Preseason Heisman conjecture is wide open - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Preseason Heisman conjecture is wide open

Georgia running back Nick Chubb is considered one of the frontrunners for the Heisman following his stellar freshman season. (Source: Georgia Athletics) Georgia running back Nick Chubb is considered one of the frontrunners for the Heisman following his stellar freshman season. (Source: Georgia Athletics)
Following his breakout performances in the Sugar Bowl and national championship, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is seen as a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. (Source: Brian Tynes/RNN) Following his breakout performances in the Sugar Bowl and national championship, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is seen as a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. (Source: Brian Tynes/RNN)
Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones goofs around with coach Urban Meyer after winning the national championship. Jones is in a battle with J.T. Barrett and whomever wins could be a Heisman frontrunner. (Source: Brian Tynes/RNN) Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones goofs around with coach Urban Meyer after winning the national championship. Jones is in a battle with J.T. Barrett and whomever wins could be a Heisman frontrunner. (Source: Brian Tynes/RNN)
Alabama running back Derrick Henry will move into the starting role and possibly the Heisman race. (Source: Alabama Athletics) Alabama running back Derrick Henry will move into the starting role and possibly the Heisman race. (Source: Alabama Athletics)
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(RNN) - None of last year's Heisman Trophy finalists return this season, which means speculation about front-runners this year is anybody's guess.

From a quarterback trying to earn himself a seat at the table after a near-miss to a quarterback trying to earn his team respect after it was ranked No. 1 but fell from grace; to a quarterback competition that could produce a Heisman finalist regardless of who wins; to a running back replacing a previous Heisman favorite; to a linebacker who likes that only a few people outside the West Coast have heard of him -  who are these guys?

Quarterbacks have dominated the Heisman voting in recent years, but two or three running backs are good enough to emerge as serious contenders.

Here are 10 players who are getting the bulk of the preseason Heisman hype.

1. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

Boykin finished fourth in Heisman voting last season, making him the highest returning vote-getter. He fits the mold for recent Heisman winners. He is a dual-threat quarterback, throwing for 3,901 yards and rushing for 707 yards last season, and he leads an explosive offense on a team considered a playoff contender.

Many of his numbers - such as passing yards, total offense and total touchdowns - were school records and he is expected to meet or exceed them in 2015. He will also benefit from playing in a conference where high-scoring games are common, which may help to inflate his numbers more than his competition can playing against tougher defenses.

2. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

After leading Mississippi State to three consecutive wins over top 10 teams and the No. 1 ranking, Prescott became a leading Heisman candidate, only to fall  out of favor after losses to Alabama and Ole Miss. Prescott is considered a long shot for the Bulldogs, who start the season unranked by The Associated Press after ending last season ranked No. 8.

Perception will be Prescott's enemy along with his SEC West schedule. Prescott only passed for 300 passing yards in two games last season, but he rushed for more than 100 yards four times. He's the catalyst to the Bulldogs' offense, which will live and die with him. It will probably take another string of upsets and a major rise in the polls to get serious traction.

3. J.T. Barrett/Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State

The one who wins the quarterback battle is immediately a frontrunner for the Heisman based on his play last season. A serious injury earlier than five games into the season would probably put the backup in Heisman contention.

But there are some things working against the Buckeyes' signal-caller and competition from his own teammates tops the list. If neither emerges as a clear favorite, it's possible both could see plenty of playing time. Head coach Urban Meyer is no stranger to that because he guided Florida to a national championship with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow splitting time.

Barrett was a Heisman contender last year after Braxton Miller got hurt, but Jones stepped in for the Buckeyes' final three games and led them to wins in the Big 10 championship, first-round playoff and national championship games. Barrett still finished fifth in Heisman voting.

4. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

The other big problem for the Buckeye QB will the guy standing next to him in the backfield. Elliott rocketed to stardom after gaining 220, 230 and 246 yards in the Big 10 championship, Sugar Bowl and national championship, respectively. He will command his share of touches in an offense that prides itself on balance and can utilize a powerful run game better than most other spread offenses.

But that works both ways. With the run game being a major factor and Miller having transitioned to an H-back and competing for his own share of the yardage, there could be too many cooks in the Buckeyes' Heisman kitchen. However, Ohio State plays a weak schedule, so there should be plenty of touchdowns for everyone.

5. Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

The Pac 12 hasn't been known for its hardscrabble defenses, but Wright is as tough as they come and makes the Wildcats' defensive unit fearsome simply by putting on a uniform. Wright won every major defensive award last year and he's the favorite for all of them entering this season.

No purely defensive player has ever won the Heisman and defenders in general struggle to gain attention for the award, but that has changed in recent years with several defenders being legitimate candidates late in the season. Like all defenders, Wright will struggle to be noticed but he recorded 14 sacks last season and finished ninth in Heisman voting, so he's already got his foot in the door.

6. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Georgia was expected to have the best running back in college football last season, but the best back on the team was a surprise. Chubb outshined Todd Gurley, who was suspended and injured throughout the year. Chubb gained 1,547 yards with an average of 8.1 yards per carry and was a threat to produce a highlight-worthy play every time he touched the ball. He closed the year with a streak of eight straight games of at least 100 yards, including a 266-yard performance in the Belk Bowl.

Georgia has a quarterback competition that is far from being resolved, meaning Chubb will be the main attraction of an offense that has historically treated running backs well. He'd be the focal point even if that battle was decided, but without a known commodity under center, his role will likely be even bigger.

7. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

Henry fought through Alabama's crowded backfield last season to gain 990 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He will still share time, but as the lead back in the offense, his production should rise. Henry showed a penchant for breaking big runs, with a 49-yard run against Auburn and a 45-yard scamper in the SEC championship, and he averaged 5.8 yards per carry.

The second paragraph under Chubb's entry applies to Henry and the next player on this list as well. There are currently four names being discussed for Alabama's quarterback and without an heir apparent wide receiver to Amari Cooper, handing the ball off may take more of a precedent than throwing it. Henry should increase his role in the passing game, picking up some of the slack of the 20 catches for 230 yards other Crimson Tide running backs produced.

8. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

As a freshman, Fournette had to compete for carries with Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, but he still led the team with 1,034 rushing yards. Both Magee and Hilliard are in the NFL now, so Fournette will get even more opportunities to increase his totals and his 5.5-yard per carry average.

As with the previous two players listed, Fournette will be the focal point of an offense that doesn't have a quarterback, but LSU is in worse position in that department than Alabama and Georgia. Fournette will be not just the primary runner, but will get opportunities in the passing game to take advantage of his 18 yards per reception average last season. He only caught seven passes, but Magee tied for second on the team with 17 catches, so he should have plenty more opportunities to catch from the backfield.

9. Cody Kessler, QB, Southern California

Four losses kept Kessler from making an impact in the Heisman discussion last season, but he produced Heisman-worthy numbers. Kessler threw for 3,826 yards with 39 touchdowns and five interceptions - three fewer TDs and one more interception than Heisman winner Marcus Mariota.

But with Southern Cal ranked in the preseason top 10, notoriety will not be a concern this time around. If the Trojans can navigate an underrated and improving Pac 12 South, Kessler will remain in the Heisman discussion deep into November.

10. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

Oklahoma's struggles left Perine on the outside looking in last season, but he racked up 1,712 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground without drawing much attention. But in the next-to-last game of the regular season, Perine broke the NCAA single-season rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas a week after Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon set the record at 408.

He ran for at least 200 yards three times, but only started eight games, so his numbers could have easily been much better. That won't be an issue this season, because Perine is the leader in the backfield, and if he can put together a full season with numbers similar to those in the Sooners' last few games last season, he will be a major factor in Heisman discussions.

Copyright 2015 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved

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