by Lisa Horne
Quick… how many of you had Auburn's Tre Mason on your 2014 preseason Heisman watch list? I certainly did not yet there was his name in the No. 2 slot of my official ballot. I did not have Florida State's Jameis Winston on my preseason watch list either. Mason placed sixth in Heisman votes. Winston placed first.
The moral to this short story?
Preseason favorites usually do not win the Heisman. Maybe it is time to start thinking outside of the box.
Injuries, coaching changes, suspensions or attrition can all wreak havoc on a Heisman candidate's stock status. See Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley, Marqise Lee, Braxton Miller or Teddy Bridgewater for proof.
These six players are beyond outside the box which makes them perfect underdog favorites to strike the pose. Because everyone loves a great story. Everyone loves the underdogs.
Jake Waters, quarterback, Kansas State
In 2012, Waters completed a junior college record 73.3 percent of his passes at Iowa Western Community College. Cam Newton (Blinn College) previously held the record. Waters transferred to Kansas State in 2013 and was ranked third in efficiency among all Big 12 quarterbacks.
Head coach Bill Snyder's teams are consistent overachievers yet they consistently surprise college football analysts. They should not be surprised this year. When Snyder has a veteran quarterback returning to his team, good things happen in The Little Apple. If the Wildcats can establish their running game, Waters will torch a lot of defensive backs.
Key early game: Auburn, September 18.
Melvin Gordon, running back, Wisconsin
Last year Melvin Gordon shared duties with James White. This year he will share the backfield with Corey Clement. Wisconsin's offensive line is usually a strength and this year it returns almost intact. With a bunch of veteran Big Uglies pushing people around, Gordon may surpass last year's 1,609 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Badgers lost three of their top receivers including tight end Jared Abbrederis so expect a big emphasis on the running game.
Key early game: in Houston vs LSU on August 30.
Derrick Henry, running back, Alabama
Derrick Henry is in the perfect position to steal some Heisman votes from teammate TJ Yeldon. Henry is one of the most electric backs in the country. Last season, Mr. Excitement rushed 35 times for 382 yards—that's a ridiculous 10.91 yards-per-carry average. In the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Henry rushed for 100 yards in eight carries against Oklahoma's defense. We want more.
Alabama's unnamed starting quarterback—likely Jacob Coker but do not rule out Blake Sims—will need some time to get his feet wet. Until the game slows down for the new quarterback, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will keep it conservative with power running. There is a storm brewing in Tuscaloosa: Yeldon is the thunder and Henry the lightning.
Key early game: While Alabama does play West Virginia on August 30, its first test against a stingy defense will be on September 20 when it hosts Florida.
Connor Cook, quarterback, Michigan State
While all eyes are on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, let's not forget about Connor Cook (pictured above). I know, I know, you're shocked. But consider this: against Ohio State, Cook went 24-of-40 for 304 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Cook also went 22-of-36 for 332 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Cook led his Spartans to a Big Ten crown, a Rose Bowl game victory and finished the 2013 season with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions.
This kid is flying so low under the radar that he will not register a blip on most screens but this year is different. Michigan State travels to Eugene, Oregon to play the Ducks on September 6. A win in a high-profile game at Autzen Stadium could catapult Cook into the loving arms of Heisman voters.
Key early game: at Oregon, September 6.
Javorius "Buck" Allen, running back, USC
Javorius "Buck" Allen rushed for only 137 yards on 29 carries in the first seven games of the 2013 season. The last half of the season saw different results after head coach Lane Kiffin was dismissed by athletic director Pat Haden and running back Tre Madden injured his hamstring. Allen rushed for 637 yards on 105 carries.
Allen was raised by his grandmother. He doesn't know his father. His brother—currently serving time for attempted murder—may be released in 2025, according to Scout.com's Whitney Blaine. Allen was sixth on the depth chart when the 2013 season kicked off but finished with four starts. That's a heckuva story.
Key early game: at Stanford, September 6.
Christian Hackenberg, quarterback, Penn State
As a true freshman, Hackenberg finished third in passing efficiency in the Big Ten. But it was how he ended the 2013 regular season that put him on this list. Against No. 14 Wisconsin, Hackenberg went 21-of-30 for 339 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Penn State won 31-24.
Penn State will not be bowl eligible this season due to NCAA sanctions. The Nittany Lions have nothing to lose by opening up the playbook for Hackenberg but the rebuilt offensive line has to keep him standing upright. Hackenberg playing for the joy of the game—not for bowl "swag" or a one week vacation in Florida—could tug the strings of some voters' hearts.
Key early game: at Dublin, Ireland vs Central Florida on August 30.
*photo courtesy of themajors.net