Clear preseason Heisman pick: Mariota

Marcus Mariota is back from injury, and ready to pick up where he left off last year. Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

As we count down 50 days until the start of the 2014 college football season, ESPN Insider Travis Haney is answering at least one big question a day until South Carolina and Texas A&M’s kick off on Aug. 28.

Heisman contenders, breakout freshmen, conference winners -- it will all be covered as part of Insider’s Ultimate Season Preview.

Today’s question: How did I arrive at my preseason Heisman top five of Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Braxton Miller, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon?

I’ve been big all summer on Braxton Miller and Ohio State breaking through in big ways. I made a late change in my initial Heisman Watch vote, however, because I’m not fully confident in the health of Miller’s shoulder.

Coach Urban Meyer and OSU insist that the senior QB is fine in his recovery from spring surgery and that the plan all along was to bring him back slowly during camp. But I’ve got to see Miller in action to fully buy into him as the front-runner.

In the meantime, Miller is keeping good company. A strong start could quickly pull him even with the reigning Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, and the majority favorite, Marcus Mariota. Personally, I’ll start the season with Mariota ahead of Winston.

Marcus Mariota | Oregon Ducks | QB

I remain convinced that Mariota would have won the Heisman last year if not for the knee sprain that prevented him from being himself in the loss at Stanford and over the following weeks, which included the stunning rout at Arizona.

When Mariota couldn’t run, Oregon’s offense became more predictable.