Argue if you will, but the Southeastern Conference consistently produces top Heisman Trophy candidates and here are five to watch in 2016. Thanks to Mike Huguenin and Gridiron Now for this excellent summary.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry last season became the third SEC player to win the Heisman this decade and the fifth to win the trophy in the past nine seasons. (He also became the 12th SEC player overall to win it.) So, can the SEC make it six winners in 10 seasons this fall?
There is no shortage of candidates from the league. Here’s a look at the top five.
5. TEXAS A&M DE MYLES GARRETT
The skinny: If Garrett reaches the upper limits of what he is capable of this season, finishing with 15 or 16 sacks and 23 or 24 tackles for loss, he’s going to be in the Heisman discussion. (He has averaged 11.5 sacks and 16.5 TFL in his two seasons.) To move from the discussion into contention, he needs those kind of numbers plus at least a nine-win season from the Aggies. Then again, if he has those numbers, a nine-win (at least) season for the Aggies likely would result.
4. TENNESSEE QB JOSH DOBBS
The skinny: If Tennessee is to win the SEC East for the first time since 2007, Dobbs again will have to play well. If the Vols are to win the SEC for the first time since 1998, Dobbs will have to play great. And a quarterback who plays great in leading his team to an SEC title is going to get a lot of Heisman love. No one doubts Dobbs’ character, his leadership or his running ability. To be great, though, he’s going to have to be a better passer this season.
3. GEORGIA RB NICK CHUBB
The skinny: It’s looking increasingly likely that Chubb not only will play in the season-opener against North Carolina but also start. That would mean an incredibly quick recovery from a severe knee injury suffered October 10 of last season. That kind of feel-good comeback story can only help Chubb in his Heisman quest. And if he’s back to full health by mid-September, Chubb has 1,500-yard potential. Ultimately, of course, Georgia will have to have a successful season for Chubb to truly be in the race, but a 1,500-yard season from Chubb almost certainly would mean Georgia has a successful season.
2. OLE MISS QB CHAD KELLY
The skinny: Thirteen of the past 16 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks; the only non-quarterbacks were Alabama RB Derrick Henry last season, Alabama RB Mark Ingram in 2009 and USC RB Reggie Bush in 2005. (Yeah, we know Bush had to return the Heisman. He still won it. It’s like a school vacating wins; games are played, someone wins and someone loses. “Vacating” a win is one of the dumbest things the NCAA ever has done, and given that the NCAA has done just an incredible multitude of dumb things, that’s saying a lot. But we digress.) Kelly would seem to have a legitimate shot at setting the SEC single-season passing recordthis fall. Putting up gaudy stats in the SEC has a way of impressing voters.
1. LSU RB LEONARD FOURNETTE
The skinny: Speaking of gaudy stats, had the 2015 season ended after seven games, Fournette would’ve won the Heisman. At that point, he had 1,352 yards (193.1 yards per game) and 15 TDs (2.1 per game). But Fournette then was held to fewer than 100 yards in back-to-back games, and his chances – and LSU’s season – crumbled. He still led the nation in rushing yards per game (162.8) and also had 22 rushing TDs. Those same kind of numbers will have him in the race this season, but his “candidacy” depends upon more than numbers. In a way, his Heisman hopes are tied to QB Brandon Harris. A good season from Harris means a great season for LSU, and great numbers from Fournette coupled with a great season for LSU could get him the trophy.
And in case you were wondering, here are the highest finishes in Heisman history for each SEC school (asterisk denotes school not in SEC when player on the Heisman):
Alabama–RB Derrick Henry won in 2015, RB Mark Ingram won in 2009
Arkansas–RB Darren McFadden second in 2006 and ’07
Auburn–QB Pat Sullivan won in 1971, RB Bo Jackson won in 1985, QB Cam Newton won in 2010
Florida–QB Steve Spurrier won in 1966, QB Danny Wuerffel won in 1996, QB Tim Tebow won in 2007
Georgia–RB Frankie Sinkwich won in 1942, RB Herschel Walker won in 1980
Kentucky–QB Babe Parilli third in 1951
LSU–RB Billy Cannon won in 1959
Mississippi State–QB Dak Prescott eighth in 2014
Missouri–QB Paul Christman third in 1939
Ole Miss–QB Jake Gibbs third in 1960, QB Archie Manning third in 1970
South Carolina–RB George Rogers won in 1980*
Tennessee–HB Hank Lauricella second in 1951, TB Johnny Majors second in 1956, QB Heath Shuler second in 1993, QB Peyton Manning second in 1997
Texas A&M–RB John David Crow won in 1957*, QB Johnny Manziel won in 2012
Vanderbilt–C Carl Hinkle seventh in 1937.
(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)