Over the last 2 seasons, a redshirt freshman has “come out of nowhere” to win the Heisman Trophy in college football. In 2012, Johnny Manziel beat out Jameill Showers in fall camp and rode that momentum into one of the best seasons in Texas A&M history. Last season, Jameis Winston was known to be the starter after EJ Manuel left Florida State, but nobody quite realized how good he would be. After eviscerating Pittsburgh in the season opener, Winston and the Seminoles went 14-0 and beat Auburn to win the national championship. Who is the next Manziel or Winston? I tried to scour the major conferences to find out.
Rules: the QB couldn’t have been the consistent starter in 2013. This eliminates players like Christian Hackenberg at Penn State, and Cal QB Jared Goff. Juniors and seniors were allowed, but I tried to select freshmen and sophomores. My list:
1. Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M – This is almost cheating, since he plays at the same school and for the same coach as Manziel did. Allen is a true freshman out of Arizona, throwing for 86 TDs in high school. He’s the consensus #1 QB recruit in the country. Allen will be in a battle with sophomore Kenny Hill, but it feels like Allen is the heir apparent. The Aggies have lost some skill players (Mike Evans, Derel Walker, and Ben Malena), but if he starts, Allen will have plenty of weapons. Trey Williams, Tra Carson, and Brandon Williams return in the backfield. Allen would be throwing to Malcome Kennedy, along with very highly touted underclassmen in Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil. The offensive line features one of the best tackles in the country in LT Cedric Ogbuehi. Most importantly, when was the last time a (heralded) QB under Kevin Sumlin failed to put up big numbers? If Allen starts this season, he may not be Manziel 2013, but I think he would find his way in this offense.
2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson – Watson was right behind Allen in the HS quarterback ratings for the 2014 class. He is in line to replace Clemson’s all-time leading passer, Tajh Boyd. The Tigers’ OC is Chad Morris, one of the most highly regarded assistants in the country. He’s a future head coach, and I think having that type of coordinator will help a true freshman acclimate quickly. Clemson has been able to put up prolific numbers in recent years, with Boyd throwing up 3,851 yards and 34 TDs in 2013. The negative for Watson is that he won’t be throwing to the likes of Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, or Martavis Bryant. The Tigers do have some solid players at WR, but the offense doesn’t quite have the same level of talent.
3. Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma – I’m taking a bit of a liberty here because Knight did start a few games in 2013, but he wasn’t the consistent starter in Norman. Knight takes over for Blake Bell, who seemed like the NFL version of Tim Tebow playing QB. Knight was tremendous in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, throwing for 348 yards and 4 TDs. He can run, with 445 rushing yards and 2 TDs last season. My one concern is the talent around him. OU loses Brennan Clay, Damien Williams, Jalen Saunders, Lacoltan Bester, and Jaz Reynolds. Still, this is Oklahoma, so all of the replacements at RB and WR are big recruits. Knight has Sterling Shepard returning at wideout as well. Bottom line: good QBs under Bob Stoops produce big numbers. Jason White, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, etc. Knight is the next in line on that list.
4. Cyler Miles, QB, Washington – Like most/all of the players on this list, Miles was one of the most highly regarded QBs out of high school a few years ago. He’s been at UW for 2 years behind departed starter Keith Price. Miles is more mobile than Price, but has had trouble staying on the straight and narrow. The sophomore was suspended during spring practice, and has now been suspended for the season opener at Hawaii. If Miles gets his act together, I think playing under new HC Chris Petersen will be very beneficial. Peterson was the coach during Kellen Moore’s extremely productive college career at Boise State. Washington did lose Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but Kasen Williams and Jaydon Mickens return at WR.
5. Kevin Olsen, QB, Miami – It seems like the Hurricanes are consistently churning out quarterbacks that show tons of promise early, then settle into sort of medium-to-above-average starters. Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris are 2 and 3 on the Hurricanes’ career passing yardage list, respectively, but their careers never reached the levels that were anticipated early on. Olsen is a redshirt freshman, 6-3 and 210 pounds. Al Golden has improved the Canes from 6 to 7 to 9 wins, but Miami certainly isn’t “back” to the level of a national title contender. Olsen is the brother of former UM and current Panthers TE Greg Olsen. Kevin Olsen will have a solid amount of talent around him; Duke Johnson is one of the best RBs in the nation, Phillip Dorsett is a burner, and Stacy Coley and Malcolm Lewis are promising young wide receivers.
6. Marquise Williams, QB, UNC – Like Knight, another player who had some late starts in 2013, in relief of the injured Bryn Renner. Williams is a true dual-threat, throwing for 1,698 yards and rushing for 536. I like the direction Larry Fedora is taking North Carolina. Williams also has quite a bit of talent around him; TJ Logan returns at RB, and Quinshad Davis/TJ Thorpe/Ryan Switzer is a pretty good trio at WR. Williams won’t have the departed Eric Ebron as a security blanket, but I expected him to put up big numbers this season.
JW Walsh, Oklahoma State – Split time with Clint Chelf in 2013. Oklahoma State consistently has very explosive offenses under Mike Gundy. Walsh no longer has to compete with Chelf or Wes Lunt (2012).
Chad Voytik, QB, Pittsburgh – He takes over for Texans rookie Tom Savage. Throwing to one of my favorite WRs in the nation, sophomore Tyler Boyd.
Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech – Hopefully he’s more Josh Nesbitt than Vad Lee. Thomas is very fast and should have great rushing totals in Paul Johnson’s triple option attack.
Greyson Lambert, QB, Virginia – Has great size at 6-5, 225. Big season for Mike London after a 2-10 campaign, and Lambert is the key to success.
Tommy Armstrong, QB, Nebraska – Got some experience splitting time with Ron Kellogg and Taylor Martinez in 2013. He can run, but also has to hold off a couple of young players in order to start.
Max Browne, QB, USC – The nation’s #1 QB recruit in 2013, but he is currently behind starter Cody Kessler. Browne is the heir apparent for the Trojans.
Mike Meltser can be heard on MaD Radio from 10am-2pm
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