Heisman Watch: Top candidates to win college football's most prestigious award

With the college football season right around the corner, it’s never too early to look ahead to the sport’s most heralded award: The Heisman Trophy. Last year, it was Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield who took home the Heisman ahead of Stanford’s Bryce Love. Love is one of the favorites entering 2018, but there are plenty of others who will be in the mix.

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Favorites

Bryce Love, RB, Stanford (7/1): Last year’s runner-up behind Baker Mayfield had a remarkable season, totaling 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns, and he did so while nursing an ankle injury for a significant part of the season. After opting not to go pro, he’s back for his senior season behind a stellar offensive line. What can he do for an encore?

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin (9/1): Taylor had arguably the best freshman running back season of all-time last year, right up there with Ron Dayne and Adrian Peterson. The bruising 221-pound back had 1,977 yards and 13 scores, but had some problems with fumbles. If Wisconsin makes it to the College Football Playoff, he’ll be a big reason why.

Will Grier, QB, West Virginia (14/1): Grier threw for nearly 3,500 yards and had 34 TD passes last fall and has his two best receivers back in the fold in 2018: Gary Jennings Jr. (97 catches for 1,096 yards) and David Sills (60 catches for 980 yards and 18 scores). WVU is a sleeper pick to win the Big 12 for some, and Grier and the Mountaineers are sure to put up big numbers offensively yet again.

Will Grier (7) is back at West Virginia for his senior season. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson, File)

Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State (15/1): Sure Saquon Barkley is in the NFL and Joe Moorhead is now the head coach at Mississippi State, but Penn State’s offense still has Trace McSorley. The senior signal caller threw for 3,570 yards and 28 touchdowns while completing 66.5 percent of his passes. He had 491 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, too. The Nittany Lions are still stockpiled with talent and will have a lot of marquee games in the Big Ten East.

Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona (14/1): Tate quickly became one of college football’s breakout stars when he came off the bench vs. Colorado and set an FBS record for rushing yards in a game by a QB (327). By the time the year ended, Tate had massive rushing numbers (1,353 yards and 12 TDs) and respectable passing stats (1,591 yards, 14 TDs, 9 INT). He struggled with accuracy at times, and new Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin is working to make him a complete quarterback.

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama (15/2): Everybody knows the tale of Tua by now. The heralded freshman replaced Jalen Hurts at halftime of the national championship game and led the Crimson Tide to a come-from-behind overtime victory over Georgia. Now he’s expected to supplant Hurts as Bama’s starter when 2018 begins and pick up where he left off. Whether he comes in and lights the world on fire is anybody’s guess.

Best bets

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon (30/1): Oregon was 6-2 last year with Justin Herbert starting and 1-4 without him. The season derailed after Herbert broke his collarbone. If he can stay healthy, he has a chance to establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He was on that track last fall.

McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF (40/1): Milton led Scott Frost’s attack last fall as UCF embarked on its undefeated season. Now Frost is gone and Josh Heupel, who ran his own high-powered offense at Missouri, is in. UCF’s offense probably won’t look all that different, and Milton is sure to put up huge numbers once again. But can he be in the Heisman mix without a similar run from the Knights?

What will McKenzie Milton and the UCF offense look like without Scott Frost? (AP Photo/Rich Schultz, File)

D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia (40/1): Swift was behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel on the Georgia depth chart last year, but was just too talented to keep off the field. The Philadelphia native rushed for 618 yards on just 81 carries while contributing 17 catches for 153 yards. He is set to take the reins as Georgia’s No. 1 back in 2018. Look out.

Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State (60/1): Fitzgerald, a senior, has the benefit of inheriting the Joe Moorhead offense that helped Trace McSorley be so successful. Fitzgerald is nowhere near the passer that McSorley is, but is a much better runner (2,359 yards, 30 TDs over the past two seasons). If Moorhead can help Fitzgerald improve as a passer (his career completion percentage is just 55.4 percent), he can work his way into the Heisman mix.

Sleepers

AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College (33/1): Boston College is a sleeper team that could make some noise in the ACC. If that happens, Dillon, a 245-pound sophomore, will have a big part in that. As a freshman last fall, Dillon carried a heavy workload, and carried it well to the tune of 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns. His rushing total was seventh-best nationally. He could climb even higher on those charts in 2018.

Cam Akers, RB, Florida State (28/1): Akers arrived at Florida State last fall as the third-best prospect in his recruiting class. It was an odd season in Tallahassee, but Akers managed to go over the 1,000-yard mark and have four 100-plus-yard games in his freshman season. He’ll be one of the best backs in the ACC this year.

Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington (no odds listed): He gets overshadowed in his own division by Love, but Gaskin is one of the best running backs in the country in his own right. He’s rushed for at least 1,300 yards in all three of his collegiate seasons, and last year he was tied for third in the country with 21 touchdowns. There are some question marks about Washington’s receivers, so he could shoulder an even heavier load in 2018.

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (80/1): Clemson had a running back by committee approach last year with Etienne and Tavien Feaster each carrying the ball 107 times. Etienne was more effective with his 7.2-yard average and 13 touchdowns. If Etienne establishes himself as the more consistent of the two, he could get the bulk of the carries and put up huge numbers for one of the best teams in the country.

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