Coming off an incredible freshman season, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will begin the 2014-15 college football season as the top ranked player in the country, and the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy a second time.
The hulking 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore is the odds-on favorite to win the prestigious award at 4/1, according to Bovada.lv, and he could be the second player in history to win it twice. Former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin is the only player ever to take home the Heisman two times back in 1974 and 1975.
Following in Johnny Manziel’s footsteps, Winston was the second freshman to claim the Heisman, but was the first to win the prize and the national title in the same year. However Manziel also slipped up in his Heisman defense before heading to the NFL, which Winston certainly hopes to avoid.
In 2013 Winston lit up opposing defenses by completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions for a 184.8 passer rating. The Seminoles went undefeated and won their first national title in 14 years.
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But defenses are now well aware of what Winston can do on the field, with opposing defensive coordinators having a full year to study Florida State’s offense and pick apart Winston’s weaknesses as well. The term “sophomore slump” is one we’ll hear throughout the season should Winston slip up at any point and allow the other Heisman contenders into the race.
Let’s take a look at each of the favorites, most of which are quarterbacks, a position that’s won the Heisman four straight times and seven out of the last eight years.
He was the best player on the nation’s top team, with the No. 1 defense in the country backing him up. This year the Seminoles look equally strong on both sides of the ball but their schedule is a bit harder. The season opener against Oklahoma State will set the pace, and key home games against Clemson, Notre Dame and Virginia could make or break Winston’s chances for a second Heisman. Nov. 15’s matchup at Miami will also be tough, but may define Winston’s second Heisman campaign. Odds: 4/1
Mariota certainly won’t be distracted by his two courses next season. There’s no doubt Mariota remains the best QB in the Pac-12 and could make a play for best in the country. Far quicker and able to extend plays with his legs better than Winston, the redshirt junior has a chance to rack up overwhelming passing and rushing stats that Heisman voters can’t ignore. A big game in Week 2 against Michigan State’s punishing defense will be the first big test. Odds: 11/2
Even though his numbers in 2013 took a slight dip, Miller led the nation’s third highest-scoring offense with 45.5 points per game. He hasn’t developed his passing game the way many in Columbus would like, but if he increases his passing numbers and accuracy, Miller could be the seventh Heisman winner in Buckeyes history. Revenge for last year’s Big Ten title game loss at Michigan State on Nov. 8 could be Miller’s Heisman moment. Odds: 7/1
We learned Marshall won’t start but will play in the opener against Arkansas, which means his Heisman chances aren’t dashed by missing too much time. Like Mariota, Marshall has an excellent chance of snagging the Heisman from Winston with both his arm and legs. And Heisman voters also won’t ignore Marshall if he’s successful against SEC opponents, especially with key games against LSU and South Carolina at home, and two roadies against Georgia and Alabama to close the season. Odds: 10/1
More of a prototypical pocket passer like Winston, Petty once again heads the nation’s highest scoring offense, which put up 52.4 points per game. However, after Marshall, he may have the most difficult schedule of any Heisman candidate, with trips to Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma looming. Odds: 12/1
The highest ranked running back, Gurley should be the focal point of the Bulldogs offense. He missed three games last season, which caused his stats to slip, but Gurley still averaged 6.0 yards per carry. Gurley will need top performances at Missouri on Oct. 11, and especially at home against Florida on Nov. 1 and Auburn on Nov. 15. Odds: 12/1