NEW YORK » Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota will likely take his game to the NFL next season.
Runner-up Melvin Gordon has already said he will skip his last year of eligibility at Wisconsin to enter the NFL Draft.
Alabama receiver Amari Cooper, the other finalist, who finished third in the Heisman voting, also is probably on his way to the NFL after the Crimson Tide are done chasing another national championship.
So who will be the leading candidates to win the Heisman Trophy in 2015? These days Heisman candidates are more likely to come from off the radar the way Johnny Manziel did in 2012, Cam Newton did in 2010 or Mark Ingram did in 2009.
That said, here’s a look at who could make a run at the big bronze statue next season (in no particular order):
» TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin. The dual-threat junior could enter the NFL Draft, but this was his first full season as a starting quarterback. It’s more likely that he will take one more year in Fort Worth, Texas, to refine his game. Boykin finished fourth in the Heisman voting after putting up 3,714 yards passing and 30 TD passes. He could be the favorite going into next season along with …
» Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. A Tebow-like power runner, Prescott spent a few weeks as the Heisman front-runner this season before tailing off in November. He finished eighth Saturday. Like Boykin, he has another year of eligibility and is not likely to project as a high NFL pick. With one more game to play, Prescott can reach 1,000 yards rushing and 3,000 yards passing. The Bulldogs might not be able to replicate this season’s 10-2 record, but Prescott could have another big year and be in the Heisman mix.
» Ohio State quarterback, whoever that is. J.T. Barrett? Cardale Jones? Maybe Braxton Miller? Miller was one of the preseason favorites in 2014 before a shoulder injury cost him his season. Barrett stepped in and was on his way to at least being a finalist when he broke his ankle in the Michigan game. Jones stepped in against Wisconsin and was awesome. If Miller doesn’t jump to the NFL he could transfer and play immediately. So maybe two of these three could be in New York at this time next season.
» Pittsburgh running back James Conner. The bruising sophomore has run for 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns. Playing for a 6-6 team, he got overlooked this season. If he and the Panthers can take a step forward in 2015, Conner could be Pitt’s first Heisman winner since Tony Dorsett.
» A sophomore running back. Fabulous freshman runners have been one of the top story lines of this season. Next season they could be even better and it wouldn’t be surprising if a few of them make a run at the Heisman. The top candidates: Oregon’s Royce Freeman; Florida State’s Dalvin Cook; LSU’s Leonard Fournette; Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine.
» Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. The talented freshman flashed brilliance in between a litany of injuries. If he can stay healthy, and if Clemson’s offense can keep humming without offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who left for SMU, Watson has a chance to blow away the rest of the field.