LITTLE ROCK — Nowhere to be found in preseason speculation about the Heisman Trophy the past two years, the winner this season will be somebody already well known to college football fans.
Eight quarterbacks are among the top 10 choices for the Heisman and each plays for a team capable of being in the College Football Playoff, an achievement that will be a solid base for a successful Heisman campaign.
From slightly better than 3-1 to 16-1, the QBs are Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Notre Dame’s Everett Golson, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The guess is one of them will take home the bronze statue in December. Not coincidentally, the betting favorites to make the four-team playoff are FSU, Oregon, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Auburn and Alabama, even with a new quarterback.
The only two running backs among the top 10 wagering choices, according to Bovada.lv, are Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon — both on Arkansas’ schedule. Their chances are slim and none, Gurley because the Bulldogs will lose a couple of games and Yeldon because he will share the carries with Derrick Henry and others.
Before sorting out the 2014 contenders, remember that 2013 winner Winston evolved from non-entity to one of the favorites when he began his college career by completing 25-of-27 for 356 yards and accounting for five touchdowns.
Early in 2013, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel was a lukewarm choice to win a second consecutive Heisman. He was done in by losses to Alabama in September and Auburn in October.
Before the 2012 season began, the only A&M player mentioned in the preseason Heisman talk was running back Christine Michael and the favorite was USC quarterback Matt Barkley. That year, quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis of Arkansas were among the 20 or so preseason contenders and Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o was not mentioned.
In a more predictable race this year, Winston offers no value at about 3-1.
He will be measured against his own numbers, including completing 66.9 percent of his passes with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but the more daunting assignment is matching the 12-0 regular season record of 2013. If the Seminoles do that, they will be on a 28-game winning streak. The last time a FBS team won 28 in a row was mid-season 2002 and Miami’s streak reached 34 before losing to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Although FSU is already favored by 14 points or more vs. the best teams on its schedule, including ACC opponents and Notre Dame, a stumble is likely. Even if FSU is unbeaten, some Heisman voters have reservations about Winston’s character and will look elsewhere.
The quarterback of an unbeaten team is naturally appealing and other than FSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma have the paths of least resistance to perfect.
The back story of OU’s Wright gives him the edge over Ohio State’s Miller.
Injured much of last year, his coming out party was the 45-31 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Some will argue that the loss to Auburn sucked the enthusiasm out of the Crimson Tide, but others cite Alabama’s persistent troubles with a hurry-up offense. After attempting only 90 passes all season, Knight was 32-of-44 for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
If his passing is consistent, Knight will be one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the country.
Adding feel-good flavor to Knight’s Heisman campaign is Blake Bell who competed against Knight for the quarterback job until Knight was named the starter last August. Still, Bell wound up playing in 11 of the regular-season games, throwing 22 or more passes in seven games.
With Knight healthy, Bell is now OU’s 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end. By catching passes and blocking, he can help win the Heisman for the athlete who beat him out at quarterback.
Harry King is a sports columnist. His email is HLeonK42@gmail.com.