8. West Virginia QB Skyler Howard
Consistency eluded Skyler Howard in 2015 after showing flashes of brilliance in 2014. He faces a steep curve to get perennial Big 12 also-ran West Virginia into the mix for the conference championship — effectively the path to Heisman candidacy — but Howard has the chops to do it.
Howard passed for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns in Dana Holgorsen’s free-flowing offense, though that inconsistency showed in a sub-55 percent completion rating and 14 interceptions. Improvements in those facets should yield some astronomical results.
Howard’s also an effective runner, which he may have to do more of early on as the Mountaineers replace Wendell Smallwood. Rushel Shell returns to the backfield, though, taking some of the onus off Howard, who rushed for 502 yards and six touchdowns a season ago.
7. Texas LB Malik Jefferson
Placing a defense-only player so prominently among Heisman candidates is inherently a stretch. The limb’s especially thin when that defensive player represents a team coming off a 5-7 finish.
However, if Texas turns things around in Strong’s third season — which I anticipate — the defense will play an integral role. And no one on the Longhorn defense is more critical to its success than linebacker Malik Jefferson.
The preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year was dynamite as a freshman, recording seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries, 61 total tackles and forcing a fumble. Jefferson flies to the ball with equal efficiency against the run or pass, and could have a Scooby Wright type of impact on the Longhorns this year.