As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.
Who are the Big Ten’s top Heisman candidates?
This conversation cannot happen, of course, without starting with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller is the two-time-reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and has finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting the past two seasons, finishing fifth in 2012 and ninth last season.
Miller was remarkable a year ago, a true dual-threat quarterback who posted terrific numbers passing and rushing despite missing nearly three entire games due to injury. He’s the kind of guy — and there are a few of them in the Big Ten — who can get his team to the conference title game with his own talents. Thankfully, he plays for the Buckeyes, who have plenty of other weapons, making them a legitimate national-title contender.
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But what about guys not named Braxton Miller? The Ohio State quarterback is the obvious answer to which Big Ten player has the best shot at winning college football’s most-prestigious trophy. But who else is a contender? Who else has a shot should Miller and the Buckeyes’ season take a turn for the worse?
It’s key to remember that Heisman hopes are almost always tied to the success of the candidate’s team. So in practically every case, a team will have to contend for at the very least a division title for the player to contend for the Heisman.
Outside of Miller, here are four more players who you should keep an eye on.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin. The Badgers running back was the Big Ten’s second-leading rusher a season ago and one of the top-10 rushers in the nation with more than 1,600 yards. And that was splitting carries with James White, who also ended up with almost 1,500 yards of his own. Now that White has moved on, Gordon figures to get even more carries in an always-dominant Wisconsin running game, and he should be an even bigger focal point of the Badger offense. Gordon showed the capability of being the Big Ten’s most prolific back early on last season. If he can keep it up through the entire campaign this year, he’ll be in the Heisman discussion.
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Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska. As awesome as Gordon and Big Ten Running Back of the Year Carlos Hyde were last season, it was Abdullah who was the conference’s leading rusher. Abdullah has excellent ability and figures to get a big share of the offense as the Huskers break quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. into his first full year as the starter. If Abdullah can be as good as he was last season and the Huskers can surprise by contending for a Big Ten West Division title, the running back could find himself in the mix. But, again, a lot of that will depend on the Huskers’ level of success.
Connor Cook, Michigan State. It’s going to need to be a big year from Cook if he wants to reach Heisman level, but a lot of people in East Lansing think he can do it. As the season progressed last year and the Spartans kept on winning in their march to a Rose Bowl title, Cook just kept getting better. A junior, the expectations are high for him to take his game to the next level. But Cook’s got one thing Heisman voters love: He shines on the big stage. Cook’s two best games last year were the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl. Keep that trend up, and he’ll be getting plenty of consideration.
Stefon Diggs, Maryland. Here's a real wild-card pick, as it’s pretty rare to see a wide receiver in Heisman contention. In fact, only three wideouts have ever won the award. But Diggs could be that good for the Terps this year. With quarterback C.J. Brown back in the fold and fellow big-play wide receiver Deon Long on the other side of the field, the Terps’ offense figures to be a good one. If they can get Diggs the ball enough to see his numbers skyrocket, maybe he could be the nation’s top receiver and catch some Heisman buzz, as well.