After Miller injury, who are Big Ten's top Heisman candidates?

After Miller injury, who are Big Ten's top Heisman candidates?
August 23, 2014, 10:00 am
Share This Post
Vinnie Duber

Braxton Miller finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting in each of the past two seasons. He won't this season.

His season-ending injury suffered earlier this week means one of the favorites to win college football's highest individual honor is no longer in the mix.

And while others nationally could see their candidacies benefit from Miller not racking up yardage and touchdowns this season, his absence will leave a void on the Heisman contenders list that needs to be filled by another Big Ten star.

So the question becomes: After Miller's injury, who now gives the Big Ten the best chance to take home the Heisman?

[MORE BIG TEN: Brady Hoke: Jabrill Peppers will be Wolverines' punt returner]

Of course, defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston of Florida State and Oregon's Marcus Mariota remain the most likely options nationally. But when it comes to the Big Ten, which players step into that Braxton Miller-shaped void?

Well, no Heisman conversation can happen without at least mentioning Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. (Somehow, USA Today did just that on their post-Miller-injury Heisman watch.) Gordon was one of America's top-10 rushers a season ago, all the while splitting carries with James White. Now the main man in Madison — and one of the only offensive starters from last season back for the Badgers — Gordon figures to pile up yardage like nobody's business. He's the kind of player that can carry a team to a few wins by himself, and that's the mark of a Heisman candidate.

USA Today did mention a pair of other Big Ten stars, though, in Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah. And those two could be right in the mix if they turn in campaigns that match the incredibly high expectations.

[MORE BIG TEN: Report: McEvoy, not Stave, will be Badgers' starting quarterback]

Cook shone last year after it took Mark Dantonio a few games to make him the Spartans' starter. But as a sophomore, Cook leaned on a nation-best defense to lead Michigan State to a Big Ten title and a win in the Rose Bowl. Cook turned in his best games on the big stage, with those postseason contests seeing his best play of the season. He's expected to take the next step this season in a year where the Michigan State offense could be the featured player after a year of defensive dominance. If Sparty can repeat as conference champs and reach the College Football Playoff, expect Cook to have a lot to do with it and get a bunch of Heisman consideration.

Abdullah, meanwhile, is the defending Big Ten leading rusher, though he was overshadowed by Carlos Hyde and Gordon. But the Nebraska running back is just as good as the rest of the conference's offensive stars, and if he can help the Huskers to a big year, he could easily be right in the Heisman conversation.

So while Miller's injury might have took the conference's best chance at the Heisman out of this year's race, that doesn't mean there aren't other contenders waiting to rise to the occasion.