Heisman Trophy watch 2016
The 2016 college football season is approaching quickly, but it's never too early to take a look at who could take home the coveted Heisman Trophy in December. Here are the biggest names to watch for the 2016 Heisman as the season gets closer.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson, Jr.(Credit: Getty Images / Ronald Martinez)
Watson finished second in the Heisman voting last season, so he enters the 2016 season as the early favorite. The junior threw for 4,109 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while rushing for 1,105 yards and 12 scores last season in leading Clemson to the national championship game. The expectations will be higher than ever, but he has handled big situations with ease in the past.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford, Jr.(Credit: Getty Images / Harry How)
McCaffrey took third in Heisman voting last season after shattering Barry Sanders' NCAA record for all-purpose yards. The junior, the son of former Broncos wideout Ed McCaffrey, isn't a traditional between-the-tackles running back but rather a Swiss Army knife whose calling card is his sure-handedness. He can line up in the backfield, out wide, in the slot, or as a returner, which was the driving force behind his Heisman campaign last year and will continue to be so this season.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma, Sr.(Credit: Getty Images / Andy Lyons)
Mayfield was a big reason why Oklahoma reached the College Football Playoff last season. The senior, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting last year in his first season with the Sooners, threw for 3,700 yards with a 36:7 touchdown-interception ratio while adding 405 rushing yards and seven scores on the ground. His top receiving target, Sterling Shepard, graduated and is now in the NFL, but Mayfield has the arm and the mobility to make a difference and lead Oklahoma again.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU, Jr.(Credit: Getty Images / Kevin C. Cox)
Fournette was the runaway Heisman favorite for much of last season after seven straight games with at least 150 rushing yards and a touchdown. Then the Alabama game happened, and while that kick-started eventual Heisman winner Derrick Henry's hopes, it all but derailed Fournette's. Despite that 19-carry, 31-yard clunker, he still managed to rush for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. LSU has a talented stable of backs behind Fournette, but as long as the Tigers keep feeding the 6-1, 230-pound junior - and as long as he can avoid another Alabama dud - he'll be right in the mix.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State, Jr.(Credit: Getty Images / Sam Greenwood)
Cook finished sixth in the nation with 1,691 rushing yards last year. Now consider that he did that despite basically missing two full games with a hamstring injury. The shifty junior was pulled after two carries against Wake Forest, and after playing through it for three games - racking up 467 yards in the process - he sat out a game to let the injury recover. Now that he's fully healthy, expect Cook to follow up on his 7.4 yards per carry from last season.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State, Jr.(Credit: Getty Images / Jennifer Stewart)
Forget about all the uncertainty under center at Ohio State this time last year. Barrett is the unquestioned starter now, and the junior has a prime opportunity to return to his 2014 form. That was when, as a freshman, Barrett led the Buckeyes to a 10-1 record before a broken ankle against Michigan ended his season. Before that injury, Barrett was widely considered to be a possible Heisman finalist after he accounted for 3,772 total yards and 45 total touchdowns. The Buckeyes lost a lot of offensive talent, including running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receiver Michael Thomas, tight end Nick Vannett and left tackle Taylor Decker. Barrett will have to get used to a new cast around him, but if he can show off the same playmaking ability from two years ago, then he has a shot at finishing what he started.
Royce Freeman, Rb, Oregon, Jr.(Credit: Getty Images / Ronald Martinez)
Freeman ran for a school-record 1,838 rushing yards last season and scored 17 rushing touchdowns. He is 1,882 yards away from breaking LaMichael James' school record for career rushing yards. Yet despite all of that, the junior went virtually unnoticed in the Heisman race. Why? Some of it could be because of the sheer talent at running back - Freeman needs to make himself stand out from the likes of Fournette, McCaffrey and Cook, among many others. Some of it could be location - with Oregon playing most of their games on the West Coast, some people don't find themselves staying up for Pac-12 games (though that didn't stop McCaffrey last year). Either way, Freeman's skill is undeniable.
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia, Jr.(Credit: Getty Images / Todd Kirkland)
Chubb has been a force when he's on the field for Georgia. The junior rushed for 1,547 yards in his freshman season and was averaging 8.1 yards per carry through six games last season. Then he tore multiple ligaments and suffered cartilage damage in his left knee during a game against Tennessee. Whether or not he'll be back to his previous form will be a big question - and Georgia can afford to ease him in with their talented stable of running backs behind him. If he can show that the knee injury is behind him - and if he can keep pace with fellow SEC tailback Fournette - he could find himself in contention sooner rather than later.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA, Soph.(Credit: Getty Images / Stephen Dunn)
Rosen was last season's freshman sensation, throwing for 3,669 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 12 games. Another season under his belt should help him get a better grasp of the offense, but he also lost several targets, including Paul Perkins, Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte and Devin Fuller. Can he build upon his strong debut with a new cast around him?
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor, Sr.(Credit: Getty Images / Ron Jenkins)
Baylor quarterbacks always put up big numbers thanks to the Bears' high-powered system. Russell benefitted from that system last year when he threw for 2,104 yards, 29 touchdowns and six interceptions in seven games. A broken bone in his neck ended his season early, but the senior is ready to go for 2016. While Russell probably will get dinged for the system he plays in, he could still draw some consideration, especially if he can get Baylor off to a fast start in the Big 12.
Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston, Sr.(Credit: Getty Images / Grant Halverson)
Ward Jr. burst onto scene last year during Houston's unexpected run to a Peach Bowl championship. The senior made big plays with his arm and legs, throwing for 2,827 yards and a 17:6 touchdown-interception ratio while rushing for 1,114 yards and 21 touchdowns. Strength of schedule is always a factor for schools outside the Power Five conferences, but Ward's sheer athleticism could be enough to propel Houston to another strong season. If that's the case, he could find himself right up with the other big names in the Heisman race.
Malik Zaire/DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame(Credit: Getty Images)
This is the same as Ohio State's situation from last year - two talented quarterbacks, one starting spot. Zaire started the 2015 season hot, going 26-for-45 for 428 yards and four touchdowns in the first game and a half before a broken ankle ended the junior's season. That's when Kizer stepped in and threw for 2,884 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing for 520 yards and 10 scores. Both reportedly looked good during the Irish's spring game, so Brian Kelly will have a choice on his hands come September. Whoever is named starter could be an early Heisman contender if they get off to a good enough start.
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma, Jr.(Credit: Getty Images / Tom Pennington)
Baker Mayfield drew all the attention and Heisman hype last season under center, but Perine has been just as important to the Sooners' offense since arriving on campus two years ago. The powerful junior has 3,062 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns in two seasons, though he ran for fewer yards in 2015 (1,349 and 17 TDs) than he did in 2014 (1,713 and 21 TDs) because of a timeshare with Joe Mixon. With Shepard gone, Perine could see an uptick in carries, but it'll take a lot for him to stand out in this loaded crop of running backs.
Jabrill Peppers, S/LB, Michigan, Soph.(Credit: Getty Images / Gregory Shamus)
Yes, we know, defenders usually don't find themselves in serious Heisman consideration. The last (and only) defensive player to win the Heisman was Charles Woodson in 1997, and even then, Michigan used Woodson's athleticism on offense and returns as well. Nineteen years later, Peppers is the big name on a Michigan team expected to make a national title run. The junior played safety and cornerback in his first two seasons but is transitioning to a hybrid linebacker/defensive back role this year. Peppers also has seen time on offense (26 total touches for 151 yards and two touchdowns) and has 18 career punt returns and eight career kick returns. Sound familiar?
Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss, Sr.(Credit: Getty Images / Chris Graythen)
The nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was a key part of Ole Miss' success last year, throwing for 4,042 yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 13 games. However, Kelly comes with a lot of off-field questions stemming from his time at Clemson, where he was kicked off the team, and an arrest in December 2014 after an altercation outside of a Buffalo nightclub. He also lost his top two receivers in Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core, as well as his stalwart left tackle in Laremy Tunsil. If he can get acquainted with his new receivers and keep Ole Miss alive in the SEC, he'll garner some consideration.
Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama, Soph.(Credit: Getty Images / Sean M. Haffey)
This one may be a little off the radar, but if history has a chance of repeating itself, it could be with Scarbrough. The sophomore is a former five-star recruit who played in just four games last year behind Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. The 6-2, 230-pound Scarbrough is nearly a clone of the Heisman-winning Henry, who checked in at 6-3 and 247 pounds at the NFL Combine. The only concern is whether or not he will split time with fellow sophomore Damien Harris, but head coach Nick Saban loves to have a workhorse back, and Scarbrough could become that for the Crimson Tide.