By JOHN MARSHALL
The Associated Press
The preseason front-runner for the Heisman Trophy last season was easy. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won it as a freshman the year before, so there was little reason to pick against him.
No different this year. Florida State’s Jameis Winston won it as a freshman last season while leading the Seminoles to the national title, so, again, no sense in looking elsewhere.
But Winston is far from a lock.
Manziel couldn’t come through with another Heisman last season and there has only been one repeat winner — Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975 — in the 78-year history of college football’s most prestigious award.
With that in mind, we are going to run down six other players who should have a chance at taking home the Heisman:
MARCUS MARIOTA, QB, OREGON — The Ducks’ leader was a strong Heisman contender last season before being derailed by a knee injury. He still set a school record with 4,380 yards of total offense and accounted for 40 TDs, though was disappointed when Oregon fell out of national-title contention. After bypassing a shot at the NFL, the junior returns to lead an offense that piles up points and yards like a video game. If he stays healthy, Mariota is one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks and could find himself holding that bronze trophy.
BRAXTON MILLER, QB, OHIO STATE — The Buckeyes are taking it slow with Miller after offseason shoulder surgery, but he is expected to be ready for the opener against Navy on Aug. 30. Despite missing nearly three full games with a sprained knee last season, he passed for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns, and ran for 1,068 yards and 12 scores. The Big Ten’s two-time MVP, he bypassed a shot at the NFL to return to Columbus for his senior season and is motivated to make it a big one.
BRYCE PETTY, QB, BAYLOR — The Bears set an NCAA record with 52.4 points per game last season, and Petty was the conductor, setting 17 school records while leading Baylor to its first Big 12 title and only BCS bowl. The senior was the Big 12 offensive player of the year after passing for 4,200 yards and 32 TDs — with just three interceptions — and running for 14 more scores. Expect more big numbers from the Bears and Petty.
MYLES JACK, LB, UCLA — UCLA teammate Brett Hundley might have a better shot at winning the Heisman, but we wanted to get a defensive player in the mix. Jack made a big splash as a freshman last season by becoming a where-did-he-come-from two-way player, rushing for 120 yards in his first game, scoring four TDs the next. But Jack’s NFL future is as a linebacker, and the Bruins have limited him to that side of the ball in fall camp. He might see some time at running back again this season, but he is going to have an impact on D regardless.
TODD GURLEY, RB, GEORGIA — Gurley missed three games last season with an ankle injury and wasn’t right when he came back as the Bulldogs limped to an 8-5 finish. Fully healthy again, this bulldog of a Bulldog — 6-foot-1, 226 pounds — has his eyes set on a 2,000-yard season and possibly a spot in New York. Even with his injury a year ago, the junior has rushed for 2,374 yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons, so 2K isn’t completely out of the question. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn. Marshall’s chances might be hurt by starting the season opener on the bench. The senior was cited for marijuana possession last month and coach Gus Malzahn said he won’t start against Arkansas on Aug. 30. He still might play in that game and is expected to have another big season after passing for 1,976 yards, running for 1,068 and accounting for 26 touchdowns while leading the Tigers to the final BCS national championship game last year.