College football is a team sport, but the Heisman trophy is the most prestigious individual award in all of college athletics. Last year we saw Alabama’s Derrick Henry run his way to the school’s first Heisman trophy since 2009 as he edged the likes of Deshaun Watson and Christian McCaffrey – two favorites heading into 2016 that you’ll see listed below.
Heading into this year, there lacks a clear-cut favorite to capture the Heisman trophy; not because lack of talent, but more-so based on the surplus of candidates. Two of the three finalists from 2015 return (Watson & McCaffrey). Then you have LSU’s Leonard Fournette, a human highlight reel. The backfield tandem of Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine will be in the running. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could be the most talented RB in all of college football, he’ll surely be up there if he can stay healthy. Same goes for Georgia’s Nick Chubb.
One thing is for sure, and that’s nothing is guaranteed in college football. Anything can happen. Someone not even on the radar can come out of nowhere and take the Heisman trophy. We included a darkhorse below as well.
Without further ado, I present to you our 2016 Heisman preview! Drop some of your favorites below in the comments that didn’t quite make the cut for us.
5. RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
With Florida State naming redshirt freshman Deondre Francois the starting QB, you know they’ll need to lean on Dalvin Cook even more this season. Last season Cook enjoyed one of the best seasons for a running back in school history. It saw him break records for most rushing yards (1,691) and all purpose yards (1,935). On his way to breaking records, Cook enjoyed six 150 yard games and even eclipsed 200 yards twice as well in 2015.
There’s no RB in the country that possesses the explosiveness quite like Cook. He gets to his top gear almost immediately and is a menace at eliminating angles from opposing defenders. Cook very well could be the most talented of any back in the country. With an inexperienced QB under center, Cook will get a heavy workload with every chance to produce.
4. QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
The Texas Tech transfer broke-out in a huge way for the Sooners last season. Not only did he put up a historic season among all-time QBs in Norman, but he led Oklahoma to their first College Football Playoff appearance. What makes Mayfield so special is his dual threat ability. He accumulated 43 total TDs on the year along with over 4,000 total yards – he should put up similar numbers in 2016, if not better.
As it typically goes for Big 12 gunslingers, they’ll produce – especially if you’re Baker Mayfield. In Oklahoma’s offense, he’s poised for a historic year. Mayfield will be in the Heisman conversation throughout, and very well could find himself in New York at season’s end as one of the top QBs in the nation.
3. RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
If there’s anyone who emerged into the national spotlight last season, it was Stanford’s own Christian McCaffrey. The multi-purpose tailback made a living in the backfield and returning kicks as well as he broke an NCAA record for all purpose yards with 3,864. What will hurt his candidacy is the overall play of Stanford – I don’t expect them to be in the CFB Playoff conversation which will ultimately hurt his chances at the prized Heisman trophy.
What gets him to New York for the second consecutive year, however, will be his dynamite ability to make plays out of the backfield and in the return game. While I don’t think he’ll top his all purpose yardage from last season, he’ll come very close as he’ll be the main source of offense for the Cardinal. Entering the season he seems to be the favorite for most, but I think a guy on a more successful team will have the better shot.
2. RB Leonard Fournette (LSU)
Last season it seemed like Leonard Fournette had the Heisman trophy all but secured, until Derrick Henry came around and shattered his chances. Still, Fournette enters 2016 as the most prominent running back in all of college football. He destroyed LSU records last season with 1,953 rushing yards and 22 TDs while averaging a whopping 6.5 yards per rush. Expect similar production this season as the Tigers are still without a consistent signal caller under center – Fournette will have his number called upon a lot.
If there’s a safe bet to win the Heisman, Fournette is the guy. Not only is he the best running back we’ve seen in college football in quite sometime, but he’ll have a big helping hand as the Tigers look to knock off Alabama as SEC champs, and potentially reserve a spot in the CFB Playoff. If the Tigers can get a bid into the playoffs, Fournette’s Heisman chances get that much better.
1. QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
Now onto my Heisman winner, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson takes it home. Clemson is my prediction to take the ACC, and Watson will have a huge role as they do so for the 2nd consecutive season. Last season Watson emerged as the most explosive dual threat in college football. He broke a school record for most total yards (5,209) with more than 1,000 coming on the ground. A pure and lethal dual threat.
As they did last season, the Tigers are going to be in the thick of things throughout the season and can find themselves right back into the National Championship again this season. The Heisman tends to fall into the laps of those who win championships – Derrick Henry last year for example.
Best of the Rest:
QB J.T. Barrett (Ohio State)
There’s no longer a QB controversy in Columbus. Last season J.T. Barrett saw his production slip as he split duties with Cardale Jones under center and didn’t see as many snaps as he did in 2014 where he filled in for an injured Braxton Miller. Barrett is a natural leader who holds a 15-2 record as a starter for the Buckeyes while averaging over 300 yards of total offense per game with 58 career TDs. The best dual threat in the Big Ten.
Barrett can easily go for over 1,000 yards on the ground with 2,000 passing yards – a feat only Deshaun Watson and Greg Ward Jr. accomplished last season. When he started 12 games in 2014, he found himself in the Heisman conversation – one would have to think he’ll only be more productive after more experience.
QB Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech)
Looking strictly at production, Patrick Mahomes could end up as the nation’s top QB. He has drawn comparisons to former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel due to his ability to make magic under center with both his arm and legs. Mahomes dazzled last season for the Red Raiders as he passed for over 4,600 yards to go with nearly 500 yards on the ground and 46 total TDs. You know he’ll see similar production in Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid offense.
While the Heisman typically goes to a player on a high profile team, Mahomes’ production alone will keep him hovering in the conversation. However, don’t count out the Red Raiders as they’re a sleeper to take the Big 12 this season behind the tutelage of Mahomes.
QB Greg Ward Jr. (Houston)
If you’re not familiar with this name yet, you’ll hear a lot about Greg Ward Jr. in 2016. He was the driving force behind Houston’s 13-1 record last season; he’ll look to lead the Cougars to an undefeated season as Houston enters the year as the nation’s top non-power 5 school. Ward joined Heisman favorite Deshaun Watson as the only two QBs in the nation to rush for over 1,000 yards and pass for over 2,000 yards – arguably the best dual threat in the nation.
Houston enters the season as a darkhorse in the CFB Playoff conversation. They open the season against Oklahoma – a win there would be insurmountable to his Heisman candidacy, especially if the Cougars go undefeated for the remainder. Ward totaled 38 total TDs last season, 21 of which came on the ground. My favorite QB in all of college football enters the season as a big Heisman sleeper – keep him on your radar.
RB Nick Chubb (Georgia)
A legitimate Heisman candidate last season, Nick Chubb missed more than half the season after suffering a knee injury on the opening play against Tennessee last year. Assuming he returns to top form and can stay healthy, Chubb is among the best backs in all of college football. It seems as if he’s a lock to go over 100 yards on the ground in every game as he carries a program-tying 13 consecutive 100 yard game into the season.
The bruising running back has a forceful combination of speed and power. Georgia will be a player in the SEC this season, and if they do somehow come away with the conference crown, that will only strengthen Chubb’s shot at the Heisman – assuming he stays healthy throughout the season, that’ll be the key.
RB Royce Freeman (Oregon)
When ranking Pac-12 running backs, Christian McCaffrey is always the name that comes first. However, Royce Freeman is right there with him. As the musical chair game continues at QB for the Ducks, more weight will be placed on “Rolls Royce” to carry the offense. His powerful, bruising running style causes fits for opposing defenses – he’s very hard to bring down on the initial attempt.
After rushing for over 1,800 yards last season, Freeman can easily amass the 2,000 yard mark. He reached pay-dirt 17 times last season, and 18 times in the year prior. A 2,000 yard-20 TD season would be a tremendous campaign which would carry him into the Heisman convo.
Darkhorse: LB/S Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)
There always has to be a defensive player somewhat in the conversation. While Peppers primarily lines up on defense, he’s among the most versatile players in the country. You’ll see him get touches on offense and return kicks as well. He has played a revolutionary role in today’s game. If Michigan wins the Big Ten like I project, his role will be pivotal.
The last defensive player to win the Heisman? Another Michigan defensive back by the name of Charles Woodson. Peppers is due for a breakout season where he is poised for a more complete role on offense. Of course, he will be a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. The purpose of the Heisman trophy is to recognize “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” That very well could be Jabrill Peppers by season’s end.