The 2017 college football season is here, which means it’s time to start talking about the Heisman Trophy.
It’s never to early to speculate about who could take home the sport’s ultimate prize, especially with so many marquee matchups taking place early in the season. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson won the award after an electrifying campaign in 2016, but only once — Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975 — has a player claimed the Heisman in back-to-back seasons.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the players who could prevent Jackson from repeating:
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
After taking over the starting job in mid-September as a freshman, Darnold threw for 3,086 passing yards and 31 touchdowns with nine interceptions, while leading USC to a 9-1 record. Given that he plays quarterback at a marquee program, Darnold will get plenty of opportunities on the national stage to endear himself to Heisman voters. And, although the cast around him is young, the Trojan offense is very talented, and Darnold should make enough big plays to take home the award.
Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
Something about Alabama running backs in Nick Saban’s offense just screams “Heisman.”
Mark Ingram won the award in 2009 (the first Crimson Tide player to win the Heisman) and Derrick Henry took it home in 2015, so history is on Scarbrough’s side. Plus, at 6-foot-2 and 232 pounds, he looks a lot like Henry. The powerful back looked dominant in two College Football Playoff games last season, and we expect him to carry that moment over into what should be a Heisman-worthy campaign.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Mayfield finished third in last year’s Heisman voting, but he has a chance to finish atop the mountain this season.
His 76-15 touchdown-to-intercept ratio in two seasons at Oklahoma is absurd, and he has the talent around him — especially the offensive line — to put up excellent numbers once again. If he leads the Sooners to victory over Ohio State in Week 2, all eyes will be on a Week 9 matchup with Oklahoma State, a game which could cement — or unravel — Mayfield’s Heisman status.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Perhaps the most electrifying player in college football, Barkley could win this award simply by putting up the best numbers and the most highlights.
And he might just do that, as the Nittany Lions don’t have a particularly difficult schedule, although that could hurt Barkley in the minds of some voters. Still, if he impresses against Michigan and Ohio State, this elusive and shifty back could be a Heisman finalist.
Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State
Fitzgerald is a long shot, but if the Bulldogs have a huge year, he could be in the Heisman discussion.
In replacing Dak Prescott, which were big shoes to fill, Fitzgerald led the SEC in total offensive yards (3,798), rushing touchdowns (16) and 100-yard games (eight). He also threw for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns. Given the recent success of dual-threat quarterbacks in winning the Heisman, Fitzgerald certainly checks all the boxes. Still, an extremely difficult schedule should make things difficult.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
That Week 9 game between the Sooners and the Cowboys really could decide the Heisman.
Rudolph puts up huge numbers — he was the only QB last season to throw for at least 4,000 yards and fewer than five interceptions. Plus, his 28-4 TD-INT ratio was equally impressive. Oklahoma State will need to have a huge year for Rudolph to have a shot at the award, but if the Cowboys capture the Big 12 title, he could hear his name called at the Heisman ceremony.
Jake Browning, QB, Washington
Browning finished sixth in Heisman voting last season, a year in which he led the Huskies to the College Football Playoff.
And if he duplicates — or somehow improves upon — his 3,430 passing yards, 43 touchdowns and nine interceptions from last season, Browning very well could be part of the Heisman conversation at season’s end. Ultimately, though, the Huskies must beat USC, and Browning must beat Darnold — if he wants to win the award. Unfortunately for fans, the soonest we could get that matchup is in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
In his first season back from major knee surgery, Chubb rushed for 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns. Assuming he comes back even stronger, he could be a true dark-horse candidate.
As with any player on a team in the SEC, Chubb’s toughest obstacle in winning the Heisman is a brutal schedule. But if he puts up massive numbers, and even has a “Heisman moment” or two, he has a legit shot.
Pick to win: Scarbrough
In the end, the combination of high-profile games, a stout offensive line and — most importantly — talent, make the Alabama back our favorite to win the 2017 Heisman Trophy.
Thumbnail photo via Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports Images