Freshmen that Can Win the Heisman Trophy
by Dave Schwab - 7/22/2014
The Heisman Trophy is awarded annually to college football's most outstanding player. It dates all the way back to 1935, and over the years the list of winners include some of the most famous names at both the collegiate and pro level of the game.
Until recently, the one thing that this prestigious list of winners did not include was a freshman as a winner. The mindset of voters over the years when it comes to casting their ballot has always tended to gravitate to upperclassmen. And while an occasional sophomore had been able to break through the ranks such as Tim Tebow in 2007 followed by Sam Bradford and Mark Ingram the next two seasons, it has never been awarded to a player in his first full season of competitive play at the college ranks.
That was true until Johnny Manziel, out of Texas A&M, broke down that barrier by winning the Heisman in 2012 with a spectacular season as a red-shirt freshman. Florida State's Jameis Winston followed right on his heels in 2013 to win the award as a true freshman. Both of these player's performance gave Heisman voters little chance to not vote their way. However, that begs the question of whether there any freshman out there this season that has a chance to rise out of nowhere and pull off the trifecta.
Bovada's most recent Heisman Trophy futures board features 23 players with posted odds to win. None of the 23 is a true or even red-shirt freshman, so we need to dig a bit deeper to find a few worthy candidates.
The player at the top of my list would be Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen. Is he another Johnny Football in the making? Probably not, but at 6-foot-3, 200 lbs., he does have the prototypical size that makes him a prime candidate to assume the starting role for the Aggies' season opener on the road against South Carolina. It also helps that he comes into the program as the top high school recruit at his position in the 2014 class; so it is a matter of when he gets the starting job, not if. The precedent has already been set for a freshman quarterback winning a Heisman Trophy under head coach Kevin Sumlin, so why not bet on lightning striking twice.
USC is one of those West Coast schools where the quarterback position is always going to draw a great deal of attention. Max Browne was the top quarterback recruit in the class of 2013, but he spent his first season as a true freshman behind Cody Kessler and Max Wittek on the Trojans' depth chart. Wittek is no longer with the program, and despite some decent numbers last year, Kessler is not an automatic lock to hold onto the starting job with new head coach Steve Sarkisian at the helm. He has been tasked with turning this program into a legitimate contender for the Pac-12 crown, and when you have a quarterback with a rocket for an arm standing at 6-foot-5, 215 lbs., like Browne, you know that he will not hesitate to put him on the field if Kessler stumbles out of the gate.
The SEC and quality running backs go hand-in-hand, and LSU is only further proof of this with a ground game that averaged 202.3 yards a game last season. Jeremy Hill led the way with 1,401 yards, but he is now with Cincinnati in the NFL. This could open the door for a huge season from freshman running back Leonard Fournette. His name is plastered at top of any "top freshman to watch" list out there, and he should get a chance to live up to all the hype right out of the gate. The Tigers will open the 2014 season against Wisconsin in this year's Texas Kickoff Classic at NRG Stadium in Houston. He comes into Les Miles' program as the top overall high school recruit from last season. Fournette has already been compared to NFL great Adrian Peterson, and he could be one of the most highly-touted players out of high school in recent memory. The main thing working against his Heisman chances, other than the fact he is a running back, is Terrence Magee. The LSU senior gained 626 yards last season running behind Hill, and he is expected to fill the role as the featured back for LSU this season.
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