Todd Gurley leads early Heisman Watch

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When tossing around Heisman names, almost every national pundit had signal-callers on their mind.

From known quantities like Florida State’s Famous Jameis (Winston) to Ohio State’s now-injured Braxton Miller, to darkhorse candidates like Baylor’s Bryce Petty and UCLA’s Brett Hundley, the Heisman forecasters saw another quarterback winning the award – and why not?

After all, quarterbacks have won college’s most valuable player designation 13 times in the last 14 years. Alabama’s erstwhile running back Mark Ingram was the last non-passer to earn the award, in 2009.

Suffice to say that it’s hard for voters to not see Heisman gold emanating from football’s most noticeable and scrutinized position, the quarterback.

So forgive the analysts for mistakenly ignoring running back Todd Gurley, a man who many picked to be one of college’s top players but still seemed like an unlikely Heisman candidate.

It’s a long season and we’re just in week one, but for now, the Georgia running back earned his spot on our inaugural weekly Heisman Watch.

Below are our top-3 Heisman candidates, based on this week’s performance as well as their overall effect on the season.

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1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Bulldog fans have affectionately called themselves “Gurley” men or women for years now, ever since the 6-foot-1, 226-pound back burst on to the scene as the school’s best freshman runner since that guy named Herschel.

But an injury-ridden sophomore season that forced him to miss three games and finish a few yards shy of 1,000 for the season made Gurley lose some national luster in 2013.

He’s back as a junior though and announced his return in a big way with 198 yards rushing, three touchdowns and one 100-yard kickoff return score to boot.

So much of a Heisman campaign is about making a great first impression: consider that part accomplished with Gurley’s return to the gridiron.

2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

For now, the reigning Heisman winner only moves one-spot down on our rankings. After all, it’s hard to knock a guy who won his season opener, even if he looked significantly less impressive without last season’s heroics.

There are questions though from Winston’s struggles in a 37-31 victory over unranked and unheralded Oklahoma State. The good news? Winston threw for 370 yards on 25 of 40 passing, an efficient and effective outing on paper.

The bad news? The seemingly untouchable quarterback of last year’s national title run looked oddly human, ineffective for long stretches while throwing two interceptions.

Normally there would be cause to worry, but who are we kidding: just look at the top-ranked Seminoles’ remaining schedule. The only solid challengers to Florida State’s title defense are Clemson, Notre Dame, maybe Louisville and maybe Florida.

Winston should be able to keep putting up gaudy stats against that level of competition and it would be hard to not give him college’s top award if his team goes undefeated in the process.

3. The rest of the field

I’m going to cheat for this first week of rankings because there were so many other top performers who played well enough to impress but also faced lesser competition or have other faults on their resumes.

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon would have been a prime candidate here, rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown, but his team lost its opener to LSU 28-24 while the running back was mysteriously benched for most of the second half.

The aforementioned Hundley turned in an efficient, if not impressive, performance in keeping his team alive against what should have been an overmatched Virginia squad. If UCLA stays perfect and the offense looks better, he’ll have a chance to up his chances.

Honorable mentions include Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Florida State’s Rashad Greene.

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