Heisman Watch: Week One

Steve Helwick

1. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford RB

2015: 2,019 rushing yards, 645 receiving yards, 14 total touchdowns, 1,070 kick return yards

McCaffrey emerged as the nation’s most versatile player in a record-breaking 2015 campaign. The junior multipurpose back shattered Barry Sanders’ NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a season with 3,864 but finished second in the 2015 Heisman Trophy voting to Alabama’s Derrick Henry. Teammates  Quarterback Kevin Hogan and offensive guard Joshua Garnett are gone to  the NFL but McCaffrey’s  adaptability will allow him to succeed in any offensive system. McCaffrey’s running style features a unique combination of strength and speed, making him elusive to defenders. His father was a Super Bowl champion and his brother is a receiver for the Raiders, but Christian could be the first McCaffrey in the talented bloodline to win the Heisman. 

2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB

2015: 4,109 passing yards, 1,105 rushing yards, 35 passing touchdowns, 12 rushing touchdowns 

Watson was one quarter away from leading Clemson to its second national title last year. The dual-threat junior quarterback from Gainesville, GA completed a successful 2015 season with a 14-1 record and a trip to the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York. Watson claimed several accolades including a First Team All-American spot and the Davey O’Brien Trophy awarded to the top quarterback in the nation. Last season, he became the first player in FBS history to register 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a single season. Despite the loss to Alabama, his greatest performance to date may have been in the College Football Playoff title game where he threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns. Watson’s new Heisman journey initiates on week one against the Auburn Tigers.

3. Leonard Fournette, LSU RB

2015: 1,953 rushing yards, 22 rushing touchdowns, 253 receiving yards

Fournette may have been the most valuable player in college football after his first seven games of 2015. In each of these contests, the junior  surpassed the 150-yard rushing mark and found the end zone at least once. But his Heisman campaign abruptly concluded after a rough 31-yard performance against Alabama. Although snubbed from a trip to the trophy presentation, Fournette recouped with 212 yards and four touchdowns in an AdvoCare V100 Bowl win over Texas Tech. Fournette’s 2016 season opens versus Wisconsin. 

4. Greg Ward, Jr., Houston QB

2015: 2,827 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns, 1,114 rushing yards, 21 rushing touchdowns

For his first year and a half at Houston, Ward was a wide receiver. But in 2015, the current senior  not only became a quarterback — he developed into one of the top offensive players in the sport. Ward led the Cougars to an American Conference title in 2015 with a 13-0 record. Finishing second in rushing yards of all quarterbacks, he captained an offense that averaged over 40 points per game. But the greatest challenge of Ward’s career to date will occur week one against a tough No. 3 Oklahoma team.