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I’ll let you in on a little secret for this year’s Heisman race: 90 percent chance a quarterback wins it. So when you see this list, understand that it’s based more on the reality of the voting bloc and college football as it exists today rather than a list of “guys I think should be Heisman Trophy favorites” or “look who this idiot thinks are the top 5 players in the league.”
From 1990 to 1999, only four quarterbacks won the Heisman Trophy. Also that decade, players in four different primary positions won the award (QB, RB, WR, CB). From the year 2000 to 2013, there have been 12 quarterbacks to win the award and 2 running backs. No other positional grouping has been represented. The BCS has clearly wedged the Heisman as an extension of the Davey O’Brien Award.
Whereas the Heisman Trophy has gotten more inclusive in terms of the age of potential winners, the rift continues to grow betwixt positions with a real chance of winning it. If a quarterback doesn’t seem like he should be the favorite, the voters find one who can be passed off as it.
So it only makes sense to start this column with a running-back leader in the clubhouse from the B1G, just to totally contradict everything typed above.
1. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska: Once a guy who dreamed of playing at Auburn found his ideal plains not in Alabama but Nebraska, and at times, the team leans on him to be everything with still-inconsistent QB play hanging over the joint. Abdullah returns as the ninth leading rusher in the nation with 1,690 yards, and should get plenty of opportunities for a Nebraska team with a legit shot at playing for or winning the conference title if the Huskers can get that aforementioned QB thing figured out. Coming in, he looks like not only the best player in the B1G with a shot at winning it, but maybe overall at his position.
2. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: If there’s been a quieter Heisman-caliber player over the last two years, it’s hard to name him. Miller doesn’t seem to get the pub he deserves, especially for a guy who posted 36 total touchdowns to only 7 INTs last year. That seems efficient. Just throwing that out there. Miller’s candidacy likely will come down to sink or swim in East Lansing, where folks will want to see how he stacks up this year against — year in and out it seems — one of the truly dominant defenses in college football. Heisman voting seems to often over-sell the important effort of one game, and that’s his chance (see: Manziel, Johnny, versus Alabama two years ago).
3. Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana: An IU football player on a Heisman list? Damn straight. The best thing that happened to IU this off season was also probably the worst thing, and that was losing Tre Roberson, a dynamic dual-threat talent. But what it did was finally stabalize the IU quarterback situation rather than going in with the ole “both guys are playing well and will get a chance.” Much like dating with women, football teams want stability whether they harp on it or not. Sudfeld should benefit from massive numbers, plus a defense that should be better and get IU into a bowl game. At least that’s the expectation.
4. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan: DG98 is an enigma. For all that was made about his supposed regression last season, he threw only one pick in his final six games. Part of that was looking a little tentative after big, momentum swinging turnovers early in the season, but it’s pretty difficult to find 6’5″ with his size, speed, athleticism, and heart (he played on torn ligaments against Ohio State). Because of the allure people keep waiting for since he was tabbed the Next Vince Young in high school, he could shoot into the conversation, but it will take wins from Michigan in big spots against good teams. That’s how this thing goes.
5. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: May as well end it with a running back as well, right? Gordon averaged nearly 8 yards per carry last season and Wisconsin figures to keep winning the way Wisconsin has won since seemingly forever which means the accolades normally go to the running game. However, Gordon isn’t Ron Dayne, who had a record chasing number that helped bump up his Heisman allure. Wisconsin’s running game as a whole probably doesn’t get the respect it deserves, and that’s because offensive linemen don’t get the respect they deserve. But Gordon is the main face on a team that could contend for everything, so …
Others to grind the mind about:
Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State: Won’t put up huge numbers and probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves because so much of the focus is on that elite Spartan defense, but he might be the best overall quarterback in the conference. Again, remember the criteria of the list. Strong chance he’d get my vote, but I don’t do so.
Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois: This is more of a “Bottom of the San Andreas Fault” deep type of pick, but Illinois seems impressed with Lunt, who proved he could put up eye-popping numbers as a freshman in Stillwater. You never know …
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State: It’s hard to understand how unkind voters would be to a player on a program on probation, but judging by how MLB writers vote in the Hall of Fame and ditto for NFL ones, I have little faith in the voting media to look past something completely arbitrary to the situation and uncontrollable to the player.