Ranking the potential Big Ten Heisman candidates for 2016

Alabama running back Derrick Henry came away with the 2015 Heisman Trophy on Saturday night. So let the next debate begin: Who are the players to watch for next season’s Heisman?

Obviously, it’s early. Very early. Too early. But Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Michigan State’s Connor Cook -- who finished eighth and ninth, respectively, in the voting this season -- were both mentioned prominently as candidates at this time last year.

Since 2010, a B1G player has received Heisman votes on 10 occasions and the conference has been represented in the top 10 every season. Next year likely won’t be any different. So who are the Big Ten candidates for 2016?

Here’s our early top six:

1. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett

Cardale Jones appears to be turning pro and Braxton Miller is also NFL-bound, so there’ll be no quarterback carousel next season. This team is Barrett’s, and he sure appears to be the Big Ten’s early favorite for the award. He finished fifth in the Heisman voting last season as a true freshman and set 17 school records along the way, including total yards (3,772) and total touchdowns (45).

2. Indiana RB Jordan Howard

Add an asterisk to this pick because Howard could decide to declare early for the NFL draft, although nothing is yet official. If he does return, though, he’ll instantly be a favorite. He played in just nine games this season -- and missed most of the matchup against Maryland -- but he still rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns. His 6.2 yards-per-carry average was even better than this year’s Heisman winner (5.9 ypc). If he can stay healthy, he could be especially dangerous.

3. Wisconsin RB Corey Clement

Speaking of asterisks, Clement is also mulling his future and hasn’t ruled out declaring early for the NFL draft -- if he receives a first-, second- (or maybe third-) round draft grade. The Badgers weren’t great running the ball this season, as they're ranked No. 96 nationally, but it’s difficult to argue against Clement’s past production. He missed most of the season with a sports hernia. But he still has 243 career carries for 1,651 yards and 20 touchdowns. As the starter last season, Melvin Gordon had 343 carries.

4. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley

OK, so the offensive coordinator is new, the offensive line is below average, and Christian Hackenberg is likely headed to the NFL. Who cares? Barkley is an elite talent who still somehow averaged 6.1 yards a carry this season as a true freshman, despite running behind a line that ranks No. 112 nationally in allowing tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus had him listed as one of the nation’s 10 best running backs for much of the season, and his knack for breaking tackles is already among the best in the nation.

5. Michigan DB Jabrill Peppers

Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey showed that versatility counts for something, so voters should be on the lookout for Peppers next season. He tackled, passed, ran, caught, defended and returned this season. He’s currently second on the Wolverines with 10 pass breakups and also has 568 all-purpose yards. Back in high school Peppers was often compared to Michigan great Charles Woodson, the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman, so it seems only appropriate that the versatile Peppers makes this list.

6. Iowa QB C.J. Beathard

He may not have posted Heisman-worthy numbers this year, but he was a proven winner. Obviously, that counts for something -- Alabama’s A.J. McCarron was the Heisman runner-up in 2013, after all -- and Beathard could be a force if he increases his touchdown production. He was a first-year starter who played through a lingering right groin injury this season, so there’s a lot of potential for growth in 2016. Underestimate Beathard at your own risk here. He certainly exceeded expectations in 2015.