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The Next Freshman Heisman Winner

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Considering that each of the past two Heisman Trophies have been won by freshmen, is it possible that another freshman could win the award at the end of the 2014 regular season?

After going over 75 years without a freshman taking home college football’s most prestigious individual award, each of the last two Heisman Trophies have been taken home by players just completing their first season of eligibility on the gridiron.

Although both Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Florida State’s Jameis Winston were expected to be solid contributors to their respective programs as freshmen, nobody would have predicted that they would have gone on to solidify themselves as the best players in the nation.

Considering that each of the past two Heisman Trophies have been won by freshmen, is it possible that another freshman could win the award at the end of the 2014 regular season?

Here are five players on which to keep an eye as the season approaches.

Alabama QB Cooper Bateman

An elite prospect coming out of high school in Utah, Bateman spent this past season as a redshirt, learning from Crimson Tide veteran A.J. McCarron. He is the epitome of a true pocket passer, which has been the preferred type of quarterback in the Nick Saban system. Bateman possesses outstanding arm talent, and already has a frame capable of withstanding life in the physical SEC. He also will be helped out by the fact that Alabama will continue to have one of the best offensive lines in the country, as well as talented group of playmakers on the perimeter, including receivers Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White, and tight end O.J. Howard.

Auburn RB Racean Thomas

With Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason recently declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft, the Tigers will now have to look for a new starter to complement Nick Marshall in the backfield. Corey Grant and Cameron Atris-Payne will certainly factor into the competition, but there is no doubt that Thomas is the most physically gifted of the bunch. Rated as a five-star talent in the 2014 class, Thomas has the unique blend of speed, open field agility and power that Gus Malzahn is looking for from his starting running back. Mason received over 300 carries this past season, so if Thomas is able to win the starting job, he will have plenty of opportunities to put up huge statistical outputs.

Georgia Tech B-back Travis Custis

The prized recruit in Paul Johnson’s 2013 class, Custis sat out this past season while clearing up some academic issues with the NCAA. Prior to running into the academic situation, Custis had generated a huge buzz in Atlanta during individual summer workout sessions. Having worked out four days a week with a personal trainer, Custis is now in the best shape of his life, and will likely push veteran Zach Laskey for the starting job in 2014. Given the Yellow Jackets’ inexperience at the quarterback position, Johnson could look to increase the production from the B-back spot next fall. If that is the case, look for Custis to put up huge numbers, as he looks to be the most physically talented Georgia Tech B-back since Jon Dwyer.

LSU RB Leonard Fournette

Most recruiting services have Fournette ranked as the top overall prospect in the class of 2014. Already tipping the scales at 230 pounds, Fournette has the power, toughness and athleticism to become a star in the SEC. With Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue moving on to the NFL, there will be plenty of carries available for Fournette in his first season of collegiate eligibility. He will also benefit tremendously from LSU’s rich tradition of running the football, as well as the fact that the Tigers are set to return all five starters along the offensive line.

Miami QB Kevin Olsen

Olsen was ranked as one of the top signal callers in the country in the 2013 class, but spent last season as a redshirt behind Stephen Morris. Though he has had a couple of issues away from the playing field, there is no denying Olsen’s raw talent. He does not possess the huge arm, but he is extremely accurate and is a better scrambler than Morris. Olsen will have to fight veteran Ryan Williams for the vacancy under center, but if he is able to win the starting job, he will have the luxury of throwing to a nice assembly of talented wide receivers.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.