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Published: Aug. 19, 2014 at 05:22 p.m.

14 for '14: Top Heisman Trophy candidates for 2014

» Complete 14 for '14 series

Conventional wisdom used to be that unless you received preseason acclaim as a Heisman favorite, you had no chance to win the award.

That notion has been blown out of the water of late: The past two winners have been redshirt freshmen, and five of the past seven winners were in their first seasons as a full-time starter.

Recent history, then, would make it seem as if putting together a list in June of the top Heisman candidates would be a waste of time because the eventual winner will have emerged from relative obscurity.

But this season feels different. There are a lot of big names who -- barring injury -- are going to put up big numbers. If there is one constant about Heisman winners, even Heisman winners who emerge from nowhere, it's that they put up big numbers for good teams.

Here is a look at the top 14 preseason Heisman candidates.

14 Photos Total

  • 14. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (Fla.) 14

    Aaron M. Sprecher/NFL

    14. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (Fla.)

    Key 2013 stats: 920 rushing yards, 6 TDs.
    Buzz: Johnson, a junior, missed the final five games last season with a broken ankle suffered in a loss to Florida State. He has yet to post a 1,000-yard season, but barring injury, that seems a given this fall. He has good speed but is comfortable running between the tackles. His career per-carry average is 6.6 yards, and he has had nine runs of 40-plus yards, 12 of 30-plus yards and 17 of 20-plus yards in his career.

  • 13. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU 13

    AP Photo/Joe Raymond

    13. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU

    Key 2013 stats: 2,938 passing yards, 19 TDs, 14 interceptions, 1,344 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs.
    Buzz: Every Heisman list needs a "What? Are you serious?" candidate -- a player from outside the "Power Five" conferences, preferably a QB (think Derek Carr and Jordan Lynch from last season) -- and Hill is that guy. You may not know all that much about him, but the guy can play. He was 10th nationally in total offense last season (329.4 yards per game) and should be even more productive in 2014, especially if he makes the expected improvement as a passer. Hill needs to improve on his 53.9 completion percentage. His inconsistency as a passer was staggering last season: He had three games with at least a 70 percent completion rate but also three with under a 40 percent rate and seven under 60 percent. He is a tough, physical runner with speed, and he had six 100-yard games last season. This season's schedule is easier than last season's, which should help his numbers.

  • 12. Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State 12

    AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles

    12. Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

    Key 2013 stats: 1,422 rushing yards, 18 TDs, 28 receptions, 1 receiving TD.
    Buzz: Langford will be the bell cow for the Spartans' offense. QB Connor Cook could have a big 2014, but Langford still will be the focal point of the offense for coach Mark Dantonio, who loves to win with defense and a punishing ground attack. Langford led the Big Ten in carries in 2013 despite not starting for the first month of the season.

  • 11. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State 11

    AP Photo/Matt York

    11. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State

    Key 2013 stats: 3,635 passing yards, 28 passing TDs, 12 interceptions, 608 rushing yards, 9 rushing TDs.
    Buzz: He had a great 2013 season, but did anybody really notice? Kelly has thrown 57 TD passes in two seasons and obviously is quite comfortable in coach Todd Graham's offense. Kelly does need to play better in "big" games, though, and cut down on his interception total.

  • 10. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama 10

    AP Photo/Dave Martin

    10. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

    Key 2013 stats: 1,235 rushing yards, 14 TDs.
    Buzz: He's talented, but will he get enough carries to be a true Heisman contender? Derrick Henry, among others, is poised to get more carries -- and could get them, especially if Yeldon's fumbling issues crop up early in the season. Still, Yeldon likely seems to be the offensive focal point for a team expected to contend for the national title, and those kinds of players are Heisman gold.

  • 9. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina 9

    AP Photo/April L Brown

    9. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

    Key 2013 stats: 1,183 rushing yards, 11 TDs, 34 receptions, 352 receiving yards, no TDs.
    Buzz: He was injured late in the season and missed one game as well as parts of two others. Davis will become the focal point of the offense -- and you can expect coach Steve Spurrier to ride him like a horse. And unlike Yeldon, who has a strong group of guys behind him, Davis is going to get the bulk of the carries for South Carolina. Davis and the Gamecocks open the season at home on a Thursday night against Texas A&M, which potentially gives him a huge springboard in the Heisman race.

  • 8. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska 8

    AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

    8. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

    Key 2013 stats: 1,690 rushing yards, 9 TDs, 26 receptions, 232 receiving yards, 2 TDs.
    Buzz: He quietly led the Big Ten in rushing yardage last season and also is a solid receiver. Nebraska's offensive line had some issues last fall, and presuming that unit is a bit better this season, Abdullah would seem to have legitimate 1,800-yard potential. There are two issues: He's had fumbling problems and backup tailback Imani Cross is a punishing runner who often is called upon in short-yardage situations at the goal line (Cross had one more rushing TD than Abdullah last season -- even with almost 200 fewer carries).

  • 7. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn 7

    AP Photo/John Bazemore

    7. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

    Key 2013 stats: 1,068 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs, 1,976 passing yards, 14 rushing TDs, 6 interceptions.
    Buzz: Marshall is a great athlete who also happens to be a college quarterback. He never is going to be a great passer, both with his accuracy (he completed 59.4 percent of his passes last season) and with his form. Still, look for him to throw the ball more -- and with a bit better accuracy -- this season. The reasons: Auburn looks to have more weapons at receiver this season, and workhorse tailback Tre Mason is gone. While Marshall's passing can improve, no one questions his athleticism or running ability.

  • 6. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin 6

    AP Photo/John Raoux

    6. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

    Key 2013 stats: 1,609 rushing yards, 12 TDs.
    Buzz: Gordon's production dropped in the second half of the 2013 season. He rushed for 100 yards six times in the first seven games, but reached that plateau just twice in the final six games. And of his 12 TDs, only one came in the final six games. Even though he shared carries with the now-departed James White, he still seemed worn down a bit in the latter part of the schedule. Gordon will be the unquestioned No. 1 tailback for the Badgers next season and his explosiveness can't be overstated. While he needs to become a more well-rounded tailback (he has just three receptions in two seasons and also is an iffy blocker), an 1,800-yard season seems like a legit goal.

  • 5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA 5

    AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

    5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

    Key 2013 stats: 3,071 passing yards, 24 passing TDs, 9 interceptions, 748 rushing yards, 11 rushing TDs.
    Buzz: The hype might have outstripped the production, but while he is far from a finished product, Hundley still is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. He definitely needs to cut down on the interception total. A third year working with coordinator Noel Mazzone could lead to a 30-touchdown season in the air. And his running ability is top-notch. He is a big guy (6-3, 222) with OK speed.

  • 4. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia 4

    AP Photo/John Raoux

    4. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

    Key 2013 stats: 989 rushing yards, 10 TDs, 37 receptions, 441 receiving yards, 6 TDs.
    Buzz: Gurley missed three games and wasn't 100 percent in another five because of injuries -- which makes his solid numbers all the more impressive. He is athletic and a punishing inside runner, and his receiving ability adds another dimension to the Bulldogs' offense. With the departure of four-year starting QB Aaron Murray, expect the Bulldogs to rely more heavily on Gurley this fall.

  • 3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor 3

    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

    3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

    Key 2013 stats: 4,200 passing yards, 32 passing TDs, 3 interceptions, 14 rushing TDs.
    Buzz: Yes, Baylor's offense lends itself to quarterbacks producing eye-popping stats, but Petty performed beyond expectations as a first-time starter. Still, when the schedule toughened in the second half of the season, his production tailed off a bit. He needs to up his completion percentage (it was 62.0 last season), and if he does that, a 4,300-yard season becomes a possibility. He has a ton of weapons surrounding him, too.

  • 2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon 2

    AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

    2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

    Key 2013 stats: 3,665 passing yards, 31 passing TDs, 4 interceptions, 715 rushing yards, 9 rushing TDs.
    Buzz: Mariota was a Heisman front-runner for much of the 2013 season before fading down the stretch; he also had three games in which he completed 50 percent or fewer of his passes, and needs to work on his consistency as a passer. Still, he is a great fit for the Ducks' high-powered spread offense. Heisman-type numbers are a given; his Heisman relevance will depend on how many games the Ducks win.

  • 1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State 1

    AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

    1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

    Key 2013 stats: 4,057 passing yards, 40 TDs, 10 interceptions, 4 rushing TD.
    Buzz: Who doesn't know all about "Famous Jameis"? Last season, he became the second consecutive redshirt freshman to win the Heisman. This season he will attempt to become just the second player to win back-to-back Heisman awards, joining former Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin (1974-75). Winston set NCAA single-season freshman records for passing yards and TD passes; the 40 TD passes also set a single-season ACC record. He will be at the helm of one of the nation's best teams and will operate behind what might be the nation's best offensive line. He will have impressive stats on an impressive team.

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