Editor’s note: SEC Country already has conducted an in-depth look at five SEC Heisman contenders, highlighting their flaws, strengths and overall chances at the trophy. They weren’t necessarily the players most likely to win the Heisman; they were simply the most interesting candidates. The players discussed include Leonard Fournette, Chad Kelly, Nick Chubb, Josh Dobbs and Calvin Ridley.
Now, we’re taking a look at three fringe Heisman candidates from the SEC and evaluating whether they have a snowball’s chance in Nick Saban’s house of giving an acceptance speech this winter.
Recent years have produced a pair of freshman Heisman winners (Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston) and another who was a junior college transfer (Cam Newton). All had expectations of success, but few saw that happening as quickly as it did for those three. On the other hand, last year’s preseason candidates included the likes of Jeremy Johnson, Nick Chubb and Dak Prescott — players who fizzled, got hurt or were stuck on middling teams, respectively.
So you can only take so much stock in these preseason lists. Once the Saturday kickoffs arrive, strange things start happening (see: Eric Crouch, Gino Torretta, Jason White).
With all that said, here are a few SEC dark horses to bet a little money on, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Much of the Heisman attention around Rocky Top has fallen upon Josh Dobbs, and that’s fair. He’s the senior quarterback of a College Football Playoff contender with a lot of potential locked away in that athletic body. But what about the man doing the Vols’ heavy lifting? Emphasis on heavy and man.
The Heisman just went to a physical monster in Derrick Henry, so it’s interesting that Tennessee’s 6-foot-4, 240-pound star rusher hasn’t received much attention this offseason.
Hurd already has shown he can handle a major workload, rushing for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He’ll have perhaps the SEC’s best offensive line paving the way for him. And in keeping with the Henry comparison, he has equally ridiculous hair. This is a major key for any Heisman hopeful at running back.
— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) October 25, 2015
For some, the presence of talented backup Alvin Kamara is a major roadblock for Hurd’s potential Heisman campaign. The Georgia-bred junior averaged 6.5 yards per carry and 2.6 catches per game last year, and he added 11 total touchdowns to the stat sheet. He is probably the conference’s best No. 2 back.
Every Henry needs a Kenyan Drake, though, and for Hurd — who still logged 277 rushes last season when Kamara got 107 — he’ll need someone reliable to ease the strain of a 12-game regular season. Dobbs also has big questions to answer regarding the breadth of his skills as a passer, so there still should be touches aplenty to go around at Tennessee. Running remains the bread and butter of this offense.
Add in a couple of huge rivalry games on the schedule (Florida, Alabama) and Hurd should have plenty of chances to shine on a national stage.
If I haven’t already convinced you of his legitimacy as a candidate, watch this hit and become a believer. He’s got the stuff to turn in a special season.
My odds: 28/1
“How original,” you must think upon seeing an Alabama running back on this list. This might be the safest bet in the books, considering two of these guys have won the Heisman since 2009.
But I find it interesting that everyone is so quick to name Bo Scarbrough as the Tide’s top Heisman contender while paying little mind to the other blue-chip sophomore at running back.
Like a slew of other recent Alabama rushers, Harris was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school and the No. 1-ranked running back in his signing class. (Scarbrough was No. 2 in 2014, behind only consensus top prospect Leonard Fournette.) At 5-foot-11 and 214 pounds, Harris is built more like Mark Ingram than the freakish Henry (6-3, 247), but still has plenty of power and reported 4.4 speed to compliment those workhorse attributes.
Harris didn’t wow on the field as a freshman, averaging 3.4 yards per carry behind Henry and Kenyan Drake, but the jump from Class 4A Madison Southern (Berea, Ky.) to the SEC was always going to be a tough transition. The sophomore went on to earn praise from his coaches throughout spring practice and eventually captured MVP honors after the A-Day spring scrimmage, in which he rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries.
Even if Harris’ speed doesn’t wholly translate at the college level, it might not matter; there’s so much talent at every position on the Alabama offense that someone off the street could probably rush for 100 yards on the right day. The only question is whether he’ll show enough to earn a significant chunk of the carries.
Harris worked as the team’s No. 2 tailback behind Scarbrough during spring ball, so fall camp will be crucial if he wants any shot at becoming the primary backfield option. But who’s to say that he doesn’t somehow emerge as the starter during fall camp?
You never know how a season will shake out.
My odds: 35/1
I’m not buying Trevor Knight as anything more than a mostly-capable quarterback with amazing weapons around him. But Kirk, Texas A&M’s electric do-it-all sophomore, stands out from even the Aggies’ crowded bunch of receiving threats.
The absolutely crucial element for Kirk gaining any sort of Heisman traction will be relevance. Knight will need to be calm enough and decisive enough to get Kirk the ball consistently and often, and the heart of John Chavis’ defense needs to stack up much better against the run, too. If the Aggies can do both, it’s far more likely they will finally remain in the Playoff conversation past Week 7, which in turn allows an even broader spectrum of fans to recognize Kirk’s excellence.
Last season, it was pretty hard for anyone to do that while Alabama and Ole Miss ran all over A&M. Even then, as Kevin Sumlin shuffled between sophomore Kyle Allen and freshman Kyler Murray, Kirk finished his first college season with 80 catches, 1,009 yards and nine total touchdowns. He’s that good.
Even if Texas A&M can address the biggest flaws on its roster, Kirk has a steep, steep hill to climb as a wide receiver. Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and even Speedy Noil will all clamor for their share of catches, as well, so the ceiling may only be so high.
My odds: 55/1
Up next: Ranking the SEC’s Heisman contenders