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College Football Preview 2014-2015: Heisman Predictions

Brett Hundley
The start of a new college football year is upon us, and making a preseason Heisman list is an annual tradition. While Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel and others through the years have made a mockery of preseason watch lists, why not try to predict who will win the Heisman award? There are a long list of interesting candidates but here are some of my frontrunners, dark horses and top defensive candidates:

The Front Runners:
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
It would be foolish not to put the reigning Heisman winner on the top of this list. "Famous Jameis" had an incredible 2013, recording 44 total touchdowns along with 4,057 passing yards. He proved to be a big, hard-running dual threat who played better in the bigger games. Perhaps the only question facing him in his Heisman campaign was a sexual assault investigation which led many voters to look elsewhere. This year, Winston will lead a very dangerous offense and will hopefully hope to steer clear of any off-the-field issues. A year after winning his Heisman, Manziel put up even better numbers but did not win the award again. Voters are always hesitant to give someone a Heisman twice and even if he does put up bigger numbers, it will be an up-hill battle for Winston to win another Heisman.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Until his loss to Stanford, Mariota was likely the Heisman frontrunner and Oregon was on a collision course with Alabama in the national championship. Though, his performance in that key game was dismal, costing him the trophy and costing the Ducks a championship berth. His decision to return to Eugene leaves him as a serious candidate for college football's most prestigious award. Mariota engineers the nation's second most dangerous offense in the nation (only behind Baylor) and he has all the talent to put up big numbers this season. The question is whether he can get through Oregon's schedule unfazed and lead the Ducks to a College Football Playoff. Oregon gets Michigan State on September 6th, and they will see Stanford once more and then a date with UCLA on the road. The star quarterback on one of the nation's best teams? Mariota has a legitimate shot at the award, in fact  he is my favorite for the award.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Hundley also made big news when he joined Mariota in returning to school despite first-round projections in the 2014 NFL Draft. He will lead the most talented UCLA team in years, one that is hoping to prove they can play with the big boys of the Pac-12 (Oregon, Stanford and USC). Hundley is also a dual threat who can wow you with the plays he makes. In his two seasons as starter, Hundley has thrown for 73 touchdowns and he threw for 3,470 yards along with 29 touchdowns a year ago. He has impressed with not only his mobility, but also his pinpoint accuracy and his knowledge of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's system. He showed significant improvement from his redshirt freshman season and in 2013, his sophomore season, and second year as starter. If he continues to develop and improve like he did a year ago, he has a real shot. Also, Hundley will have plenty of opportunities for a Heisman moment, as he will have games USC, Stanford and Oregon all at home.

Defensive Candidates:
Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Beasley broke out in 2013, notching 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss a season ago, helping drastically improve the Clemson defense. Whether he plays at defensive end or as an outside linebacker, Beasley will be an extremely dominant pass rusher. He has the mix of size, speed and athleticism needed to put up huge numbers and he will head a Clemson front seven that could be among the best in the school's history. A meeting against Florida State, which will likely decide the ACC Atlantic, will give Beasley the chance for a Heisman moment. A great game there could put him the mix for the award, but he will have to put up record-breaking numbers to win the Heisman with how great this year's candidates are, and considering he is a defender, which puts him at a disadvantage.

Leonard Williams, DL, USC
It is pretty crazy to think about how dominant Williams was in 2013, considering he was not 100% throughout the season. Williams, who suffered with a torn labrum through the season, still picked up 74 tackles along with six sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. The junior is a big name among NFL scouts but he should become a household name this year, with his labrum now healed. Williams still spend most of his time at defensive tackle, but he has the athleticism and versatility to play anywhere along the line. He is an exceptional pass rusher who can also be a major playmaker in run support. While defensive tackles usually are rarely in the mix for the Heisman, Williams is a different breed. When he is healthy, he could be the most dominant interior linemen since Ndamukong Suh, who was a Heisman candidate himself.

Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Jack was crazy good as a true freshman a year ago, recording 75 stops while also making an impact as a running back. That helped him earn Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year along with the conference's Defensive Player of the Year honors. Now a sophomore, Jack has the chance to fight for Heisman honors, as he could possibly play both offense and defense once again in 2013. Jack has superb speed, great instincts and could help as a coverage linebacker. But, he is still growing as a linebacker and people should expect him to be even better this season. Like Hundley, Jack will have plenty of opportunities to shine and impress voters, making him a real threat for the award.

Dark Horses:
Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green
In last year's MAC Championship, a star emerged in Johnson, who led the Falcons to an upset victory over the undefeated Huskies. Now, Johnson returns along with the makings of an explosive offense under former Eastern Illinois head coach Dino Babers. Babers has developed explosive offenses while at Eastern Illinois and as offensive coordinator with Baylor under Art Briles. Inside that offense, with a big arm, impressive mobility and a ton of playmakers surrounding him, Johnson is a real dark horse Heisman threat. If he can play well in big-time battles against Indiana and at Wisconsin, with his numbers, don't count Johnson out of the race.

Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
Hill was a great runner for the Cougars a year ago, running for 1,344 yards, while leading one of the nation's most explosive and up-tempo offenses. Unfortunately, the first-year starter couldn't get the job done through the air too often, completing under 60 percent of his throws and not being able to make the important throws. This offseason, he spent time at the Manning Camp, working on improving as passer. If he can take that next step as a passer, with his speed and elusiveness as a runner, Hill will put up the numbers needed to compete for the Heisman. Staying healthy will be important as well, as the Cougars' offensive line loses three starters and is very young and injuries are obviously very common for running quarterbacks. Expect Hill to run defenses ragged with the read option and possibly even run his way to New York.

Paul James, RB, Rutgers
Last year, despite everybody knowing he was going to running the ball 20-30 even 40 times per game, Andre Williams was a monster for Boston College. James, who is now fully healthy after missing some time with a leg injury that cost him four games in 2013. Much like BC in 2013, Rutgers won't have much of a passing game and they will definitely rely on their running game. James was a beast before going down last year, rushing for 881 yards and nine touchdowns, running over anybody who stood in his way. Even in the physical Big Ten, James could be fantastic and the next Williams if he manages to stay healthy.

McGowanMania Heisman Pick: Marcus Mariota

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