigious award in college athletics: the Heisman Trophy.

Jameis Winston became the second freshman ever to win the award in 2013 after Johnny Manziel won it in 2012. It's highly doubtful a freshman wins it this year, so here is the list of 25 players that could/will contend for the trophy.

25. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor

Antwan Goodley
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25. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor

Antwan Goodley
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Goodley isn't the biggest wide out in college football at 5-foot-10, but he's strong and thick at 220 pounds. Defenses will be afraid to go up against this guy because he's speedy and can make big plays, catching 71 passes for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. It doesn't hurt that he will be Bryce Petty's main target.

24. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

Christian Hackenberg
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24. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

Christian Hackenberg
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Christian Hackenberg is a young quarterback with a ton of skill and potential. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns as a freshman under Bill O'Brien. He would be much higher on this list if Penn State was expected to be one of the top teams in the nation. Sadly, they are not.

23. Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame

Everett Golson
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23. Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame

Everett Golson
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Everett Golson faced a year-long suspension from Notre Dame's football team in 2013 one year after leading the Fighting Irish to the national title game against Alabama. Yes, anyone that can lead a team to a national title appearance in his freshman season deserves to be on a Heisman watch list.

22. Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

Jeremy Langford
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22. Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

Jeremy Langford
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I think it's safe to say that Jeremy Langford is one of the most underrated running backs in the nation. He rushed for over 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns last season in his first year as the Spartans' starter. He could be the type of X-factor the Spartans need to contend for a national title.

21. Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech

Davis Webb
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21. Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech

Davis Webb
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Kliff Kingsbury has to be pretty happy that he has a quarterback he can trust for a long, long time in Lubbock. Davis Webb performed well as a freshman and still split time with Baker Mayfield -- who has since transferred to Oklahoma. Webb will have to deal without his top two leading receivers from last year, however.

20. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC

Nelson Agholor
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20. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC

Nelson Agholor
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Nelson Agholor is taking the reigns as USC's No. 1 receiver now that Marqise Lee has gone on to the NFL. People have been praising Agholor's leadership and presence on the field, saying that he's going to be the perfect pro wide out. He runs some great routes and it showed in his stats from 2013, racking up 918 yards and six touchdowns on 56 catches.

19. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Amari Cooper
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19. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Amari Cooper
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If Amari Cooper can play the way he did in his freshman season at Alabama, the junior wide out will take college football by storm. He will, however, have a new quarterback throwing him the ball -- but maybe it's the change that he needed after a pedestrian sophomore season. He took a step back in 2013 after a 1,000-yard season in 2012, but he could have a Sammy Watkins-type comeback in 2014.

18. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford

Kevin Hogan
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18. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford

Kevin Hogan
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Kevin Hogan didn't quite live up to expectations in 2014, statistically, but he still managed to get the Cardinal all the way to the Rose Bowl. When I say managed, I mean he was actually a game-manager instead of the ideal passing QB. He will need to change that in 2014, but he will have enough weapons around him that he will be able to do so.

17. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

Connor Cook
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17. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

Connor Cook
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Michigan State's offense was the laughing stock of college football at the beginning of the 2013 season, but Connor Cook took over the starting quarterback job after week three and never looked back. The sophomore passed for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions in his first year as starter. You have to think he has the confidence to improve those already-impressive numbers.

16. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas

Alex Collins
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16. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas

Alex Collins
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After winning the first three games of the season, the Razorbacks completely fell off the map, losing nine straight to end the season. They looked flat-out bad, with the exception of freshman running back Alex Collins. He might be the best young running back in the nation, it's just too bad he plays for a mediocre team.

15. Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma

Trevor Knight
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15. Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma

Trevor Knight
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Trevor Knight played himself onto this list strictly because of his performance in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. If there was anyone in the nation who needed to silence doubters with a bowl win, it was Knight. Before the game, people were talking about finding a new quarterback to start in 2014. However, racking up 348 yards and four touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the nation shut some people up.

14. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State

Taylor Kelly
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14. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State

Taylor Kelly
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Being one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 is quite an honor, considering there are a handful of them on this list. Kelly led the Sun Devils to a 10-win season in 2013 in his junior season and many think he could be an early-round draft pick in 2015. Passing for 3,600 yards and 28 touchdowns while completing over 62 percent of his passes was good enough to land him in the top-15 on this list.

13. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

Duke Johnson
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13. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

Duke Johnson
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If you've ever seen Duke Johnson play, you probably know exactly how exciting he can truly be. The running back is known for his highlight plays and his ability to turn nothing into a big gain. Unfortunately, a leg injury forced him out of the final five games of the season in 2013, limiting his run total to just 920 yards and six scores.

12. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

Ameer Abdullah
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12. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

Ameer Abdullah
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Ameer Abdullah has the opportunity to pass the 4,000-yard mark for his career with an 1,100-yard performance in 2014. He will likely do so if he remains healthy and he will be one of the best running backs in the Big Ten in the past decade. Not many people talk about him, but he's recorded two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 2014 will be his third. He has also drastically improved his numbers in each of the past three seasons.

11. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

Nick Marshall
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11. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

Nick Marshall
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Nick Marshall is a poor man's Cam Newton and the first-year starter almost pulled off the same feat that Cam did in his time at Auburn. He led the Tigers to a national title appearance, but fell just short to Florida State. If Marshall can improve his passing numbers in 2014, he will be one of the best dual-threats in the nation.

10. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

T.J. Yeldon
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10. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

T.J. Yeldon
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Alabama seems to always produce great college running backs and T.J. Yeldon looks like the latest one in the bunch. The junior ran for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns in his sophomore season in 2013 and averaged over six yards per carry. With more touches this season, the 1,500-yard mark doesn't seem out of the question and he can even get close to the 2,000-yard mark.

9. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

Braxton Miller
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9. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

Braxton Miller
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Many people are high on Braxton Miller to contend for the 2014 Heisman, but I am a little weary of giving him too much credit. Although he's probably the best QB in the Big Ten and didn't have great stats in 2013 because of an injury, he still hasn't proved enough in the college ranks. He has yet to pass for over 2,100 yards and passing is crucial when you're trying to win the Heisman as a QB.

8. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Todd Gurley
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8. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Todd Gurley
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The Georgia Bulldogs did not have the ideal season in 2013 as they were expected to be national title contenders, yet finished just 8-5. Todd Gurley also didn't have the ideal season because he was battling injuries -- even missing three games. He did manage to rack up 989 yards and 10 scores on 6.0 yards per carry. The 2014 season might be much better to him as no Aaron Murray could mean more dependence on the run game.

7. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State

Sean Mannion
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7. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State

Sean Mannion
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Sean Mannion was one of the nation's passing leaders in terms of yards and that was due, in large part, to the success of speedy wide out Brandin Cooks. Although Oregon State finished just 6-7 in 2013, they will be much better in 2014 and his 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns could be improved on.

6. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

Mike Davis
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6. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

Mike Davis
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As a sophomore in his first season as the full-time starter, Mike Davis showed that Marcus Lattimore's departure wouldn't sting so badly. He finished the season with 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns and praise from just about every coach that faced him. He had over 100 yards rushing in seven of the 12 games that he appeared in during the 2013 season.

5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

Brett Hundley
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5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

Brett Hundley
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Brett Hundley had the option to go pro and possibly be a first-round pick in 2014's NFL draft, but he passed up that chance to come back and try to perfect his game. The second-year starter doesn't have too much work to do as he passed for 3,071 yards and 30 touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes in 2013. Oh yeah, and he rushed for another 748 yards and 11 scores.

4. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Melvin Gordon
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4. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Melvin Gordon
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Melvin Gordon was a monster for the Badgers in 2013. Everyone was expecting James White to carry the load for Wisconsin's run game, but Gordon bursted onto the scene, accounting for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on an unbelievable 7.8 yards per carry mark. This guy is the best running back in the Big Ten -- and the nation.

3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

Bryce Petty
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3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

Bryce Petty
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If there's one guy you can trust at the quarterback position not to make terrible decisions and keep the turnover numbers down, it's Bryce Petty. He's another guy that could have been a first-round pick in this year's draft, but returning might do him some good. In his first season as the starter in 2013, Petty passed for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three measly interceptions.

2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Marcus Mariota
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2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Marcus Mariota
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Mariota was the most surprising player in college football this offseason. Why do I say this? It's all because he decided for pass up on the NFL despite being rated as high as the No. 1 quarterback in the draft. Well, it's looking like he will surely be a Heisman frontrunner all season long because he can do it all on offense. The junior passed for 3,665 yards and 31 touchdowns while rushing for another 715 yards and nine scores in 2013.

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

Jameis Winston
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1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

Jameis Winston
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The reigning Heisman-winner has to be No. 1 on this list for obvious reasons. Winston became the second freshman ever to win the prestigious award and he will be the main guy until someone else proves otherwise. The freshman led the Seminoles to a national title while completing 70 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns. Just unreal numbers.

Connor Muldowney is the Content Associate for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at connor.muldowney@rantsports.com.