2. Wisconsin RB Corey Clement
Two Wisconsin running backs made it to New York City in the last half-decade: Montee Ball in 2011, and Melvin Gordon in 2014. Corey Clement may well be the third.
Clement sustained an injury Week 1 against the Alabama, the only game in which he played 2015 and didn’t score a touchdown. He made up for lost time in his other three appearances, scoring against Rutgers, Northwestern and USC.
Those performances offered some perspective into Clement’s big-play ability, which was really on display in 2014 when he backed up Gordon. Clement had five games with 89 yards or more that season — impressive, considering he never once had a 20-plus carry game, and still hasn’t any time in his Wisconsin career.
With a heightened workload in 2016, Clement may be primed to be Wisconsin’s next breakout back.
1. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Before the 2014 season, Braxton Miller was hyped as the best Big Ten Heisman bet since Smith in 2006. Then, as the Buckeyes’ first national championship run since 2002 concluded, Cardale Jones stood as the smiling face of Ohio State’s remarkable postseason.
In between, however, J.T. Barrett put together one of the most impressive, if not underrated seasons of any Big Ten player of the last decade.
As a freshman in 2014, Barrett passed for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns, and rushed for another 938 and 11. Those are just staggering numbers that, frankly, warranted more Heisman consideration than Barrett received that season.
While Barrett’s 2014 production sandwiched between Miller and Jones’ own success may have been unfairly attributed to Urban Meyer’s insight with quarterbacks, Ohio State’s struggles at the position last year should actually benefit Barrett in 2016.
The Buckeyes’ game of musical chairs behind center and sometimes perplexing play-calling showed that Ohio State does indeed need a special player to step up, and not merely function as part of a system. Barrett is a special player, and undeniably the top Big Ten Heisman contender for the coming season.