Preseason Heisman watch: Watson leads the field

Matt McClain,

Sports Blogger,

@mattdmcclain

As the college football season approaches, fans and analysts everywhere build up hype around the first games. They make their predictions about everything imaginable. I, like said fans and analysts, am building up hype around this year’s Heisman award. The field is wide open, and no one is out of it yet. Here’s a look at the top Heisman candidates heading in to the 2016 season.

QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson

The Clemson quarterback had a breakout year in 2015. Watson finished third in the Heisman race behind winner Derrick Henry and runner-up Christian McCaffrey. Watson won ACC Player of the Year, ACC Offensive Player of the Year and the Davey O’Brien Award for the most outstanding quarterback. Watson will lead the second-ranked Tigers in their season opener Sept. 3 against Auburn. The biggest game for Watson will be Oct. 29 against Florida State.

QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is the Big 12's top candidate to hoist the Heisman trophy in 2016. (O'Colly File Photo)
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is the Big 12’s top candidate to hoist the Heisman trophy in 2016. (O’Colly File Photo)

Mayfield made an immediate impact in his first year at Oklahoma. The transfer from Texas Tech led the Sooners to the national semifinal and a Big 12 title. Mayfield won Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and is the favorite for the award this season. If he can display the same talent as he did in 2015, Mayfield should be in New York. The No. 3 Sooners kick off their season against Houston on Sept. 3. Oklahoma’s biggest game will be Sept. 17 against Ohio State in Norman.

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

Fournette was the front-runner for the Heisman for the majority of 2015. One atrocious game against Alabama cost him the trophy. This season, Fournette is expected to be LSU’s primary option on offense. Fournette suffered and ankle injury, but at full strength, he is the best running back in the nation. If Fournette is available, he opens his season against Wisconsin on Sept. 3. The biggest game for Fournette will be a shot at redemption against Alabama on Nov. 5.

RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

McCaffrey was the runner-up for the Heisman last season. Many people argued McCaffrey was more deserving than Henry. However, as I have said before, McCaffrey did not score enough to win the award. Despite the shortcoming in New York, he did win the 2015 AP Player of the Year Award. Stanford opens its season Friday, Sept. 2 against Kansas State. The biggest game for McCaffrey comes Nov. 12 against Oregon.

RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State

Cook suffered an injury toward the end of last season, and because of that, finished seventh in the Heisman vote. Cook put up one big game after the other last season and was in the Heisman conversation most weeks. If he stays healthy, Cook might be in New York for the Heisman presentation. Florida State opens its season Monday, Sept. 5 against Ole Miss. The Seminoles biggest game comes against Clemson on Oct. 29.

Honorable Mentions

QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

After a breakout season in 2014, Barrett’s numbers declined in 2015 after sharing the starting role with Cardale Jones. Barrett is now the clear-cut starter for the Buckeyes. Ohio State opens its season Saturday, Sept. 3 against Bowling Green. The Buckeyes biggest game comes against Michigan on Friday, Sept. 25.

RB Royce Freeman, Oregon

Freeman had a good start to 2015, but was average the rest of the way. With Vernon Adams Jr. gone, Freeman figures to be the Ducks primary offense. Oregon starts its season Saturday, Sept. 3 against UC Davis. The biggest game for the Ducks is against Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 12.

Oklahoma State’s top candidate

QB Mason Rudolph

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph is the Cowboys' best hope to bring a Heisman trophy to Stillwater in 2016. (O'Colly File Photo)
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph is the Cowboys’ best hope to bring a Heisman trophy to Stillwater in 2016.
(O’Colly File Photo)

Rudolph had an outstanding sophomore campaign for the Pokes. Although he shared touches with J.W. Walsh in the red zone, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12. A broken right foot caused him to come off the bench in Bedlam, the biggest game of OSU’s season. The first game for the Cowboys is against Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 3. The biggest game for OSU comes on the road against Oklahoma on Dec. 3.

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