By Elijah Stewart
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Conference Media Days are wrapping up this week, meaning it’s time for college football players across the country to polish up their cleats and prepare for another season. With summer practices starting next week and a new playoff system that will undoubtedly add intrigue, it’s never too early to take a look at this year’s front-runners for the highly coveted Heisman Trophy.
5) QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
2013 Stats: 2,094 Pass Yds, 24 TDs, 7 INTs, 1,068 Rush TDs, 12 Rush TDs
Miller made the right decision bypassing this year’s NFL draft, where he likely would have ended up a day two or three pick. By doing so, Miller has not only put himself in position to bolster his draft stock, but now has a legitimate shot at the Heisman Trophy.
Miller is one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks and team leaders. The 6’2”, 216-pound senior is as tough as nails and already an excellent runner. Staying healthy (he missed two games last season) and improving as a passer will be the key to Miller making a trip to New York this December.
4) RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
2013 Stats: 989 Rush Yds, 10 Rushing TDs
Georgia’s sledgehammer is the most talented player in college football’s best conference, the SEC. Gurley also battled injuries last season, but make no mistake, he is the nation’s best running back. The 235-pound Gurley is a load to tackle and with five-year starting QB Aaron Murray gone, Gurley will carry the ball early and often.
A soft SEC schedule that won’t include Alabama or LSU should allow Gurley to rack up huge numbers. However, that could work against his favor as voters tend to look for marquee performances against elite teams
3) QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
2013 Stats: 4,200 Pass Yds, 32 TDs, 3 INTs, 14 Rushing TDs
Petty plays on what may be this year’s most explosive offense in college football. Last season, Baylor led the nation in points per game (52.4 points) and was sixth in passing yards per game (359.1 Pass Yds).
With most of his receiving corps back, we could actually see more impressive numbers from Petty in 2014, especially with Big 12 defenses down this year. Dominant performances in back-to-back games at Oklahoma and home against Oklahoma St in November might put Petty over the hump.
2) QB Jameis Winston, Florida St
2013 Stats: 4,057 Pass Yds, 40 TDs, 10 INTs
It’s very difficult for past Heisman winners to win in back-to-back years—just ask recent winners Johnny Manziel, Mark Ingram, and Tim Tebow. Winston also ran into some off-the-field troubles this offseason, and the reigning Hesiman winner and national champion will have a huge target on his back. Luckily for Winston and Florida State, the ACC won’t give the Seminoles much of a test.
Winston lost some of his top receivers to the NFL last season, in Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but FSU is still loaded with talent at the passing catching position. Winston will also be behind what could be the nation’s best offensive line, giving Winston the best odds for back-to-back Heisman’s in recent history.
1) QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2013 Stats: 3,665 Pass Yds, 31 TDs, 4 INTs, 715 Rush Yds, 9 Rush TDs
Those predicting the downfall of Mariota and Oregon’s offense after the departure of Chip Kelly were surprised to see Oregon continue their dominance on offense, while Mariota continued to improve as a quarterback. Under Kelly, Oregon was known more as a run-heavy team. Last season, under first-year coach Mark Helfrich, Oregon was a much more balanced team offensively. This transformation gave Mariota the keys to the offense and allowed him to fully showcase his talents as a passer. Mariota’s 3,665 passing yards last season were the most by a Ducks QB since Akili Smith in 1998.
Oregon brings back most of their offense from last year, and if Mariota can put up superior passing numbers this year, he’ll be a lock to head to New York.
According to Bovada LV, Winston is the favorite at 4-1, while Mariota is the second-favorite at 11-2.
Elijah Stewart currently works for the WIP Morning Show, as he continues his studies at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
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