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Heisman Trophy could go to unhyped player

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Georgia's Hutson Mason is one of several quarterbacks who could compete for the Heisman Trophy despite being in their first year as a starter. (Source: Georgia Athletics) Georgia's Hutson Mason is one of several quarterbacks who could compete for the Heisman Trophy despite being in their first year as a starter. (Source: Georgia Athletics)

(RNN) – The days of the Heisman Trophy winner being among the preseason favorites may have come to an end.

In the last two seasons, college football's premier award has gone to Florida State's Jameis Winston and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, both of whom were redshirt freshmen who had never taken a single snap in a college game before the start of their Heisman-winning seasons.

In 2010 Auburn's Cam Newton won the award in his only year with the Tigers after transferring from Florida via a JUCO. In the interim, it was Baylor's Robert Griffin III despite entering the season as an unknown coming off an injury.

Keeping an eye on a few obscure names entering the season might not be the worst of ideas.

Here are some largely unknown and unhyped players who may (or may not) factor into the Heisman discussion in December.

Cody Kessler, QB, Southern Cal

There are a lot of new things for Southern California this season, but quarterback isn't among them. However, the Trojans have not gotten much hype following the disappointing tenure of coach Lane Kiffin, who was fired midseason after an embarrassing loss to Arizona State.

Despite that, the Trojans finished with 10 wins and enter the year under new coach Steve Sarkisian, who is implementing a no-huddle spread offense that should benefit Kessler. He threw for more than 2,600 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

Penn State is now under the leadership of former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, who led the Commodores to the best stretch of football in the school's 100-plus-year history.

Penn State is in danger of going on a slide to a Vandy-esque existence after scholarship limitations and a postseason ban have crippled the program. But Hackenberg was stellar as a freshman for the Nittany Lions, setting 13 records.

Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M

He's no Johnny Football, but Hill is familiar with the Aggies' playbook after backing up Johnny Manziel and won a battle against five-star recruit Kyle Allen for the starting job because he can make plays with his legs. A&M lost not only Manziel, but top receiver Mike Evans and tackle Jake Matthews, so Hill will be the feature performer in the Aggies' high-octane offense.

Hill's ability might be similar to Manziel's, but his approach is markedly different. Manziel was a media darling who constantly made headlines on and off the field. By contrast, Hill has declined to appear at the team's preseason press conferences and isn't expected to address the media until after Thursday's game against South Carolina, at the earliest.

Cole Stoudt, QB, Clemson

So far, the only thing Stoudt has done in his college career is dress up as a mannequin and scare passers-by. Whether he's as fearsome on the field remains to be seen. What is known, however, is in recent years, Clemson's offense has produced several must-see moments.

Stoudt was the backup to Tajh Boyd for three years and will try to pick up where he left off after guiding the Tigers an average of more than 500 yards per game the last two years. Stoudt will be trying to do it with a new supporting cast and he suffered a minor leg injury in preseason practice.

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

This time a week ago, the Ohio State quarterback on the Heisman watch list would have been among the favorites, but since Braxton Miller has been ruled out for the year with a shoulder injury, that position is now being played by an unknown.

Barrett is not as dynamic as Miller, which may prove to be a detriment to the Buckeyes in Urban Meyer's offense, but Barrett has gotten plenty of reps with the first team because Miller was sidelined during spring practice with the same injury that cost him the season. There is a precedent for Miller's back-up performing well; Kenny Guiton replaced him in a game last season and threw for six touchdowns.

Hutson Mason, QB, Georgia

To some people in Georgia, the departure of Aaron Murray will be a welcome change because of his perceived inability to deliver in crucial moments. Mason is a fifth-year senior who has sat behind Murray his entire career and has only one year to leave his mark.

Mason is surrounded by a wealth of talent, including a Heisman favorite in running back Todd Gurley. When Murray blew out his knee late last season, Mason stepped in and led the Bulldogs to a double-overtime win over Georgia Tech and threw for more than 300 yards in a Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska.

Jacob Coker, QB, Alabama

Coker is likely the longest long shot on this list because, at this point, it isn't even known if he will start. All signs point to Coker being the starter, but no one within the Crimson Tide has confirmed that. (In fact, Alabama has released preseason scrimmage information without passing statistics and provided a depth chart for Saturday's opener with West Virginia without a starter listed.) But no other unproven player has been the subject of more discussion this season than Coker.

Coker transferred from Florida State after losing the starting job to Jameis Winston and has been in a heated race with Blake Sims for the Tide's signal caller job. Perhaps no one has more talent around him than Alabama's quarterback, and each of the last two times the Tide played with a first-year starter, they won the national championship. However, in Nick Saban's offense, it took three years for AJ McCarron to earn enough support to merit a legitimate Heisman candidacy.

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