By Brian Kalchik @BrianKalchik on June 18, 2014
The Heisman Trophy race is as unpredictable as any in sports. Three of the last four Heisman winners didn't play football the year before — Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston. While Winston and others will be the favorites heading into this season, several players are flying under the radar looking to make a name for themselves. Here are 10 unlikely Heisman candidates who could contend in 2014.
If Trevor Knight can duplicate last year's Sugar Bowl performance throughout the 2014 season, He will quickly rise up the Heisman watch lists. Before his breakout performance, Knight only played in eight games, and didn't throw for over 200 yards in one game. This selection is based more on potential rather than previous production, but Knight could be a big-time player this season.
The only primary defender who won the Heisman Trophy in recent memory was Charles Woodson in 1997. UCLA's Myles Jack could be the next threat to win as a defender since Manti Te'o in 2012. Not only does Jack play defense, but he is also a two-way player as a running back. If he continues to excel on both sides, he will be in the discussion by season's end.
Like Keeton, Miami's Duke Johnson was one of the best playmakers in the country who was lost for the season due to injury. In just eight games last year, Johnson had 920 rushing yards and six touchdowns. If Johnson can pull an Adrian Peterson-like comeback this season, he will find his way to New York with a big bounce-back season.
Few players have the raw athletic ability of the 6-foot-2, 220-pound dual-threat QB Taysom Hill from BYU. He carried 246 times for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground while finishing with 2,938 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air. With an easier schedule and improved efficiency in the passing game, Hill could make some big noise in 2014.
Taylor Kelly returns for his third full season under center for the Sun Devils, having thrown 844 passes and carried 306 times on the ground over the last two seasons. Kelly accounted for 37 total touchdowns en route to a Pac-12 South championship in 2013, and he is the perfect fit for Todd Graham’s offense. With Kelly also returning his top receiver in Jaelen Strong, expect Kelly to make his way onto the Heisman watch list.
Jeremy Langford had a slow start last season, but no running back was more valuable to their team in the Big Ten than Langford. He led the league in carries (292) and rushing touchdown (18) without starting for the first month of the season. Eventually tabbed the starter, he rattled off eight straight 100-yard games and five multi-touchdown games. With a full season as the starter, Langford can get into the Heisman talk this fall.
Before Utah State's Chuckie Keeton was lost for the season after six games last year, the quarterback was one of the best dual-threat QBs in the nation. In just six games, Keeton threw for just over 1,300 yards with 18 touchdowns and two interceptions, and ran for just 200 yards and two more scores. If Keeton can return to form in 2014 and lead the Aggies to an undefeated season, he will be a serious contender.
No NCAA quarterback has ever rushed for more touchdowns in a single season than Reynolds’ 31 in 2013. He was one of only seven players with at least 300 rushing attempts, and was efficient throwing the ball in the few circumstances that he did (eight TDs, two INTs). Part of the voting for the Heisman deals with being the most captivating player in the country. If Reynolds can rush for 3,500 yards, he will be a serious contender.
In a pass-happy offense, Marshall's Rakeem Cato has been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation over the past two seasons. Last year, Cato threw for over 200 yards in each of his 16 games. He also had 11 games with multiple touchdowns, including seven with three or more. With Cato in the lineup, the Thundering Herd have a legitimate shot at a perfection, and with that comes Heisman talk for Cato.
Despite splitting time last year with Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb was Texas Tech's most prolific passer. In their spread offense, Webb threw for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns, including four against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. With a full offseason as a starter, Webb will be even more confident heading into the 2014 season. It also doesn't hurt to be labeled as the next Johnny Manziel.
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