Winston’s top challengers for Heisman Trophy in 2014

Jameis Winston has barely had time to come down from his Heisman Trophy

win and already the question becomes, who’s next?

In

2014, the Florida State quarterback will be the ninth player to make a

bid to join Archie Griffin, the only two-time recipient of the award. As

history, — and most recently Johnny Manziel — has shown us, the

degree of difficulty in claiming trophy No. 2 has only increased, with

no one finishing higher than third since 1979.

While

Winston will now deal with a whole new set of expectations and

dissection of his every mannerism, quip and who he’s paling around with,

he’ll also be facing a class of contenders vying for the stiff-armed

trophy.

Here is a look at the players most likely to

challenger Winston for next year’s Heisman, though keep in mind that the

last two winners were both redshirt freshman, so there remains the

chance that next year’s award goes to someone no one is talking about

just yet.

(*Denotes that player is eligible

to enter the NFL draft but has yet to make an announcement. Johnny

Manziel falls into that category, but he is, by all accounts, turning

pro and is not included).

1. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon, RS

Jr.

He’s already said he’s

coming back to Eugene for at least one more year and has the name

recognition and the numbers to enter the season as the front-runner.

The favorite at this season’s halfway mark, Mariota

saw his chances — and the Ducks’ BCS title hopes — fall apart over the

last four games. But he still ranked ninth in FBS with 332.8 yards of

total offense per game and was eighth with 234 points responsible for.

If anyone is going to bring the Pac-12 its first

non-USC Heisman since Jim Plunkett in 1970, Mariota has the best

chance.

2. Braxton

Miller, QB Ohio State,

Sr.*

Miller’s NFL decision

will come after the Orange Bowl, though Urban Meyer has voiced his

opinion, saying the QB isn’t ready to make the

leap.

The belief is he follows his coach’s advice and

comes back, allowing Miller to build off a season in which he’s shown

growth as a passer with career-bests in completion percentage (63.2) and

TD passes (22).

The favorite last summer, Miller’s

campaign was derailed by injury, but if healthy, he’ll be poised to end

the Big Ten’s eight-year trophy drought.



3. Tre Mason, RB Auburn,

Sr.*

Dominated by big-name QBs

in 2013, running backs will be the face of the SEC next season and

Mason will headline the group after finishing sixth in the voting.

While he ran for 1,621 yards and 22 TDs (both

SEC-highs) in carrying the Tigers to the BCS title game, that came

largely behind a strong finish as he ran for 868 yards in the last five

games. He got off to a slow start surpassing 100 yards just once in the

first five weeks.

It’s going to take more consistency

to claim the award, but if Mason is back in the fold on The Plains,

opportunities won’t be a problem considering Gus Malzahn’s love affair

with the run game.  

4. T.J. Yeldon, RB Alabama,

Jr.

In 2009, the Tide had a

first-year starting quarterback in Greg McElroy and the result was Mark

Ingram winning the Heisman; two years later AJ McCarron took over and RB

Trent Richardson earned a trip to New York.

With a

new QB in Tuscaloosa once again, expect the Crimson Tide to go back to

basics offensively, which means Yeldon should be the featured weapon in

Nick Saban’s arsenal.

Running for 1,163 yards and 13

TDs — both better than his freshman numbers — those stats should be

more in line than what Ingram posted (1,658 yards and 17 scores) when he

won.

5. Bryce Petty,

QB Baylor, RS Sr.

A major

figure in this season’s race up until the loss to Oklahoma State on Nov.

23, Petty ranks second in FBS in pass efficiency (179.2) and seventh in

passing yards (3,844).

The numbers will most

certainly be there again in ’14, and with the Bears returning all 11

starters on offense, they should be in the playoff

conversation.

But maybe the biggest thing playing in

Petty’s favor next season is that he had even his monster junior year. A

relative unknown this summer, he’ll now be on everyone’s radar.

6. Brett Hundley, QB

UCLA, RS Jr.*

In the pecking

order of dual-threat QBs, which have won the past four years in Winston,

Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, Hundley ranks behind

Mariota and Miller on this list.

But Hundley, who

threw for 2845 yards, 22 TDs to nine INTs and ran for another 587 yards

and nine scores in ’13, could see his stock rise along with that of the

Bruins.

UCLA played 18 true freshmen this season,

more than any other team from the major conferences, which included two

along the offensive line. That gained experience will pay off if Hundley

returns and make the Bruins playoff contenders, only amplifying his

campaign.

7. Duke

Johnson, RB Miami,

Jr.

Averaging 115 yard of

offense, Johnson’s sophomore season was cut short with a broken ankle

suffered in the Nov. 2 loss to Florida State. But before the setback he

showed glimpses of an attribute that will prove crucial as he had five

games of at least 19 carries.

The Hurricanes will be

leaning on him with Stephen Morris off to the NFL, and while it remains

to be seen if Johnson can make it through a season of 25-30 carry

workload a game, he will be the center piece of the Miami offense in

’14.

We could be in for an intriguing battle in the

state of Florida next season with Johnson, Winston and UCF’s Blake

Bortles.



8. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin, RS

Jr.*

He fell off after an

opening seven games in which he ran for 1,012 yards and averaged 9.45

yards per carry. But Gordon is also sharing space in the Badgers

backfield with James White (1,337 yards).

Without

White, Gordon could see a major uptick in carries, though if he returns

he’d be pushed by RB Corey Clement, who ran for 515 yards on 66 carries

as a freshman. Regardless, Gordon would certainly see the bulk of the

attempts — which he didn’t get in his first two seasons — and it could

result in a situation similar to ’11 when Montee Ball had 166 more

attempts than any other Badger and wound up finishing fourth in that

year’s voting.

9. Todd

Gurley, RB Georgia, Jr.

New QB

Hutson Mason has looked strong so far, but without the record-setting

Aaron Murray, Gurley becomes the poster boy of the Bulldogs offense and

his numbers should reflect that.

He would be higher

on this list, but a lack of consistency and injury were problems this

fall. He ran for over 100 yards four times and sat out three games with a

sprained ankle.

Gurley will also have plenty of

competition at his position in the SEC from both Mason and Yeldon, not

to mention a difficult South voting region that includes those two RBs,

Johnson, Winston and …

10. Blake Bortles, QB UCF,

Sr.*

If he puts off the NFL,

Bortles won’t lack for cachet after leading the Golden Knights to their

first BCS game.

Because he plays in the ACC, Bortles

would seem to be playing from behind like another star from that league

who slipped away in the Heisman race in Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.

But the Golden Knights have a schedule that would allow Bortles to be a

real contender.

They have non-league games against

Penn State (in Dublin, Ireland) and Missouri, both of which should be

Top 25 teams, along with BYU.

If he takes advantage

of the spotlight games and his production is similar to that of the ’13

season (3,280 yards and 27 total TDs), Bortles will be a

factor.

Best

Guess On Redshirt Freshman

Max Browne, USC QB, RS

Fr.

It’s hard to peg the next

redshirt freshman to make a run at the award, but given Browne’s

credentials — he was Scout.com’s top-rated QB in the Class of 2013 and

No. 8 overall — and the offense new coach Steve Sarkisian is bringing

with him, Browne’s star should rise.

He’ll have to

beat out incumbent starter Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, both redshirt

sophomores, but neither has been overly effective. That opens the door

to Browne, especially when you consider Sarkisian’s up-tempo, no-huddle

scheme will be similar to what Browne ran at Skyline High School

(Sammamish, Wash.) when he was the Gatorade National Player of the

Year.