Heisman darkhorses: Can Browning repeat Mayfield’s path?
Mayfield was a Heisman Trophy longshot in the preseason, but ended up winning the award while leading Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years.
Browning was sixth in the Heisman voting two years ago after leading the Huskies to the Pac-12 title and the playoff, where they lost to Alabama in the semifinals. His productivity declined last year though as his touchdowns fell from 43 to 19.
Washington was 10-3 last season, but is the preseason favorite to win the Pac 12. Browning and the Huskies will also have an early opportunity to make a favorable impression to rest of the nation as they face Auburn in the opener in Atlanta on Sept. 1.
Browning — who has thrown for over 9,000 yards and 78 touchdowns the past three seasons — is facing high expectations, but none might be bigger than what coach Chris Peterson expects out of the senior.
“Jake plays really good football and has made some spectacular plays in his career,” Peterson said. “We’re looking for him to do that at the most difficult position in football at a really high, elite level play after play after play.”
A look at other Heisman longshots looking to improve their odds:
ED OLIVER, DT, Houston
The junior might have set the record for being the earliest to announce that he is entering the NFL Draft. But there is good reason for that as Oliver might be the top pick. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive lineman faces huge odds to win, but with 38 1/2 tackles for loss the last two seasons and the possibility that coach Major Applewhite could use him on some offensive plays, he could at least get to New York as one of the finalists.
McKENZIE MILTON, QB, Central Florida
Milton was eighth in the voting last year after he led the Knights to an improbable 13-0 record and a victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. He was second in the nation in passing efficiency (179.3) and yards per attempt (10.22), finishing behind Mayfield. UCF though has a new coach in Josh Heupel after Scott Frost left for Nebraska. Also hampering Milton’s bid is a lack of weekly exposure. The Knights’ first national appearance won’t be until Sept. 15 against North Carolina.
DREW LOCK, QB, Missouri
Lock set an Southeastern Conference record last season with 44 touchdown passes. Three SEC quarterbacks have won the award since 2007, but the senior is going to need to produce wins for a Tigers squad that lost five of its first six last season before finishing 7-6.
CAM AKERS, RB, Florida State
New coach Willie Taggart says that the theme of his offense is “lethal simplicity.” That is also an apt description of Akers. The sophomore had four 100-yard games last season along with setting Florida State’s freshman rushing record with 1,025 yards. Akers will be counted on early to be a focal point of Taggart’s offense, starting with the Sept. 3 opener against Virginia Tech.
BRIAN LEWERKE, QB, Michigan State
The junior is a dual-threat quarterback who accounted for 3,352 yards of total offense as the Spartans won 10 games last season. With the turmoil surrounding Ohio State’s program, Michigan State could end up as the favorite in the Big Ten East.
RODNEY ANDERSON, RB, Oklahoma
There have been only three occasions where the same school has produced different Heisman winners in back-to-back seasons. Anderson didn’t even start until mid-season last year, but he finished with 1,442 yards and 18 touchdowns from scrimmage. In his best game, he had 290 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage in a regular-season win over TCU. At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, he is a powerhouse with breakaway speed and good enough hands to have grabbed five touchdown receptions last season.