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2015 College Football Preview: Heisman contenders

Will the Pac-12 produce the Heisman Trophy winner for the second year in a row?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Oregon's Marcus Mariota claimed the Heisman Trophy Award after being a named a finalist the previous year. He was the first recipient of the award from Pac-12 Conference since 2004 (Matt Leinart, USC), when the conference was still comprised of only 10 teams. With Mariota gone, it remains to be seen whether or not the Pac-12 can repeat.

Below, House of Sparky's Kaelen Jones and Connor Pelton provide their favorite and dark-horse candidates out of each of the Power 5 conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12, SEC), as well as their five finalists.

Big Ten

The Favorites

Connor's Pick: Ezekiel Elliott, RB - Ohio State

Elliott had a crazy year in 2014, going for over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns. Now, he has four-fifths of the championship-winning offensive line coming back, and a pair of elite quarterbacks to keep the defense honest. If he improves even just a little on last year's numbers, watch out.

Kaelen's Pick: Ezekiel Elliott, RB - Ohio State

En route to carrying the Buckeyes to winning the first ever College Football Playoff title, Elliott ran for 689 yards and averaged 9.1 yards per carry over the final three games of the season. In Urban Meyer's offense, he's essentially a sure-fire pick to once again be one of the most exciting runners in the nation.

The Dark Horses

Connor's Pick: Connor Cook, QB - Michigan State

He's a baller.

Kaelen's Pick: Tommy Armstrong, Jr., QB - Nebraska

Last season, Armstrong threw for 2,695 yards and 22 touchdowns, while also running for 705 yards and six touchdowns. The dual-threat needs to be protected better, but should he stay healthy and limit his mistakes, he could be in position to once again have a very productive year.

Big 12

The Favorites

Connor's Pick: Trevone Boykin, QB - TCU

Boykin leads an offensive unit that returns nine starters from last season, and he just might have the most explosive offense in the country in 2015. The senior signal caller threw for nearly 4,000 yards a year ago and ran for another 700.

TCU's schedule sets up for Boykin and company to make a run at another conference title, which is exactly what the Horned Frogs will need to keep Boykin in the Heisman conversation.

Kaelen's Pick: Trevone Boykin, QB - TCU

Boykin enters the season as a one of the favorites to claim the award this season. He passed for 33 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions, and totaled eight scores on the ground. The Horned Frogs are expected to be national title contenders, and if they maintain that status throughout the season with Boykin leading the charge, he'll undoubtedly be a finalist for the award.

The Dark Horses

Connor's Pick: Seth Russell, QB - Baylor

I actually like Russell just as much as Boykin, but it's tough to put a brand new starter in the "favorites" category. Regardless, the junior should put up some big time numbers in Art Briles' explosive offense.

A showdown with TCU on the day after Thanksgiving could determine who gets an invitation to New York between the Big 12's top two quarterbacks.

Kaelen's Pick: Samaje Perine, RB - Oklahoma

Perine exploded onto the scene in 2014, tallying 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground, including an FBS-record setting performance of 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Known as one of the strongest players in the country, if Perine can expand on his play last year, the Sooners could quickly become a contender in the Big 12.


The Favorites

Connor's Pick: Everett Golson, QB - Florida State

Filling Jameis Winston's shoes at quarterback is not an enviable task, but Golson has the parts around him to make some noise in the Heisman race. He has a pair of receivers in Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane who should be in consideration for all-conference honors by the time December rolls around, and tailback Dalvin Cook will help balance the offensive attack.

Golson took Notre Dame to the national championship game in 2014 and it's very possible for him to lead Florida State there this season. As long as he cuts down on turnovers, good things should happen for the Seminoles.

Kaelen's Pick: Deshaun Watson, QB - Clemson

As a true freshman last season, Watson was named the starting quarterback for the Tigers in late September, but injuries prevented him from showing off everything he could do.

With receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott on the outside, Watson is likely to produce from the pocket as he demonstrated in his first career start against North Carolina, when he tossed for six touchdown passes and 435 yards.

The Dark Horses

Connor's Pick: James Conner, RB - Pittsburgh

Heisman contenders do not typically come from middle of the pack teams, but that's what makes Conner a true dark horse pick. The Panther back would have led the nation in rushing yards last year if not for a hip injury that plagued him in the final couple weeks of the season.

Kaelen's Pick: Jacoby Brissett, QB - North Carolina State

Brissett is one of the most underrated passers in the nation. The Florida transfer has prototypical size (6-foot-4, 235 lbs) and has a good arm.

His numbers didn't necessarily jump off the screen last season (2,606 yards, 23 TD, 5 INT, 59.7% completion precentage), but in the Wolfpack's 56-41 loss to Florida State last season, he played very well (32-of-48, 359 yards, 3 TD). If Brissett can be a bit more consistent this season, he could potentially challenge to be a Heisman candidate.


The Favorites

Connor's Pick: Paul Perkins, RB - UCLA

Perkins is a threat both out of the backfield and as a receiver and is the best player at his position in the Pac-12. He will carry the majority of the load on offense with Brett Hundley off to the NFL, and that should lead to even better stats than he posted a year ago. The biggest question is whether or not UCLA can stay in the national title hunt long enough to keep the spotlight on Perkins.

Kaelen's Pick: Cody Kessler, QB - USC

Kessler is surrounded by so much talent it was hard for him not to post a great stat line last season (39 TD, 5 INT, 3,826 yards). With that said, he needs to not only lead the Trojans to wins, but performed against high caliber opponents. Last season, Kessler threw for just a combined two touchdowns between Pac-12 South foes Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA. That will need to change if he wants to capture the Heisman this year.

The Dark Horses

Connor's Pick: Kevin Hogan, QB - Stanford

A lot of people will say that Cody Kessler is the best quarterback in the Pac-12, but I like Hogan's game even more. Thankfully, we will not have to wait long to see the two play each other. They meet at Stanford in Week 3.

Kaelen's Pick: Scooby Wright III, LB - Arizona

Hear me out, here. While there hasn't been a Heisman Trophy winner to primarily play defense since the great Charles Woodson, Manti Te'o was a finalist in 2012. Granted, it was a year where only quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Collin Klein were named the other finalists for the trophy, Te'o was a finalist nonetheless.

During that year, Te'o racked up 111 tackles, 1.5 sacks and seven interceptions, while leading Notre Dame to the National Championship. In comparison, last season Scooby Wright III finished with 163 tackles, 14 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles en route to leading Arizona to the Pac-12 South title.

Obviously, a lot would have to fall in favor of both Wright and the Wildcats for this to happen, and they would need to come closer than a division title. However, statistically speaking, if he can top or match his production last year, this may not be as outlandish as it sounds.


The Favorites

Connor's Pick: Nick Chubb, RB - Georgia

Chubb appeared in just eight games in 2014 but averaged nearly 200 yards per game to go along with 16 total touchdowns. His sophomore season should be even more special. It will be interesting to see how he fares in Brian Schottenheimer's offense, but I do not see Chubb and the Bulldogs taking a step back.

Kaelen's Pick: Nick Chubb, RB - Georgia

It still amazes me Chubb and Todd Gurley were on the same team. Chubb was Pro Football Focus' highest graded running back in 2014, and with the running back position being his to start the season, his production can only be expected to increase, which means he should almost assuredly find his name in conversation for the Heisman.

The Dark Horses

Connor's Pick: Dak Prescott, QB - Mississippi State

Could very well be the best quarterback in the best conference in college football, but Prescott has a serious lack of talent around him. With a brutal schedule on tap, Mississippi State might barely make a bowl game. You do not see a lot of Heisman winners coming from 6-6 teams.

Kaelen's Pick: Leonard Fournette, RB - LSU

Plenty of hype surrounded Fournette's arrival to the Tigers, but his production didn't translate to victories during his freshman year. Still, there were plenty of flashes of his potential throughout the season as he bulldozed his way to over 1,000 yards and 10 scores, as well as 625 kickoff return yards and a touchdown. If the sophomore manages to expand on his early production and LSU can somehow challenge for SEC supremacy, Fournette may find his name involved in candidacy chatter.

The Finalists

Rank Kaelen Jones Connor Pelton
1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB - Ohio State Trevone Boykin, QB - TCU
2. Nick Chubb, RB - Georgia Nick Chubb, RB - Georgia
3. Trevone Boykin, QB - TCU Ezekiel Elliott, RB - Ohio State
4. Deshaun Watson, QB - Clemson Paul Perkins, RB - UCLA
5. Connor Cook, QB - Michigan State Cody Kessler, QB - USC