"I think it's good for the program --" Bo Wallace said before cutting himself off.

Apparently, Ole Miss' senior quarterback knew not to be so optimistic. Of course it wasn't good that his starting left guard, Aaron Morris, was done for the season with a torn ACL.

But the reality was that Wallace learned of the injury two weeks ago. He also knew that despite Morris' absence, there was a good backup plan in place: Justin Bell would slide over to left guard and freshman Rod Taylor would come off the bench to fill the void.

So Wallace didn't have any trouble seeing the silver lining as he spoke to ESPN after practice on Monday afternoon. He estimated that Taylor, a former blue-chip prospect, has played roughly 35-40 percent of the snaps this season anyways.

"I mean it's never good when someone gets hurt," Wallace said, correcting his earlier statement. "But as far as us building depth on the o-line for guys next year, it can come out to be a positive because we know Aaron is going to come back and be the same type of player he is."

Bringing it back to Ole Miss' impending showdown with TCU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Wallace said, "[Taylor] was in the rotation, so he knows what it's like. He's been in there before, so we trust him. He'll be ready to go."

He better be, because TCU's defensive line can get after it.

The No. 6-ranked Horned Frogs are tied for 20th nationally in sacks (35) and rank third in interceptions (23). Their five defensive touchdowns are the most of any Power 5 program not named Washington, Kentucky or Georgia Tech.

Much like his quarterback, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was hopeful about Taylor's ability to slide into the starting lineup without issue.

"He improves every week," Freeze told reporters in Oxford, Mississippi. "He loves to practice. He loves to play. Really pleased with his progress.

"He's going to be a good one."

When Morris does undergo surgery on his injured knee, it will be the second time doctors have repaired the ligament. He first tore it back in Ole Miss' 2013 season-opener against Vanderbilt.

Freeze was optimistic Morris would return for the 2015 season, but allowed that "these things tend to be iffy."

"It's hard to say," he said. "I sure hope so for his sake and for our team."
Samaje Perine ran over defenders, KD Cannon ran by them and Dravon Henry brought the savvy of a veteran to a secondary in need of depth.

Oklahoma's Perine, Baylor's Cannon and West Virginia's Henry earned ESPN.com True Freshman All-American honors on Monday as the trio secured spots among the nation's best with stellar first seasons in the Big 12. You can find the full team here.

Perine, a running back from Pflugerville, Texas, led the Big 12 with 1,579 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 6.58 yards per carry during his freshman campaign. He averaged 7.05 yards per carry on first down and rushed for 150 yards or more in each of the Sooners' final three games.

Cannon, a receiver from Mount Pleasant, Texas, finished with 50 receptions for 833 yards and six touchdowns. He was a handful from the opening kickoff with 17 receptions for 409 yards and five touchdowns in the first quarter this season.

Henry, a safety from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, made at least one tackle in 11 of 12 games this season and started every game of his freshman campaign.
Jared Shanker and Chantel Jennings have spent their fair share of time around Tallahassee, Florida, and Eugene, Oregon, this season covering Florida State and Oregon. Leading up to the No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual, Shanker and Jennings will be analyzing pressing questions facing different matchups within the game. Any suggestions for questions? Tweet @JShankerESPN or @ChantelJennings with your suggestions.

We continue with the matchup between the Florida State offense and Oregon's defense.

1. Can Oregon be the first team to stop freshman running back Dalvin Cook?

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Dalvin Cook rushed for 321 yards in Florida State's last two games.
Shanker: The Ducks’ coaching staff must wish they would have played Cook earlier in the season, when his snaps were being limited. Cook finished the season with 1,084 yards from scrimmage and more than half (592) have come since Nov. 15. The Oregon defense is better than people think, and the Seminoles’ rushing attack has been inconsistent, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the Ducks held Cook in check. To stop Cook, the Ducks cannot miss tackles. The true freshman Cook has a rare ability to make defenders completely whiff.

Jennings: As long as the Oregon defense continues its upward trajectory, then yes. In the Pac-12 championship game, the Ducks held Arizona to 111 rushing yards, more than 75 yards fewer than the Wildcats’ season average at that point. Arizona running back Nick Wilson, who had averaged 6.2 yards per rush coming in to that game, averaged 2 yards per rush against the Ducks. Now, the Oregon run defense hasn’t been stout all season, but it has looked good lately. I think Don Pellum is going to be able to keep the Ducks going strong there.

2. Can Oregon's pass rush expose the Florida State offensive line?

Jennings: This will be another interesting matchup because both Oregon’s pass rush and Florida State’s O-line have been spotty at times this season. However, in the last four games of the season, the Ducks held opposing quarterbacks to an average adjusted QBR of 34.9 and held quarterbacks to just a 35.3 percent completion rate on third-down passing attempts. Though the Ducks have only sacked opposing quarterbacks on 6.1 percent of passing plays (No. 61 nationally), they have allowed just 5.5 yards per pass attempt (17th nationally).

Shanker: The Seminoles’ offensive line was exposed often through the early portion of the season, but the unit jelled late in the season with the insertion of freshman Roderick Johnson at left tackle. Four of the five starters have posted season-high grades along the offensive line since Johnson took over for Cam Erving, who was moved to center. In August and September, the unit ranked 95th in sacks per game; in November it ranked 16th. However, Oregon could make Jameis Winston uncomfortable by coming off the edges. As good as Johnson has been, he is still a true freshman, and right tackle Bobby Hart has struggled at times. A couple of exotic blitzes off the edge could confuse the FSU offensive line and leave Winston vulnerable.

3. How will Jameis Winston fare if the Ducks take away wide receiver Rashad Greene?

Shanker: It’s no secret Winston has an affinity for throwing the ball to Greene, one of the country’s best receivers. It’s also no secret the rest of the young group of receivers has been largely inconsistent. The Ducks might let Ifo Ekpre-Olomu cover Greene one-on-one, which puts pressure on Jesus Wilson and Travis Rudolph. While both have played well at points, they’ve also disappeared at times. At times, opponents have been able to effectively take away tight end and Mackey Award winner Nick O’Leary, who was held without a catch in two games this season. What shouldn’t be forgotten is teams have tried to take away Greene all season and the senior still finished seventh nationally in yards and eighth in receptions.

Jennings: One of the areas in which the Oregon defense has been the most inconsistent is in giving up big plays, specifically big pass plays. Oregon has given up 56 plays of 20 or more yards, and 40 of those were pass plays. Chances are with how good the chemistry is between Winston and Greene, they’ll be able to pull of one or two big plays, but the Seminoles will need to make sure they cash in on those. During the past month the Ducks have improved greatly there as well, only giving up nine pass plays of 20 or more yards.
Jared Shanker and Chantel Jennings have spent their fair share of time around Tallahassee, Florida and Eugene, Oregon this season covering Florida State and Oregon. Leading up to the No. 2-No. 3 match up in the Rose Bowl, Shanker and Jennings will be analyzing pressing questions facing different match ups within the game. Any suggestions for questions? Tweet @JShankerESPN or @ChantelJennings with your suggestions.

Today, we start with three questions on how the Oregon offense and Florida State defense match up.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman, Jared Tevis
AP Photo/Ben MargotRoyce Freeman will look to pile up yards against a Florida State rush defense that's susceptible early in games.
1. Can the Seminoles contain Heisman winner Marcus Mariota?

Jennings: Probably not. He's a freak and he's playing his best football right now. FSU isn't just going to start pass rushing like crazy. If they did, they probably wouldn't be able to do it consistently and Mariota is at his best in broken plays. How the Seminoles can best "get to" Mariota would be by making him do too much. If they can take away his weapons -- which, it's fair to say, no one really has this season -- then they can limit him a bit. If running back Royce Freeman can't rush the ball and it's all on Mariota, he might not be able to do as much. Or, if the secondary can take away his options down field, that obviously limits him as a playmaker. Again, these are all big "ifs" and "maybes" and I'd bet donuts to dollars that we're going to see the best version of Mariota we've seen so far this season when he hits the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Shanker: Over Mariota's three-year career as starter, few teams have successfully contained him, and it rarely happened in 2014 en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. He's as dynamic running as he is throwing, and he made a handful of NFL throws in the Pac-12 title game. That's the bind he puts every team in -- do you challenge him throwing or rushing? Mariota won't completely overwhelm Florida State's defense, though. Defensive backs Ronald Darby, Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams are all first-day NFL talents in the traditional sense, and up front Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman are among the country's most athletic 300-pound linemen. The linebacking corps is suspect, but there are more than enough pieces to contain Mariota. That doesn't mean Florida State will, and smart money is on Mariota to make a fair number of plays.

2. Will the Freeman show continue?

Shanker: Much like Dalvin Cook, Freeman is playing his best football, too, with three straight 100-yard games and an eight-game streak of at least 98 yards rushing. Considering how poor the FSU defense tends to play in the first half, Freeman could have 100 yards by halftime. The question will be whether the success continues in the second half. Seminoles defensive coordinator Charles Kelly has been terrific at making second-half adjustments. Freeman should run wild on Florida State early -- most teams do -- but without a strong second half it might not matter.

Jennings: I'm with Jared here. FSU hasn't exactly put a full four quarters together defensively. But, a big part of the Freeman show isn't just Freeman. Opponents can take him away but then they still have to deal with sophomore Thomas Tyner and junior Byron Marshall who's much more of a dual threat WR-RB for the Ducks. Can FSU stop Freeman? Then Tyner? Then Marshall? (And remember, Mariota is averaging 51 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown per game.)

3. Is the Mario Edwards versus Jake Fisher one of the best matchups within the matchup to watch?

Jennings: It'll be one of them. However, with how many injuries and shifts the offensive line has gone through it'll be a minor miracle if Fisher is actually still playing left tackle a month from now (only slightly joking). Edwards has registered three sacks and two quarterback hurries this season, but that doesn't fully explain how much of a force he has been on the O-line for the Seminoles. This matchup will be fun to watch and a huge test for both players.

Shanker: All one has to do is put on the tape of last year's national championship to see the impact Edwards can make. He has battled inconsistency in his career, but the former No. 1 recruit is athletically gifted. He wreaked havoc in Auburn's backfield last January. Edwards will be tasked with more than just getting to the quarterback, too. With Oregon spreading the field, his role includes setting the edge, freeing up linebackers and making tackles in space when called upon. Fisher will have his hands full.

4. How much of an impact will FSU's all-everything Jalen Ramsey play in the game?

Shanker: If Florida State wins, Ramsey will probably have a major impact. Ramsey was one of the best freshmen in 2013, but he moved to nickelback -- or the "star" position in FSU's scheme -- before 2014. It took Ramsey a few games to adjust, but the sophomore is filling up the stat sheet now. Mariota needs to account for and find Ramsey before every snap, because he impacts the game in so many ways. He has possibly emerged as FSU's best defensive player, but Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost are skilled offensive coaches. The playcalling could limit Ramsey's effect on the game, but the 6-foot-1, 204-pound sophomore's athleticism could still have him in the right spot at the right time anyway.

Jennings: This might be a game in which he won't show up in the stats sheet as much but he'll still play a huge role based on whom he takes away as an option down field for Mariota. The Ducks have several wide receivers who've really made some major strides late in the season -- Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson, Dwayne Stanford -- but if Ramsey takes Devon Allen or Keanon Lowe, then Mariota will be relying more on these younger players, which could be good or bad for the Ducks.
Clemson made the right decision to have quarterback Deshaun Watson have surgery to repair his torn ACL, forcing him to miss the bowl game.

That matchup against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Florida, this month is one Watson can afford to miss, even if it means handicapping the offense for one more game.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson's Deshaun Watson will have about eight months in recovery time following ACL surgery before fall practice begins.
Because the most important contests loom ahead, with a promising 2015 season awaiting.

As coach Dabo Swinney explained, the earlier surgery date means Watson gains nearly one month in recovery and rehab time.

"Those 3 1/2 weeks will be critical in the back end," Swinney said in a recent interview. "We want to get him back for our summer skills and drills. We really need him to lead the squad through the summer. We want to do everything we can to get him back, and we feel pretty good we can meet that timeline so he can be ready to go before we start camp in the fall."

Watson will have about eight months in recovery time before the heart of fall practice begins. Swinney noted that two players who tore ACLs last spring, tight end Sam Cooper and former quarterback Chad Kelly, had their recoveries fast-tracked. Cooper had recovered just four months after his knee injury. He would have played in the opener against Georgia, but he broke his leg during pregame warm-ups.

Though it is hard to avoid comparisons, Clemson cannot afford to rush Watson and risk having him come back too early, because he means so much to the offense. That was plain to see this past season, when the Tigers looked like a hyper-charged version of itself with Watson behind center.

But Watson could not find a way to stay healthy as a true freshman, leading some to wonder whether he is injury-prone so early in his career. In the spring, he broke his collarbone and missed the spring game. After waiting his turn, Watson finally got the starting nod against North Carolina. Two games later, he broke his finger against Louisville.

When he returned a month later against Georgia Tech, he injured his knee on what looked like a routine run. Watson was able to play the season finale against South Carolina and lead a victory on the partially torn ligament. Because he played in that game, Swinney initially said Watson would be able to play in the bowl game.

But the timing did not make much sense for that to happen.

In the end, this turned out to be the first time Swinney has had his starting quarterback miss time because of injury.

"Sometimes you have some crazy things like that," Swinney said. "It’s just the game. You can’t play this game worried about that kind of stuff. Sometimes, you have some freak things. Had he hurt his finger on the left hand he would have never missed a snap. Or had he not been a quarterback, he wouldn’t have missed a snap, but because he was a quarterback, he really needed to throw the ball. It really wasn’t a big injury, it was just something he couldn’t do his job with.

"He’s never really been hurt his whole career. Sometimes you have some spells like that, but adversity builds a little character and toughness and makes you appreciate the opportunities when you are healthy. He’ll bounce back and be better than ever."
Todd Grantham said he has not communicated with his former co-workers at Georgia in the eight days since learning that his new team, Louisville, will face the Bulldogs in the Dec. 30 Belk Bowl.

On a Monday conversation with reporters, the first-year Louisville defensive coordinator downplayed any competitive advantage he might have gleaned from practicing against most of the Bulldogs’ players over the previous four seasons as a Mark Richt assistant.

“It still gets down to getting off blocks, tackling people, winning one-on-one matchups on both sides of the ball, so I don’t think that’ll play as big a factor as you guys will make it out to be,” Grantham said. “I think it gets down to just playing football. Obviously they’re a talented team. They’re one of the best offenses in the country, so we know we’ve got to play well and be ready for a big challenge.”

[+] EnlargeTodd Grantham
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyTodd Grantham's Louisville defense leads the nation in interceptions and is tied for seventh in sacks.
A veteran assistant like Grantham has plenty of experience in situations like this, coaching against friends, former co-workers or ex-players several times each season. While he understands the intrigue surrounding his coaching against a program where he was on staff less than a year ago, Grantham said it doesn’t add extra juice to the bowl game from his perspective.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for the people there -- both the coaches and the players,” Grantham said. “This isn’t the first time that a coach has faced a team that he was coaching the year before. It’s part of the business. We’ve had a great season. We went 9-3 and it’s a chance for us to send our seniors out the right way because they really did believe in our system when we came here.”

That they did. Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong left a strong defensive identity behind when he left for Texas after last season, and the Cardinals have thrived in the first season under Grantham’s leadership. Despite losing safety Calvin Pryor and defensive end Marcus Smith to the first round of the NFL draft, Louisville still ranks sixth nationally in total defense, allowing 293.3 yards per game.

Further, the Cardinals lead the nation in interceptions (25), rank fourth in third-down defense (28.2 percent) and are tied for seventh in sacks (3.25 per game). They’re in the top 20 in turnovers gained (T12, 28), scoring defense (18th, 20.5 points per game) and red zone defense (T19, 27 opponent scores in 36 red zone possessions).

Not bad for a first season in a new conference -- and Grantham said it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

“Our main focus and vision is to win the ACC and compete for a national title, and after one year here and the recruiting class we’re having, I’m more convinced than ever that we can reach that goal,” Grantham said.

That sounds very much like the sales pitch that Grantham used to make while wearing Georgia’s red and black. Replace ACC with SEC and insert Florida instead of Florida State as the opponent he has circled as the roadblock standing between his team and the championships it wants to win.

Grantham’s tenure at Georgia ended with a bit of a flop -- the young Bulldogs surrendered 29 points and 375.5 yards per game last season -- as fans and media questioned his job security throughout the 2013 season.

“We obviously had a really young team last year and we kind of faced some veteran offenses, some veteran quarterbacks, and because of that, we had to take some shots with those guys, but I think they got better for it,” Grantham recalled. “They were able to mature and I think that’s one of the reasons they’re able to have some success right now.”

Two of those young players, cornerback Shaq Wiggins and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, followed Grantham to Louisville and sat out this season as transfers. Grantham credited the former Bulldogs for their work on the scout team and said he expects them to compete for starting jobs in 2015.

As for Georgia, Grantham said he remains proud of what the program accomplished in his four seasons there -- a time where the Bulldogs won SEC East titles in 2011 and 2012 and dominated rivals Florida, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Tennessee with an 11-1 record in his final three seasons.

That’s what Grantham said he remembers about his Georgia tenure, not the last season where he came under fire.

“I’ve always known I was a good coach in what I was doing,” Grantham said. “I think if you go back and look at the changes we were able to establish and make at the University of Georgia in my time there, we were able to win games, we were able to put, really, Georgia back on the map from being relevant.”
The SEC is known for its defensive line talent, with dozens of NFL linemen having played for one of the conference’s 14 schools. But this was an uncommonly productive season for the league’s freshman pass-rushers, even by the SEC’s lofty standards.

Two true freshmen – Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett – earned second-team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches and media, and several others enjoyed productive debut seasons in arguably the nation’s toughest conference.

Garrett set an SEC record for freshmen with 11 sacks this season, but Barnett might have been not just the conference’s best freshman defensive lineman -- he might have been the SEC’s best defensive lineman, period.

[+] EnlargeDerek Barnett
AP Photo/Wade PayneTennessee freshman Derek Barnett ranks third in the nation in tackles for loss.
Missouri’s Shane Ray won the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year awards from both the coaches and media, and he is the conference’s only player whose numbers stand up against Barnett's. Ray led the SEC with 14 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in 13 games, although six of his sacks and 9.5 of his tackles for loss came against Missouri’s weak nonconference opposition. Barnett made all 10 of his sacks against SEC opponents, as well as 18 of his 20.5 tackles for loss.

Barnett is the only freshman to rank among the national top 30 in tackles for loss (he’s third) and Ole Miss freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes is the only freshman in the national top 50 in forced fumbles (he’s tied for 29th with three). Garrett (tied for sixth with 11), Barnett (tied for 16th with 10) and Haynes (tied for 43rd with 7.5) are three of the only four freshmen to rank in the national top 50 in sacks.

Haynes did not post the ridiculous numbers that Garrett and Barnett did, but he was the best pass-rusher on a powerful Ole Miss defense. He led the Rebels in sacks, quarterback hurries (eight), and forced fumbles and is tied for the team lead with a host of teammates with one fumble recovery.

Those three were the headliners, but they are not the only freshman pass rushers who appear destined for SEC stardom. Here are three more freshmen who could strike fear into quarterbacks’ hearts next season:

OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Arguably the biggest recruit in Georgia’s 2014 class, Carter didn’t start for the first time until Game 9 against Kentucky. But he made the most of that opportunity wotj nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats. The Freshman All-SEC honoree started the last four games and figures to become a major impact player in 2015.

OLB Rashaan Evans, Alabama: Earning playing time as a freshman on Alabama’s talented front seven is difficult, but Evans contributed as a role player. He made 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack thanks to impressive speed and a high motor. Once he gets an opportunity to play more, he’s going to be a regular visitor into opponents’ backfields.

DE Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama: The SEC’s coaches saw enough from Hand in limited action to name him to their Freshman All-SEC team. One of the nation’s most coveted recruits in 2014, Hand recorded just seven tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss as a reserve on Alabama’s deep defensive line. Rest assured, his time is coming.

 
Oregon's Marcus Mariota won the Pac-12's first Heisman Trophy since 2005, and he did so in historically dominant fashion. A record 95.16 percent of voters listed Mariota on their Heisman ballots, and heading into Saturday's presentation, there wasn't much of a question that the Duck would take home college football's most hallowed hardware.

Though he still has a year of college eligibility remaining, Mariota will almost certainly declare for the 2015 NFL draft, so the Pac-12 will have to look elsewhere to repeat the Heisman feat. Here are some early 2015 candidates. Key word here is "early," as we have yet to finish 2014 and some of the players below are still deciding if they will be back next year. Keep that in mind as we quickly imagine the potential future.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

Aside from Mariota, the only Pac-12 player to finish in the top 10 of Heisman balloting was this dominant desert stud. Wright earned four second-place votes and 13 third-place votes, and it would be tough to argue with either of those evaluations based on his absurd 2014 production. Wright's numbers in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles were all either at or near the top of the nation; he was the only player who averaged over two TFL per game, and that race wasn't remotely close. It's clear that Arizona has an absolute machine working the middle of its defense. Yes, the Heisman Trophy has a clear bias toward the offensive side of the football, but Wright was awesome enough to earn 17 votes at linebacker -- as a sophomore.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

This 230-pound bruiser did his best to give new meaning to the term "true freshman" in 2014. Aside from displaying remarkable vision, Freeman physically pounded opposing defenses like a battle-hardened senior. He supplied Oregon's rushing attack with an irreplaceable dose of physicality. The first-year statistical returns are as eye-popping as they were pad-popping: 1,299 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 16 touchdowns. With Mariota almost certainly moving on, the Ducks' offense may center more on this young tank in 2015, and that focus could thrust Freeman into Heisman contention.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC

Kessler was the only quarterback in the nation to attempt over 400 passes and throw fewer than five interceptions in 2014. In the not-so-distant past, those kinds of numbers would automatically thrust a USC quarterback into the midst of the Heisman Trophy discussion. Kessler, however, flew under the radar throughout the entire campaign. If he decides to return to USC for his senior season, expect him to generate a big amount of preseason hype. Related note: Running back Javorius Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor also have eligibility remaining. If those two are back in Troy next year, include them as possible big-time award candidates too.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

Statistically, 2014 was an excellent campaign for this Bruin, who is a redshirt sophomore. He led the Pac-12 in rushing, racking up 1,378 yards on a league-best 6.0 yards per carry. Perkins will have to score more touchdowns to generate more Heisman hype. He found pay dirt only nine times this season, but 2015 will likely present an opportunity to enter the end zone more often, as touchdown machine Brett Hundley has indicated that he will likely be moving on to the NFL. That means that Perkins may become the centerpiece of UCLA's offense. More touches, more glory.

Jared Goff, QB, California

Goff's statistical output was impressive in 2014 (3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), but any hype surrounding him was quickly extinguished by memories of the Bears' nightmarish 2013 campaign (1-11). Cal improved to 5-7 this season, but it still failed to earn a postseason berth. Given the upward trajectory of Sonny Dykes' program, that likely won't be the case in 2015. There's a strong chance that Goff will be the quarterback of a winning team. If he continues to post gaudy numbers under that scenario (also likely), this talented gunslinger will arrive on the radar for major postseason awards. Don't sleep on him.

D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State

If wide receiver Jaelen Strong returns to ASU for his final year of eligibility, keep an eye out for him. But that seems unlikely, so the top Sun Devil to watch will probably be the versatile Foster, who was the only Pac-12 player to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2014. Foster's 59 catches were second to only Strong in Tempe, and his explosiveness makes him a prime sizzle candidate if he decides to stay in school for one more season. Side note: Don't forget freshman running back Demario Richard, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a 17-year-old this season.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

If you enjoy watching impressive freshman running backs, Wilson is a good player to follow. He delivered an awfully dynamic inaugural campaign in Rich Rodriguez's system, delivering 5.9 yards per carry and more than 100 ground yards per game. Wilson's 15 rushing touchdowns were second among Pac-12 running backs, so second-year improvement would absolutely make him a contender for some major hardware in 2014.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Myles Garrett always welcomes a challenge. Kevin Sumlin found this out firsthand when Texas A&M recruited Garrett, the highest-ranked prospect the Aggies signed in more than a decade.

After Garrett verbally committed to the Aggies, Sumlin gave his prized defensive end prospect some good-natured ribbing about his basketball skills. At Arlington (Texas) Martin High, Garrett was a three-sport star: football, basketball and track and field.

[+] EnlargeGarrett
Soobum Im/USA TODAY SportsMyles Garrett has found another gear on the football field, but he'd rather focus on other subjects off of it.
"I joked with him and told him 'You can't hoop,'" Sumlin recalled. "'You don't know what you're doing, you're a D-lineman.'"

The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Garrett let his play do the talking when Sumlin went to Martin to watch him on the hardwood for the first time prior to Garrett signing a national letter of intent with the Aggies in February.

"He's out there running around like a deer and he's huge," Sumlin remembered. "He comes down, catches a ball off the rim, this guy's just draped all over him -- [Sumlin then mimics a two-handed slam dunk, accompanied with an exploding sound] -- and then he turned and ran down the court and pointed at me in the stands.

"I said, 'I really like this guy,'" Sumlin said laughing. "'I'm a fan.'"

So is everybody else in Aggieland, after Garrett turned in an exceptional true freshman season. He shattered Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record (eight) with 11 of his own. He earned All-SEC second-team honors, an All-SEC freshman team nod, was named the Aggies' defensive MVP and is a member of ESPN.com's Freshman All-America team.

The future is indeed bright for the 18-year-old, who will turn 19 when the Aggies meet West Virginia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29. Even his opponents think so.

"I think he's going to be a great player," said LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins, a likely first-round NFL draft pick who faced Garrett on Thanksgiving Day. "If he puts the work in, I think he'll be able to double his stats next year... . In about a year or so, he's going to be a monster."

Garrett, who is prohibited from speaking with media as a freshman per Sumlin's first-year player policy, wasn't always gung-ho on football. As a youth he was more enamored with the hardwood. After giving Pee Wee football a brief try, he didn't like it, opted for basketball and didn't return to the gridiron until his freshman year at Martin. When moved from offense to defense after his first two days of practice, he was concerned.

"I was ready for offense; I could take a hit," Garrett told ESPN.com prior to his arrival in College Station. "But they put me on defense days later. I was like 'Oh gosh. I'm going to get cracked from the side or something, I'm going to hit somebody and my neck's going to be turned sideways for the rest of my life.' I didn't know what to think."

This was news to Bob Wager, his head coach at Martin High, and his parents, Audrey and Lawrence Garrett. His fear never showed. Soon, he fell in love with defense.

"It was a great decision because I love hitting people," Garrett said.

Though Wager moved Garrett up to varsity as a sophomore, he wasn't an instant hit. Wager called a meeting with Myles, Audrey and Lawrence and candidly told Myles that if he wanted greatness, that he needed to find that next gear.

"He had the physical abilities to be able to do that but we had to get his motor running to match his physical abilities," Wager said.

Said Audrey: "It's not that he wasn't giving it his all, but it just didn't look like the effort was there. He kind of walks with that lazy gait. That's just his demeanor. That meeting showed Myles that he had to show the effort ... I don't think he was taking plays off, it was just funny because it looked too easy. He realized 'I even have to kick it up another gear.' I don't think he realized there was another gear."

From the time Myles walked out of Wager's office, the change was nearly instantaneous. His work ethic reached a new level, he became a star in the weight room (Audrey said he asked for weights as a gift for his bedroom during his sophomore season) and the physical transformation began.

"It's like he went into his room and came out Mr. Olympia," Audrey said.

Soon, he was mistaken for a grown adult male by strangers. Audrey recalls the time her oldest son, Sean Williams -- a professional basketball player in Turkey who was a first-round NBA draft pick and spent four seasons in the NBA -- brought Myles to practice when Williams was with the Dallas Mavericks.

"Somebody from the Mavs called his agent and said, 'Tell Sean he can't be bringing this dude to the gym because he may hurt one of our guys,'" Audrey said. "They thought he was a grown man. Myles was 16 at the time."

As Garrett's emergence continued, colleges began to notice. Name the school, it was probably on Garrett's offer list: Alabama, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State. Texas A&M had an ace in the hole in the form of Garrett's older sister, Brea, who is a track and field star for the Aggies and won the NCAA indoor weight throw competition in March. Sumlin joked that during Myles' recruitment, he bugged Brea and bugged his parents but didn't pressure Myles.

The connection Myles established with defensive line coach Terry Price, the presence of his sister and the high bar set by his first visit to campus in January 2013 ultimately led him to choose the Aggies.

Away from the football field, Garrett's mind shifts elsewhere. A geology major (he fell in love with paleontology at age 3), he found a healthy balance between the gridiron and the classroom and had a 3.0 grade point average this semester.

"When he's not on the field he has no interest in talking football," Audrey said. "He'll avoid it like the plague. He doesn't want to watch it. He'll strategize game-wise when he's preparing for it, but when he walks away from it on the off days he has, he definitely has interests outside of football."

Don't confuse that with a disinterest in greatness. He wears the No. 15 because he wants to average 15 sacks per season. He admires great athletes from a previous era, such as Muhammad Ali or Deacon Jones. Garrett is his own harshest critic.

"His best is never good enough for him," Audrey said. "There's not one game which he came off the field -- not one this year -- where he was happy with his performance. He critiqued himself every time. Not once was he happy."

Others in the SEC took notice. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who has seen many great college defensive linemen come through his program, had high praise for Garrett after watching him on film.

"He reminds me a little bit of Aldon Smith, a top-10 pick who played for us and now plays for the 49ers," Pinkel said. "That's a really huge compliment ... Imagine what he's going to look like in another year or two. He's a great young player and he certainly has everybody's attention every play which you have to have."

Garrett wants to leave a lasting impact on Aggieland, one that won't soon be forgotten. So far, he's off to a good start.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Jake Locker, No. 53 in 2006 class

Locker picked Washington over Oregon State out of Ferndale (Wash.) in a recruitment that wasn’t close due to staying close to home and having a number of friends that attended the University of Washington. Locker also had a strong relationship with then Huskies head coach Tyrone Willingham.

After a redshirt year in 2006, Locker took over as the starting quarterback for the Huskies in 2007, completing 155 of 328 passes for 2,062 yards and 14 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. He also had 987 yards rushing earning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors.

The 2008 season was one to forget for the dual-threat signal caller. He completed 50 of 93 passes for 512 yards and a TD in four games before a thumb injury against Stanford ended his season.

Locker began to realize his potential in 2009 as a redshirt junior. He hit on 230 of 395 passes for 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns, and added 387 rushing yards picking up a second honorable mention All-Pac-10 honor following the season.

As a fifth year senior, Locker threw for 2,265 yards and 17 touchdowns, and rushed for 385 yards in 12 games earning a third honorable mention All-Pac-10 award.

Locker left Washington as the school's second all-time passing and quarterback rushing leader with 7,639 passing and 1,939 rushing yards.

Locker was selected No. 8 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, where he is currently the backup.

Honorable mention: Jeoffrey Pagan, No. 53 in 2011 class, and Demarcus Robinson, No. 53 in 2013 class. Pagan signed with Alabama out of Asheville High (N.C.) and went on to appear in 32 games in three seasons with 12 starts. After 61 career tackles and 3.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide, Pagan chose to forgo his final year of eligibility in Tuscaloosa. Pagan was selected in the sixth round, No. 177 overall, in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Robinson was a back-and-forth recruitment between Clemson and Florida before deciding on the Gators. After an underwhelming freshman season in 2013, the Peach State native became one of the top receivers in the SEC in 2014 hauling in 47 passes for 774 yards earning All-SEC honors.

Early 2015 Big Ten Heisman hopefuls

December, 15, 2014
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Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon came up one spot short of snapping the Big Ten’s eight-year streak without a Heisman Trophy winner this weekend. The last Big Ten player to win the award was Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006. With all three of this year’s finalists likely shipping off to the NFL, let’s take a look at who could end the Big Ten drought next fall.

[+] EnlargeTevin Coleman
AP Photo/John Sommers IIHeisman pose for 2015? Indiana's Tevin Coleman topped the 2,000-yard mark this season but could leave early for the NFL.
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Coleman is expected to make a decision about turning pro this week. If he makes the unlikely choice to return, he will be the Big Ten’s best returning back. The junior ran for 2,036 yards this year while being largely overshadowed by Gordon, who had a better supporting cast.

Ohio State’s starting quarterback: The name might not be filled in until August, but reserve one spot on this list for whoever is leading the Buckeyes’ offense next year. Will it be J.T. Barrett, who might have earned a trip to New York this year if not for a season-ending injury in Ohio State’s final regular-season game? Will it be two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Braxton Miller? Or perhaps current starter Cardale Jones? The winner of that job will get a cache of playmakers and a team that will be favored to repeat as conference champs.

Wisconsin RB Corey Clement: Gordon’s understudy this season ran for 844 yards and nine touchdowns. He has averaged nearly 7 yards per carry in his two seasons with the Badgers. The offensive line that paved the way for Clement and Gordon is losing three starters, which could hurt his chances. Wisconsin, though, has historically had no problem replacing talent in the trenches.

Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He has one more season to lead the Spartans’ evolving offense. Cook loses his top target (Tony Lippett) and top runner (Jeremy Langford) to graduation, but Michigan State is a consistent winner. Leading a team to the playoff with an offense that averages 40-plus points would put Cook in contention for the school’s first Heisman Trophy.
Not long ago, the Heisman Trophy ran through Big 12 country.

From 1998 to 2011, the Big 12 produced five Heisman winners in Ricky Williams, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin III. Others, like Josh Heupel, Adrian Peterson and Vince Young, were worthy runners-up.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAfter a breakout 2014 season, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin could be even better in 2015.
Lately, though, the Big 12 has been in a Heisman drought.

No winners since 2011.

No finalists since 2012.

That, however, could change in big way next season.

The Big 12 figures to boast a pair of preseason Heisman heavyweights in TCU fleet-footed quarterback Trevone Boykin and Oklahoma bulldozing running back Samaje Perine.

As arguably the most improved player in college football this season, Boykin drove the Horned Frogs to an 11-1 record and the cusp of the College Football Playoff. He led the Big 12 with 3,714 passing yards and 30 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. Boykin also ran for 642 yards and eight scores.

The Horned Frogs will be loaded again offensively next season with 10 starters back. Despite splitting time with Casey Pachall his first two years, Boykin will be one of the most experienced quarterbacks in college football. And he will have a season under his belt operating the Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie spread offense.

Boykin’s top quarterback competition nationally should be out of the way as well. Marcus Mariota, this year’s Heisman winner, will likely be in the NFL. So likely will Jameis Winston and Baylor’s Bryce Petty.

Because he finished fourth in the voting over the weekend, Boykin will open his senior year on the radar of Heisman voters, which can be an important factor in generating enough traction. And Boykin will be the quarterback of a probable preseason top-10 team and playoff contender, another critical element to mounting a successful Heisman race.

Not since Davey O’Brien accomplished the feat in 1938 has TCU produced a Heisman winner. But with so many factors working in his favor, Boykin will be TCU's best shot to win the award since LaDainian Tomlinson.

However, Boykin won’t be the Big 12’s only shot.

A running back hasn’t won the Heisman since 2009, but Perine could have as good a chance as any running back in 2015 coming off his phenomenal true freshman campaign.

The 5-foot-11, 243-pound power runner led the Big 12 with 1,579 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns this season. One week after Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon set an FBS single-game rushing record with 408 yards, Perine eclipsed it with 427 yards against Kansas on Nov. 22. While splitting carries at times with Keith Ford and Alex Ross, Perine averaged 6.6 yards per carry.

Considering he will have his first full offseason with a college strength and conditioning program, Perine figures to get stronger and sharper, which is a scary thought for opposing Big 12 tacklers. He will be the clear focal point of the Oklahoma offense next season. And like Boykin, he will have Heisman buzz going into the season.

The Sooners will have to win for Perine to have a shot. But if they do, and Perine puts up even bigger numbers as a sophomore, he could join Boykin as a major factor in the Heisman race.

Boykin and Perine aren’t the only Big 12 players who could impact the Heisman race. Anyone quarterbacking the Baylor offense has a chance to make waves. Mason Rudolph and Pat Mahomes shined as true freshman quarterbacks for Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, respectively, and could turn into big-time players.

Few saw Boykin as a starting quarterback, much less a Heisman contender, before this season. Who knows who next year’s Boykin will be from the Big 12?

But after banner 2014 seasons, Boykin and Perine have prime opportunities to turn the Heisman race back through the place it once ran seemingly every year: Big 12 country.
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If Oregon wins the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 will cap the greatest season in its history, including iterations as the Pac-8 and Pac-10. Perhaps we should toss an "arguably" in there, particularly if the conference's seven other bowl teams go belly-up in some form or fashion, but why be wishy-washy?

After Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the overwhelming winner of the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, the Pac-12 completed a sweep through the award season like some morphing of "Titanic," "Ben Hur" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at the Oscars. Combine Mariota with Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright, and the Pac-12 has produced the season's most decorated offensive and defensive players. Not since 2002, when USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman and Arizona State LB Terrell Suggs swept most defensive awards has this happened.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks have a chance to make this a historic season for the Pac-12.
Mariota also won the Maxwell and Walter Camp player of the year awards, as well as the Davey O'Brien and Unitas awards as the nation's top QB. Wright won the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. Further, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard won the Hendricks Award and Utah punter Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award.

Toss in eight players on the ESPN.com All-America team -- from seven different schools -- and six teams ranked in the final pre-bowl CFP rankings and it feels like an unprecedented season for national recognition in the Pac-12.

Well, at least if the Ducks take care of business.

The season Palmer and Suggs were college football's most celebrated players, just two Pac-10 teams ended up ranked, though both were in the top 10 (USC and Washington State), while Colorado, then in the Big 12, also finished ranked. In 2004, USC won the national title, Trojans QB Matt Leinart won the Heisman and California finished in the top 10. Arizona State also finished ranked, while Utah went undefeated, though as a Mountain West Conference member. Obviously, if you fudge with conference membership issues, you can make things look better retroactively than they were in their present time.

In 2000, three teams -- No. 3 Washington, No. 4 Oregon State and No. 7 Oregon -- finished ranked in the top seven. In 1984, the Pac-10 won the Rose (USC), Orange (Washington) and Fiesta (UCLA) bowls and finished with three top-10 teams, including No. 2 Washington, which was victimized by BYU's dubious national title.

So there have been plenty of impressive seasons, just not anything as scintillating as 2014 if Oregon wins the title.

Oregon, of course, hoisting the new 35-pound, cylindrical trophy as the last team standing is hardly a sure thing. First, the Ducks get defending national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual. While many have questioned the Seminoles this season because every game has been a nail-biter, that doesn't change the fact the nation's only unbeaten Power 5 conference team -- winners of 29 games in a row, no less -- own the fourth quarter. In football, owning the fourth quarter is almost always a good thing.

If Oregon manages to win that CFP semifinal game, the good money is on it getting a shot at top-ranked Alabama in the national title game, though throwing funereal dirt on Ohio State this season has proved difficult. Ohio State is the Count Dracula of college football this season -- perennially undead. That duly noted, knocking aside Alabama -- the game's most dynastic program, led by its most celebrated coach in Nick Saban -- while the Crimson Tide also stand as the bell cow of the dominant SEC would be the ultimate achievement for a team and conference eager to solidify its super-elite standing.

The simple fact that Oregon has not won a national title in football -- and the Pac-12/10 hasn't claimed one since 2004 -- stands out on both literal and symbolic levels. There has not been a first-time national champion since Florida won in 1996, while a Pac-12/10 team other than USC hasn't won one since Washington in 1991. Before that, if then-Big 8 member Colorado's 1990 title doesn't count, it's UCLA in 1954.

So Oregon taking that final step into the light would represent a pretty dramatic development, particularly after the school already upgraded its trophy case with its first Heisman. It would complete a climb started in the 1990s and show other mid-to-low-level Power 5 teams that all they need to transform into a superpower is good coaching, strong administration and a sugar-daddy billionaire booster.

As for the conference in general, it would be a big deal to have a non-USC national title in the coffers, and it would be further validation of the depth and quality of the conference. Last season, for the first time since 2009, the conference didn't finish with a top-five team, but for the first time ever it finished with six teams ranked in the final AP poll. So the Ducks at the top would provide some nice symmetry.

As for the entire postseason, the Pac-12 is favored in seven of its eight bowl games, with UCLA being only a slight underdog to Kansas State, with the line trending down since opening at 3 1/2 points. So the conference is set up for success. Anything fewer than six wins -- including Oregon in the Rose Bowl -- would be a disappointment, an underachievement.

You know, not unlike last season, when the conference went 6-3 and graded a mere "Gentleman's C" from the Pac-12 blog.

While Washington and Oregon State fans will be hard-pressed to force out a "Go Ducks!" and USC fans probably aren't ready to admit a new member to the college football penthouse, if Oregon can make its tide rise to the top -- and roll the Tide along the way -- it will boost all Pac-12 ships.
Now that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has strutted away with the Heisman Trophy in an utter landslide, it's time to look into the future to see who could be up for that bronze beauty next year.

What's that? We haven't gotten to bowl season? Santa hasn't even come to fill our stockings?

Pssssh! It's never too early for some prognostication that has nothing to do with the current season. And looking ahead to the Heisman is so much fun.

So who could be in the mix for a trip to Times Square next December? I think the SEC has a few candidates to keep an eye on. Too bad Todd Gurley isn't returning, because he would be at the top of this list. In fact, if he didn't deal with that NCAA suspension or lose his season to an ACL injury, Gurley might have won the Heisman over Mariota. But that's a story for another day.

Also, Heisman finalist Amari Cooper isn't on our list because he would be crazy not to bolt to the NFL.

Here's our very early list of possible SEC Heisman candidates in 2015:
  • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: This hinges on Prescott's NFL prospects. He is awaiting his draft grade, but if Prescott isn't projected to go in the first or second round, expect him to come back for his senior year. Prescott was an early Heisman front-runner in 2014, but his numbers fell in the final month of the season. Still, if he returns, he will be a favorite from the SEC after breaking 10 Mississippi State single-season records in 2014: total offense (3,935), total offense per game (327.9), touchdowns responsible for (37), completion percentage (61.2), passing yards (2,996), passing yards per game (249.7), 200-yard passing games (11), passing touchdowns (24), passing efficiency (151.3) and rushing yards by a quarterback (939).
  • Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: With Gurley sidelined for the second half of the season, Chubb took off. Already impressing everyone when he came in to relieve Gurley, Chubb finished the season with seven straight 100-yard games (all starts), was second in the SEC with 1,281 rushing yards and tied for first with 12 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged a league-high 6.9 yards per carry. Chubb is explosive and powerful with his runs, and his vision is incredible.
  • Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Another special sophomore-to-be to keep an eye on, Fournette needed some time to really get going. But when he did, he was usually the best player on the field. He finished the season with 891 yards and capped the season with 146 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown in a dominating performance against Texas A&M. Avert your eyes, Aggies! Fournette is a special talent who will be doing a lot more of this in the next couple of years.
  • Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss: Before his season was cut short by a devastating ankle injury against Auburn, Treadwell was one of the SEC's best overall players. With Cooper most likely jetting for the NFL, Treadwell will return as the SEC's best receiver in 2015. Despite missing the final three games of the season, Treadwell, who has incredible athleticism, led the Rebels with 48 catches. He finished with 632 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Though he didn't have the season most -- including me -- expected, Henry is a freak of an athlete capable of having a special season. If he is the lead guy in Alabama's backfield next fall, he should compete for the title of best running back in the SEC and improve on the 895 yards and 10 touchdowns he had while splitting carries this fall.
  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: The bowling ball had a fantastic season in Starkville, rushing for 1,128 yards (third in the SEC) and 11 touchdowns. Robinson was at the top of the SEC's rushing chart for most of the season and rushed for at least 100 yards four times. His numbers fell off during the final portion of the season, but Robinson is a big-play machine. Small in stature, he is a bull of a runner with a knack for tossing defenders off him or slipping out of their grasp for extra yards.
The NFL could claim these guys:
  • T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: He leads Alabama with 932 rushing yards and has 10 touchdowns, but he could take his game to the next level. He wasn't completely healthy this season, but his vision and ball security improved a lot in 2014.
  • D'haquille Williams, WR, Auburn: He missed two games but still led the Tigers with 45 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Another top-tier athlete, Williams made a ton of clutch plays for Auburn this fall. But with his incredible athleticism and size, he's very much a candidate to leave early.
Keep an eye on:
  • Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M: He had only 559 receiving yards and five touchdowns, but when you are regularly making plays like this, people better be on the lookout for you. Noil is a supreme athlete who will grow with more time in the Aggies' offense.

ACC's 2015 Heisman hopefuls

December, 15, 2014
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Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, and while the ACC had plenty of impressive performances in 2014, Jameis Winston was the lone representative from the conference to finish in the top 10 in voting.

That could certainly change in 2015, when the ACC has several emerging stars who could contend for the award. Here’s a quick look at the league’s top challengers for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

(Note: We’re assuming that Winston and Miami’s Duke Johnson won’t return for 2015, but if either does come back, he would immediately jump to the top of our rankings.)

1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

If he had stayed healthy all season, Watson might have been a contender for the award as a true freshman. Assuming he can stay on the field in 2015, he looks poised to be the biggest playmaker in the conference for an offense in which he will be surrounded by young talent.

2. Miami QB Brad Kaaya

Kaaya had his ups and downs as a true freshman in 2014, but he showed plenty of poise and was arguably the ACC’s top deep-ball threat. Miami’s offense has plenty of skill-position talent, but Kaaya will need the Hurricanes to finish better than 6-6 if he wants a crack at the Heisman.

3. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

There will be plenty of enthusiasm surrounding Cook’s sophomore campaign in 2015, and if Florida State makes another run at the playoff, he would likely be in the Heisman conversation. The problem for Cook is that he will likely be starring on an offense forced to replace its top receiver, top tight end, four starting linemen and Heisman-winning quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJames Conner, Detrick Bonner
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPitt running back James Conner rushed for a school-record 24 touchdowns in 2014.
4. Pittsburgh RB James Conner

Few players in the country carried a heavier share of their team’s offensive load in 2014 than Conner did for Pitt. While he was a bit overshadowed by the Big Ten's top running backs, his 1,675 yards and 24 rushing TDs would have had him in the Heisman Trophy discussion most seasons. He could certainly match or exceed those numbers next year.

5. Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas

In his first year running Paul Johnson’s offense, Thomas was exceptional, but as the Georgia Tech coach was quick to point out, this could be just the tip of the iceberg. With a year of experience and wider latitude in directing the offense in 2015, Thomas could easily emerge as one of the country’s most explosive offensive threats.

6. North Carolina QB Marquise Williams

Williams’ numbers in 2014 were exceptional, but he was largely overshadowed by UNC’s rocky season defensively. If the Tar Heels can finally emerge into a Coastal contender with Williams leading a high-powered offensive attack, he could emerge as one of the nation’s biggest dual threats at quarterback. His numbers this year were already similar to Dak Prescott, so perhaps 2015 will be Williams’ chance to spend the season getting the Heisman hype.

7. Pittsburgh WR Tyler Boyd

It’s tough for wide receivers to push their way into the Heisman campaign, but Boyd’s numbers in 2014 were exceptional. Whether he can turn in a 2015 season similar to what Alabama’s Amari Cooper did this year depends greatly on whether there is a new coaching regime at Pitt and the progress of Panthers QB Chad Voytik. But Boyd’s talent as a receiver and on special teams certainly will be worth monitoring.

8. Miami RB Joseph Yearby

He played second fiddle to Johnson this year, but it’s easy to see why Miami fans are so excited about the future for Yearby. As a true freshman, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 600 yards of total offense. With a starter’s share of the offense next season, Yearby could emerge into an all-purpose star for the Hurricanes.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby, Jalen Ramsey
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsJalen Ramsey (8) will be a leader on a Florida State defense that might have a little more on its shoulders in 2015.
9. Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey

Defensive players aren’t usually in the Heisman conversation, but with so much turnover expected on FSU’s offense in 2015, it will be up to Ramsey and the defense to keep the Seminoles afloat. Ramsey is already one of the nation’s top defensive backs, and in his third year as a starter, he could easily take the next step into the Heisman Trophy conversation with a few big plays at crucial times -- much as Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o did in 2012.

10. Duke RB Shaun Wilson

Here’s an under-the-radar player to watch as a potential Heisman hopeful in 2015. Wilson wasn’t Duke’s starter this season, but as a true freshman he still led the Blue Devils in rushing (590 yards) and was second in TDs (5) while finishing sixth in the nation in yards per rush (8.0). He could secure the starting job next year on an offense that could be more run-heavy, giving Wilson a chance to rack up huge numbers as one of the league’s most explosive runners.

Others to watch: Boston College RB Jon Hilliman, Louisville RB Brandon Radcliff, NC State QB Jacoby Brissett, Virginia RB Taquan Mizzell

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