Favorites and Darkhorse Candidates for 2016 Heisman Chase

A quarterback who threw for over 4,000 yards and added 1,000 with his legs, scoring a total of 47 touchdowns. Two running backs — one who broke legend Barry Sanders’ 27-year-old all-purpose yards record and one who nearly ran for 2,000 yards and is a human tank.

While college football may have two reigning Heisman finalists at the top, the field for this year’s Heisman Trophy is deeper than ever. The preseason favorites are not safe by any means.

Before the season starts, it’s common practice to take a look at who is positioned to win the award, even though at the end of the season we will all realize we were wrong. But we do it anyway, so let’s get it:

The Favorites

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

In his first full year as a starter, Watson had a truly one-of-a-kind season for college football’s runners-up. Throwing for 4,000 yards and rushing for 1,00o more, the sophomore became the first quarterback in college football history to hit both marks.

In his final game of action last season, despite a 45–40 loss to Alabama in the National Championship, Watson threw for 405 yards, a championship-record previously belonging to former USC quarterback Matt Leinart.

In 2016, Watson looks to pick up where he left off in January.

Locked and re-loaded, the Tigers are ranked second in the nation heading into their season opener against Auburn on Saturday. To improve on the best dual-threat yardage season in history would clearly make Watson’s career at Clemson a legendary one, and you would have to think that a great season and a second straight playoff appearance for the Tigers would all but lock up the trophy for the junior.

Watson has had the time to naturally progress as a quarterback and most definitely has the weapons to have an even better season and that’s scary. If you thought Watson’s 4,000+ yards/35 touchdown passing performance was impressive last season, just know that he did it without his number one receiver, Mike Williams, who returns after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 1 last season. And aside from the return of Williams, the Tigers are bringing back four of Watson’s top five targets.

Does he have to have a statistically better season to win the Heisman? Or does he just have to be just as impressive and guide the Tigers back to championship contention? Will the pressure of being the preseason favorite to be the best player in the land and lead his team to a championship be too much?

We shall see, but one thing is for sure, Deshaun Watson will be fun to watch as he pursues national championship redemption.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Last year’s runner-up and now the all-time leader in single season All-Purpose yardage, McCaffrey might not be able to get better.

Last season, McCaffrey finished second in the country in rushing yards (2,019 yards), despite only reaching the end zone eight times on the ground. To compare that number to other top backs last season, 2015’s Heisman winner Derrick Henry scored 28 touchdowns and LSU running back Leonard Fournette found pay dirt 22 times.

McCaffrey’s chance to win the Heisman lies in his production from the backfield as a true running back. He broke out last season as an elite all-purpose man, even outperforming the legendary Barry Sanders, and still didn’t win the Heisman. To take the trophy in 2016, it seems like he will have to be more of a scoring running back.

Whether it’s the alleged “East Coast Bias” in Heisman voting or that he needs to be a more traditional back to take the trophy home, McCaffrey might be out of options to stand out any more than he did last season in one of the best single seasons ever.

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Before his run in with the best team in the land, Fournette was looking like the runaway candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

But then, stopped in his tracks, the sophomore got swallowed up by the Crimson Tide defense and finished with just 31 yards. That was one of only two instances last season that he rushed for less than 100 yards.

With a high-profile matchup at Lambeau Field against Wisconsin to start the season, Fournette has an opportunity to reboot his hype train early on, just like last season when he racked up 159 yards and three touchdowns in their season opener against Mississippi State.

For Fournette to win the country back over in 2016, he needs to reach 2,000 yards and for the second straight year, break the 20 touchdown mark.

A favorite to challenge Alabama for the SEC West, Fournette has a great opportunity to literally carry that team to a SEC Championship and playoff birth. If he does so, he should be a lock to finally reach New York.

The Darkhorse Candidates

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

More than anyone, Dalvin Cook has the potential to do exactly this to the rest of the field competing for the Heisman.

Like Fournette, not only is Cook a total workhorse in the backfield, but has the potential to carry the load for his team if its cornered by mediocre quarterback play (they have young quarterbacks with potential, but the position is still a question mark for the team).

Last year, Cook finished 7th in the Heisman vote, with only 229 carries but a staggering 1,691 yards on the season. And without an experienced quarterback like Everett Golson, the ‘Noles will turn to Cook more than they had to last season. Last year’s Heisman winner, Derrick Henry, had 395 carries. 395!

Imagine the guy you see in the video above having 395 chances to do his thing.

If the whole “preseason favorite” curse continues, look for Dalvin Cook to break free and gallop away from everyone else all the way to New York City.

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Before we start on this guy, read these freakin’ quotes:

“It’s just once every three weeks, it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s shake some s‑‑‑ up.’ I like to be a real person and show personality. People appreciate that.”
“Girls that I am really good homies with tell me about how often they have to defend my image to girls that don’t know me.”
“I wouldn’t want to lose the sport of football like I lost tennis.”
“He’s a challenge,” coach Jim Mora says of Rosen. “But he’s a fun challenge, a great challenge and an interesting challenge.”

THIS is Josh Rosen. Restricted from the media in 2015, the sophomore quarterback is out to play — in multiple ways apparently.

In his freshman year, the California kid threw for 3,669 yards, 23 touchdowns, completed 60 percent of his passes and threw just 11 interceptions.

Now, transitioning from the spread to a pro-style, the 6-foot-4 sophomore QB is playing in a system made for him and has all the makings of an elite quarterback ready to build off his first-year success.

His coach doesn’t view him as a challenge like he noted in the quote above, he has extremely high praise, comparing him to a quarterback legend most of you might have heard of.

“I’m not comparing him to Peyton Manning in the NFL,” said coach Mora. “But at this stage of his career — essentially the same point — he’s the same guy in terms of football intelligence and work ethic.” Mora went on to say, “Josh has a more pure throwing motion than just about any quarterback you’ll ever see. It’s a beautiful thing.”

While Rosen may have a Lane Kiffin in college-esque personality, his coach sees a strong, elite football mind with a pure arm. With a new offense catered to him, Rosen is beginning to look like a prime candidate to be college football’s next biggest star.