The 2016 college football season is merely weeks away, but it’s never too early to see who could take home the Heisman trophy in December. Let’s take a look at the biggest players to watch going into the season.
1. DeShaun Watson, QB, Clemson-After finishing third in Heisman voting and leading Clemson to the national championship a year ago, Watson is looking to finish what he started. He rushed for 1,105 yards and passed 4,109 to compliment his 47 total touchdowns.
2. Christian McCaffrey, RB/WR, Stanford-As a sophomore, McCaffrey shattered Barry Sanders’ record for all-purpose yards in a season. His ability to lineup as a receiver, in the backfield, and as a kick returner should make him an appealing choice for Heisman voters.
3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU-For much of last season, Fournette was the runaway Heisman favorite. But then, the Alabama game happened, and suddenly it wasn’t so hard to stop him. Despite that, Fournette was still able to amass 1,953 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. His contention in this year’s Heisman race will be determined in large part by his ability to make adjustments, especially against the Crimson Tide.
4. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma-With a little help from his receiving corps and Starr running back last year, Mayfield led the Sooners to a Big 12 title and the College Football Playoff. He passed for 3,700 yards and finished sixth in FBS with 36 touchdowns. Although he lost his top receiving target in Sterling Shepard, Mayfield has what it takes to lead the Oklahoma offense and make another run at the national championship.
5. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State- Before getting injured in 2014, Barrett gathered 3,772 total yards and 45 total touchdowns. In 2015, he split time as a starter with Cardale Jones, who wasn’t nearly as impressive as he was in the 2014 postseason. In 2016 , Barrett finally gets his shot at a full season. However, he’ll have to do it with a new crew on offense, as many of his weapons last year left in the NFL Draft.
6. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State-Despite basically missing two full games due to a hamstring injury, Cook still ranked sixth in the FBS in rushing yards with 1,691. Just imagine how well he can perform when healthy and as the centerpiece of Jimbo Fisher’s offense.
7. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia-Like Fournette, Chubb hit a wall when Alabama paid a visit to Athens. The next week, he ripped up his knee against Tennessee ending what could have been a stellar rushing season. If he can return to the form he was at before the injury, the Georgia Bulldogs are in great hands. If not, he has a strong stable of running backs to ease him in.
8. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon-If it wasn’t for the other ones ahead of him, Freeman could easily be considered the best running back in college football. Last year he ran for a school record 1,838 yards and 17 touchdowns. Even with questions at starting quarterback, the Oregon offense should be just fine with Freeman in the backfield.
9. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor-Before breaking a bone in his neck, Russell threw for 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns in just seven games. This year the senior is ready to lead the best offense in college football and perhaps, more importantly, overshadow the events in Baylor this past offseason.
10. Malik Zaire/DeShone Kaizer, QB, Notre Dame-Both quarterbacks showed great promise throughout last season, which was especially impressive given the difficulty of Notre Dame’s schedule. While Zaire threw for 428 yards and 4 touchdowns in a game and a half, Kaizer threw for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns the rest of the way. Given those stats and how they impressed in the spring game, head coach Brian Kelly will have a tough decision to make before the opener against Texas.
Other Potential Candidates
-Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
-Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston
-Jabrill Peppers, S/LB, Michigan
-Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
-Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss