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Heisman dark horse columns are hard. Not hard in the sense of roofing a house in 95-degree weather for 12 hours a day, but hard in the sense that they don’t really exist anymore. Really, they don’t. The Heisman is almost certainly going to a player on a top 10-ish team or one knocking on the door of playing for a college football championship. It’s also almost certainly going to a quarterback, as 12 from the position have won the award, compared to 2 from any other position (both running backs) since 2000. If the BCS did anything, it’s to almost guarantee the Heisman winner will be a thrower.
So, any Heisman dark horse race must be met with the caveat that it won’t happen. Yes, the last two years around this time, we weren’t thinking the guys who won it would win it, but Jameis Winston was in the conversation by default with Florida State’s march to the title. While Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M weren’t in the title race in 2012, they influenced it with a win over Alabama and then wound up a team near the top 10. So I’ll give this a shot, and understand it’s a lot of stuff flung against the wall. The upside is that you could see a Manziel type emerge, because right now, no one is distinguishing himself in that way. In other words, it’s wide open for a guy we’re not thinking of now.
1. Anu Solomon, quarterback, Arizona (FR): Anu is ninth in the country in passing yards and has 13 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. He’s hurt by living on that Pac-12 time, but Arizona is in a Texas A&M-like situation in that there are multiple CFB Playoff contenders in the conference, and the Wildcats will have a shot at making noise either by themselves or putting someone else on the mat during the season. Is it stupid to think a freshman could win it three years in a row? Sure. But it was recently stupid to think that a freshman could win the award once, too. Now, the appeal of the freshman winner has people seeking it out.
2. Ameer Abdullah, running back, Nebraska (SR): I know, he’s a household name and all of that. Park the animosity. If you’re a running back, you’re a long shot. If you’re a running back and Todd Gurley is being treated as the second coming of Marshall Faulk, Barry Sanders, and Ron Dayne combined … you’re a dark horse, a long-shot impossible option. Abdullah leads the nation in rushing, and even though it’d never be considered a “signature” moment because it was against McNeese State, his single-handed touchdown to win the game for Nebraska and save the Huskers’ season was a gem. He’s not going to let them go down quietly, and it’s a good thing I wrote this before the Huskers play Michigan State, which is this weekend.
3. Shane Carden, quarterback, East Carolina (SR): Carden is a deep dark horse because no matter how brilliant he ends up being, he’ll have a loss against South Carolina, when he wasn’t all-world, to haunt him. The knock will always be, “He played against an above-average SEC defense and lost. Imagine him having to do that weekly.” So Carden isn’t a realistic dark horse, but he’s a guy with a lot of talent on a team that should win its fair share of games and hose down big statistics in the process, to the point where you’re either forced to take notice or are not paying attention. He could legitimately get an invite to New York with a few big moments in some high-scoring affairs.