Baker Mayfield won the 2017 Heisman Trophy, and it was certainly well deserved. With that being decided, we get to already look forward to next year, meaning everyone gets a clean slate.
A Group of 5 player winning the Heisman is a long shot given the way the elitists view these conferences, but the AAC boasts some serious candidates for the 2018 award. We saw the AAC produce multiple first team All-Americans this year, and it could be a sign of things to come. Today, we take a look at the 10 best candidates for the 2018 Heisman Trophy, and cross our fingers that one of these players at least makes it as a finalist.
Keep in mind that some of these players might leave for the NFL, but we included them anyways. Players like Courtland Sutton would have made the list (probably would have been #3, but he’s going pro). Another note is obviously things like schedule and winning come into play, so we will just stick to talk about the players right now.
1. McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF
UCF’s star quarterback was the biggest reason for the Knights undefeated season. His development in just his second year behind center was the key piece that made the offense explosive. While it remains to be seen how his skillset matches up with new head coach Josh Heupel’s offense, Milton is a dual-threat that can beat you with his arm and his legs. The sophomore threw for 3,795 yards (10.5 yard average) with 35 touchdowns and just six interceptions while also rushing for 497 yards (5.3 avg.) and seven touchdowns in 2017.
2. Ben Hicks, QB, SMU
With the hiring of Sonny Dykes, Hicks and the SMU offense might be more lethal than they were this year. Dykes inherits potentially his best offense he’s ever coached, and that includes losing his star receiver (Sutton). Coming into this year, the biggest knock on Hicks was his ability to take care of the ball. He did a much better job this year in that area, throwing just nine interceptions. The sophomore had five games in which he threw four touchdowns, and finished the year with 32.
3. Adrian Killins, RB, UCF
You want a committee to watch one player without knowing his stats? Killins is your guy. The same thing happened with De’Anthony Thomas at Oregon. His stats ended up not being the best, but watching him play was worth the price of admission. Killins’ speed will do that, and it’s comparable to Thomas’ with the Ducks. Like Milton, we need to see what his role will be in the new offense, but he has the potential to breakout. 762 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns are just scratching the surface of what he can do.
4. Tony Pollard, WR/KR, Memphis
With the exit of Anthony Miller and Phil Mayhue, someone will need to take a more prominent role in the offense. Pollard’s dynamic abilities should put him in position to do that. Pollard was used to run and catch the ball on offense, and that will be a vital asset with a new quarterback and offensive coordinator next year (222 yards rushing, two touchdowns; 501 yards receiving, four touchdowns). What makes him a Heisman candidate at receiver is his return skills. Pollard was the best kick returner in college football this year, which gives him a dynamic that most receivers don’t have.
5. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Let’s clear something up, Oliver is the best player in the conference, and it’s not even close. Unfortunately, he’s not a strong Heisman candidate because the committee is anti-defense. That shouldn’t take away from how good he is. Oliver now has 37.5 tackles for loss in 24 games of action, and his 69 tackles this year were third on his team....at defensive tackle. Is he deserving of the Heisman? Absolutely, but those voting won’t see it that way unless he adds touchdowns to his resume.
6. D'Eriq King, QB, Houston
It took a long time, but Major Applewhite finally found the right quarterback for the job. King took over late in the season, but his first game was a memorable one. He didn’t have the stats like the rest of these candidates did, but if he played a full season, he would have. Taking his averages and applying them to a full season, King could have produced 2,907 yards passing and 15 touchdowns with 885 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. Obviously those numbers are just based on his four game average, but he has the ability to make those numbers possible. Now it’s up to Applewhite to get him an offensive coordinator that can utilize him better than this year.
7. Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis
Henderson gave the Tigers it’s first 1,000 yard rusher since 2009, and he gave the offense another weapon for defenses to watch. Just a sophomore, Henderson shared time with fellow sophomore Patrick Taylor Jr. after Doroland Dorceus went down with an injury. Both return next year, but the starting job should belong to Henderson after this season. The two combined for 1,952 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground, and both should help whoever wins the quarterback job ease into the offense.
8. Trey Quinn, WR, SMU
Quinn’s return might be up in the air, but his first season with the Mustangs gave fans some excitement outside of Courtland Sutton. His 106 receptions led the nation, and he turned those receptions into 1,191 and 12 touchdowns, both put him first on his team. With some important pieces returning to the lineup, Quinn’s return could give them the key piece they need to remain in the hunt for a AAC title. The LSU transfer is deciding if he should go pro or not, but another year with the Mustangs could mean some record-breaking performances.
9. Malcolm Perry, QB, Navy
Don’t be surprised if Zach Abey isn’t the quarterback next year, because Perry made a strong case for why he should be. In his last three games this season, he rushed for 614 yards and six touchdowns. His speed and elusiveness allows him to break big runs, and his time at running back has provided him the experience needed to make cuts and break tackles. Abey is the bigger option of the two, but it looked like Perry made the offense better this year. Winning the Heisman would be a long shot, but if Perry’s going to rush for 250 yards every other game, he could make a strong run at the trophy.
10. Xavier Jones/Braeden West/Ke'Mon Freeman, RB, SMU
One of these Mustangs won’t win because the other two will take carries away, but maybe we could just give all three the award. Jones was the leading rusher this season, but he was third last year behind Freeman and West (the leader in 2016). So, for all we know, Freeman will lead the team in 2018. Regardless of who’s the lead ball carrier, all three will keep the SMU rushing attack going strong next year.
Mike Hughes, CB, UCF - Potential shutdown corner who has return abilities. Was the second best returner in the conference behind Pollard and third in the nation.
Tyre McCants, WR, USF - Showed his big play potential in the War on I-4, but will need a quarterback who can get him the ball. Quinton Flowers is out of eligibility, and Sterlin Gilbert’s offense was run-heavy this year.
Jonathan Banks, QB, Tulane - Banks was the biggest reason for the Green Wave’s offensive turnaround. Will lose Dontrell Hilliard next year, but running the triple option should keep this offense going. Backup Jonathan Brantley is a solid option too.
Gardner Minshew, QB, ECU - He won the starting job late in the season, and showed some signs of greatness despite team struggling mightily. Finished with 2,140 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions passing.
Frank Nutile, QB, Temple - Owls needed a change at quarterback, and Nutile took off with his opportunity. Year two under Geoff Collins will be interesting.
Kevin Mensah/Nate Hopkins, RB, UConn - Like ECU, a lot needs to change for these two freshman to be considered even the best in the conference. So let’s see the Huskies win more than three games first.
Khalil Lewis, WR, Cincinnati - Lewis was a bright spot in an otherwise average offense. His success next year, unfortunately, relies on the improvement at quarterback.