Every year a Heisman contender comes out of nowhere, but the actual winner is often present on preseason watch lists. Derrick Henry, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, and Johnny Manziel were all expected to be in New York for the trophy presentation, so the Hesiman trophy is a case where preseason lists actually do mean something.
Here's a list of top Heisman contenders from each division, or two from each conference without divisions (*cough* Big 12 *cough*):
Watson finished third in the 2015 voting, and is without question the quarterback to beat in the Heisman race this year. He was almost able to single-handedly beat Alabama in the National Championship and is the reason why Clemson is listed as the favorite to win the title this year according to William Hill US Sports Books.
Statistically, Kaaya had a much better freshman season than his sophomore campaign, but with all of the moving parts around him, he's had a very solid two years at Miami. The Hurricanes have now brought in Mark Richt as head coach, a guy who's coached a solid history of Heisman contenders. If Miami can make the jump as a team, Kaaya should get some serious Heisman love.
Cook is hardly an honorable mention on any Heisman list, and only falls under this category because Watson beats him out as the leading candidate in the Atlantic Division. Cook is an absolute workhorse for Florida State and is right up there with Fournette and McCaffrey as one of the best running backs in the country.
With Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones both gone, the keys to the offense will finally be handed over to Barrett with no questions asked. In his various stints as starter for the Buckeyes, Barrett has been hyper-efficient and now will be relied on for much greater volume with Ezekiel Elliott gone as well. Along with losing Elliott, Ohio State lost receiver Michael Thomas so Barrett will have his work cut out for him, but if Ohio State makes a playoff run Barrett could very well get an invite to New York.
Apologies to members of of the Big 10 West, but there's just nobody worth putting on this list. After using a medical redshirt his freshman year, Peppers had a great season last year starting at safety for the Wolverines. He will attempt to become the modern version of Charles Woodson as he will play on all three sides of the ball.
Barkley led Big 10 freshman running backs with 1,007 rushing yards and will attempt to lead the Nittany Lions to a .500 record for the first time since 2012. He has all the talent in the world, and was called "The Truth" by Ezekiel Elliott, so if he lives up to the expectations, Barkley could have an incredible season.
Mayfield is one of those guys who wasn't on preseason Heisman lists but ended up having an incredible season. After transferring from Texas Tech, he threw for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns, taking the Sooners to the College Football Playoff and earning him fourth place in the Heisman voting. This year's Heisman crop will be loaded so Mayfield will need an even better season to get an invite to New York, but it's certainly possible.
In a conference with no divisions they were basically asking for two players on the same team to make this list. Like Brad Kaaya, Perine actually had a better freshman year than sophomore, but he is no doubt one of the most explosive players in the country. The fact that these two guys are on the same team probably hurts their individual chances, but gives Oklahoma a chance to compete for the playoff.
The Sooner state gets the sweep! Rudolph led an always potent Cowboy offense with 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns. He will obviously have to improve those numbers if he wants to get anywhere close to Heisman contention, but Oklahoma State is a nice sleeper team and if they make a run it will be on the arm of Mason Rudolph.
When the guy who should've won the Heisman as a freshman is back and healthy, he's naturally going to be one of the favorites for the award in his sophomore season. McCaffrey was hurt by some west coast bias, along with voters simply not being up late enough to watch his games, but after his bowl game domination of Iowa, everyone in the country should have this guy atop their board. He's everything you'd want in a running back.
Rosen took the league by storm last season when he threw for 350 and 3 touchdowns in his first ever college football game. He is the likely number one pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and now will be forced to lead a UCLA team that is relatively low on talent, at least for their standards. He certainly has the raw talent to succeed in the Pac-12, but needs to show growth in his game to give him a chance at the Heisman.
Freeman is a truck. With Vernon Adams gone the high-powered Oregon offense will completely lean on Freeman and he shouldn't have any trouble delivering. He's a monster between the tackles and has a very legitimate chance to be a Heisman finalist.
Chubb suffered a devastating knee injury last season, but vows to be back for week one. When he's healthy, there's nobody like him and he has a legitimate claim to best college running back. This pick is largely dependent on his health, but if he's on the field for every game he is a top-10 Heisman contender.
Fournette is most likely the national favorite. He seemingly had the award to himself before he ran into the brick wall that is the Alabama defense. If you're a Heisman contender in the SEC, beating Alabama can vault you into first place, and Fournette did the opposite of those two things last season. His first half was magical so if he can continue to play like that, his season could be special.
There are people who believe Calvin Ridley could become as good as Julio Jones. That in itself makes him a Heisman candidate. Playing for the defending national champion helps as well.
The pick as of today: Christian McCaffrey
There is no player in college football that does more for his team or carries a bigger load than McCaffrey does. He broke the FBS single-season record for most all-purpose yards and was the only player to lead his team in both rushing and receiving yards. He does everything. He deserves the award.