Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.
There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.
First, quarterbacks have won the award in the last four years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.
Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.
Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.
Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.
With this in mind, here are the top Independent Heisman Trophy candidates in 2014:
He was the No. 1 recruit in the nation at his position for a reason. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound athlete stepped into a starring role for Notre Dame and produced as just a freshman last fall. He posted 67 tackles (third on the team), 6.5 for a loss and made one freakish interception against USC. With a move to the inside, Smith should find himself around the ball on every play and the Irish have proven that their middle linebacker can land in New York.
4. Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU
As just a sophomore, Williams broke onto the scene with a very productive 1,233-yard, 7-TD season. He averaged nearly six yards per carry (5.7) and posted his biggest games late in the year in important moments. He rushed for 219 yards on the road against Nevada and rolled up 107 yards against Boise State — both wins for the Cougars.
He struggled against elite competition (Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Washington) but so did most tailbacks against those three defenses. Look for a jump in production and another big year from the Cougars’ rushing attack.
3. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy
The Navy quarterback won’t ever make headlines for passing the football but Reynolds certainly made a statement as a runner last fall. Reynolds set the single-season TD record for a quarterback with 31 rushing scores. He finished with 1,346 yards on 300 carries to go with 1,057 yards passing, eight more touchdowns and only two interceptions.
This team has increased its win total three straight years and a jump again in 2014 would likely mean All-American consideration for Reynolds. Few people are better suited to run the triple option than the current Navy quarterback.
Irish fans are happy to welcome back their starting quarterback after a one-year hiatus. From all accounts, Golson spent his year away from campus honing his skills as a passer and it should allow him to slide back into college football with relative ease. Golson took major strides during his one year as the starter, not only leading Notre Dame to the national championship game, but also proving to be a dynamic playmaker along the way.
He is a perfect fit in Brian Kelly’s system, a scheme that allows for big statistics from the QB position. Big numbers and lots of marquee wins at Notre Dame generally means national acclaim.
1. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
The BYU signal-caller has an elite combination of size, power and athleticism that most quarterbacks only dream about. His ability to embarrass defenses with his feet is obvious — try 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground — but it’s his continued development as a passer that makes him a Heisman contender.
After three games last year, Hill was completing less than 40 percent of his passes but as the season progressed, so too did his accuracy and efficiency. He finished eighth in the nation with 4,282 yards of total offense — ahead of names like Winston, Boyd, Bridgewater and Bortles. With a schedule filled with solid but not overly taxing games, Hill could post monster numbers for a team with double-digit wins. And that should get him into Heisman conversations.