If the last decade of college football has taught us anything, it’s that something truly special is required for the storied Heisman Trophy to end up in the hands of a non-quarterback.
Running backs Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram are the only players to break the recent trend. But even then, neither were runaway winners, receiving two of the four lowest point totals from the last 10 winners. The two others, quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Sam Bradford, saw their totals affected by strong competition from fellow passers like Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, and Andrew Luck.
To put it simply, 2017 runner-up Bryce Love of Stanford has his work cut out to keep a host of talented passers at bay. With that in mind, here are 10 Heisman candidates ahead of the 2018 campaign:
10. Nick Fitzgerald, QB – Mississippi State
Nick Fitzgerald put up solid numbers in Dan Mullen’s system but will need to take a significant leap to become a Heisman contender. Enter new head coach Joe Moorhead, who helped Trace McSorley develop into a stud passer while at Penn State.
Moorehead has already said he wants to get Fitzgerald a Heisman, and if the senior can become a more nuanced passer to complement his already dominant running abilities, it might not be an unrealistic goal.
9. Jarrett Stidham, QB – Auburn
Jarrett Stidham was supposed to be a Darkhorse Heisman candidate last season, but an inconsistent start to the campaign put his chances to bed before he rebounded with a strong finish. The Auburn quarterback should carry that momentum into 2018 thanks to his entire receiving corps returning and with another year in offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey’s system. If the Tigers live up to their potential as a top-10 team, Stidham should at least get an invite to New York.
8. Rodney Anderson, RB – Oklahoma
Mayfield’s star shone so brightly last year that Rodney Anderson’s impressive efforts flew under the radar. Despite not starting until midseason, the running back produced over 1,400 total yards and 19 scores.
Oklahoma should be a run-first offense in 2018, so Anderson is a near lock to blow last year’s numbers out of the water. The presence of dual-threat quarterback Kyler Murray should only open up more lanes for the dynamic back.
7. Shea Patterson, QB – Michigan
It’s been 20 years since a Wolverine hoisted the Heisman aloft, but Shea Patterson may be the man to follow in Charles Woodson’s footsteps following his much-publicized transfer from Ole Miss.
The former No. 1 quarterback recruit threw for 3,139 yards and 23 touchdowns in 10 games over two seasons for the Rebels and now gets to play under quarterback whisperer Jim Harbaugh.
This could be the year Michigan finally breaks out under Harbaugh. If that happens, Patterson should be the star of the show.
6. Khalil Tate, QB – Arizona
Khalil Tate had a breakout game for the ages last season, coming off the bench against Colorado to rush for an FBS quarterback-record 327 yards. Arguably the most exciting player in all of college football, Tate should have no problem producing the kind of must-see plays that every Heisman winner needs.
Moreover, new Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin is a master at tailoring his offense to athletic passers who can kill defenses on the ground. Tate’s main obstacle is putting up crazy enough numbers to offset a Wildcats squad that likely tops out as only solid. But if he can replicate his form from last October, he might give Heisman voters no choice but to look past his team’s overall success
5. Trace McSorley, QB – Penn State
Saquon Barkley and Moorhead might be gone, but that doesn’t mean Trace McSorley’s chances of winning the Heisman went with them. It’s the exact opposite, in fact.
The dual-threat passer should now be the focal point of Penn State’s offense and proved he’s up to the task by throwing for 3,570 passing yards and scoring 38 times in 2017.
He’ll need to overcome losing his two top pass-catchers, but if anyone can create Mayfield-like magic in 2018, it’s McSorley.
4. Jonathan Taylor, RB – Wisconsin
Jonathan Taylor was a beast for Wisconsin in 2017, producing 13 touchdowns and more than 2,000 total yards behind one of college football’s elite offensive lines.
Strangely, it wasn’t enough to make him a true Heisman contender as he finished sixth in the voting. In 2018, Taylor will show why that was a serious error.
Taylor doesn’t make as many splash plays as other top backs, and his detractors may argue he benefits greatly from the Badgers’ talent up front. But, his punishing running style is a sight to behold and he should approach the 2,000-yard mark once again.
3. Tua Tagovailoa, QB – Alabama
It takes a special player to be a Heisman contender when they’ve yet to even start a college game, but Tua Tagovailoa proved he’s exactly that during the second half of the national championship game.
His team’s remarkable come-from-behind overtime victory over Georgia made him an instant star, but now the sophomore needs to turn his hype and potential into weekly production if he’s to be a serious Heisman contender. He’ll need the starting job first, but it shouldn’t take long to put Jalen Hurts on the bench indefinitely.
2. Will Grier, QB – West Virginia
West Virginia standout Will Grier threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 34 touchdowns before a broken finger ended his campaign, and the talented passer seems poised to eclipse those marks in 2018.
The Mountaineers, thanks to their less-than-stellar defense, should find themselves in more than a few shootouts. That suits Grier just fine. Few teams have pass-catching talents like David Sills V and Gary Jennings Jr., who combined for 157 catches, 2,074 yards, and 19 touchdowns.
College football lost a host of big-name quarterbacks to the NFL this past offseason. Grier, as perhaps the most developed passer in the nation, could fill that void and become the latest star pivot to take home this award.
1. Bryce Love, RB – Stanford
Runner-up to Baker Mayfield last year, Love could be set for an all-time encore to a remarkable junior season. The back racked up over 2,000 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, numbers that are mind-boggling before one even considers he played most of the year with an ankle injury.
Love is arguably the most explosive player in all of college football after leading the country with 13 rushes of 50-plus yards; having a host of highlight-worthy plays is a must for any Heisman hopeful.
The Cardinal standout has the name recognition and the offensive line talent to join Henry and Ingram. But, fair or not, he will have to find a way to surpass his crazy 2017 numbers, possibly through becoming a receiving threat, if he’s to avoid a second straight year of applauding while a quarterback heads to the Heisman stage.