by Rob Joyce
College football is less than two weeks from fully kicking off – though you can get a sampling this weekend as Cal and BYU play a Friday night game in Sydney, Australia. But for everyone else, the weekend of Sept. 3 is the start of the 2016 season. That means it’s already time for Heisman chatter! Many of the top players in the nation last year are back at their respective schools this year, and as per usual quarterbacks and running backs dominate the conversation.
As Week 1 approaches here are the early favorites to be in New York City in December at the Heisman ceremony:
6) Greg Ward Jr., Houston:
The Cougars were a loss at UConn away from going 14-0, as they trounced Florida State as the Group of 5 representative at the Peach Bowl. That one loss in East Hartford was the one game Ward didn’t start, as he was slowed by an injury. When he was on the field, he was electric for UH. One of two players in FBS to go over 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing (the other also makes this list), Ward hopes to reach even higher heights in 2016.
Their non-conference includes a date with Oklahoma in Week 1, and Louisville in November. That strength of schedule puts the Cougars in the thick of the CFP conversation if they run the table – and could secure a seat for Ward as a Heisman finalist.
5) Dalvin Cook, Florida State:
As a sophomore the FSU running back was hampered by injuries, otherwise he could have been in the running for the award last year. His 7.4 yards per carry were second best in the nation, and there’s no one in the country who is a bigger threat to turn a three- or four-yard carry into a long touchdown run. The Seminoles have a quarterback battle brewing, but regardless of who is under center, the offense should revolve around Cook.
4) Jabrill Peppers, Michigan:
Peppers doesn’t have a position. He can play safety. This year the Wolverines are moving him to linebacker. He can be a running back or a returner in the kicking game. And when the ball is near him, good things happen for the maize and blue. A do-it-all type in Charles Woodson won the Heisman as a Wolverine in 1997, and no defensive player has hoisted the Heisman since. Peppers could buck that trend.
3) Christian McCaffrey, Stanford:
Sure he had more games in which to do it, but anytime you break a record held by Barry Sanders, you’re doing something right. As a sophomore, McCaffrey had 3,864 all-purpose yards, including a record-breaking 368 in a Rose Bowl blowout of Iowa. With quarterback Kevin Hogan graduated, McCaffrey has the potential to receive more touches than anyone in college football. Teams know he’s coming, and yet they couldn’t stop him last year. His combination of speed and quickness makes him the most dynamic back in college football.
2) Leonard Fournette, LSU:
If McCaffrey is a lightning bolt, Fournette is a bowling ball. He’s been considered an NFL-ready running back for a few years, and one look at the tape shows why. His 1If McCaffrey is a lightning bolt, Fournette is a bowling ball. He’s been considered an NFL-ready running back for a few years, and one look at the tape shows why. His 1,953 rushing yards were third-most in the nation a year ago, and he consistently needs two or three defenders to bring him down. LSU brings back QB Brandon Harris, but their bread-and-butter is giving the ball to Fournette and having him run the ball right down your throat.
1) DeShaun Watson, Clemson:
In one of the most exciting championship games ever, Clemson was edged by Alabama, but their quarterback isn’t to blame for the loss. Watson accounted for 478 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in the loss, and he’s back for a Tigers team that was oh-so-close to a national title seven months ago. The consensus All-American tossed for 4,109 yards and 35 touchdowns, ran for 1,105 yards and a dozen scores and had one of the lowest sack rates in the nation. Escape an opening weekend trip to Auburn, a Halloween weekend road matchup at Florida State, and the Tigers have a shot to have another perfect regular season… with a shot to finish the job this time around and win a championship.