Quarterbacks dominate the college football stardom landscape in 2017. But we think there’s a pretty good chance a non-quarterback wins the Heisman Trophy. Here are our preseason favorites and sleeper selections for the Heisman, as well as our prediction for the winner at the bottom of the post.
Sam Darnold, USC QB: Darnold is the preseason favorite for the Heisman Trophy, buoyed by his status as a quarterback for a historic program in a large market and, of course, his success at the end of the year.
But preseason favorites haven’t won the Heisman the last two seasons. Alabama running back Derrick Henry wasn’t one of the top choices before the 2015 season — he was coming off a timeshare situation in 2014 — and Louisville QB Lamar Jackson’s 2015 campaign fizzled at the end of the season before the bowl game.
Darnold’s got a good shot at being on stage for the Heisman presentation, but don’t put much stock in his preseason favorite status.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville QB: What’s Jackson going to do for an encore? Louisville’s offense needs to replace seven starters, including its top running back and top three receivers from a year ago. Is Jackson needing to put more of the offense on his back to be the first player since Ohio State’s Archie Griffin to win back-to-back Heismans?
Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB: Barkley may be the best running back in the country. He averaged 5.5 yards a carry a year ago and scored 18 touchdowns. A few more scores and an increased contribution in the passing game will put Barkley in the thick of the Heisman race if Penn State lives up to its top-10 billing. A big performance against Ohio State and/or Michigan will go a long way too.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB: Much like Jackson, Mayfield may need his star to shine even brighter in 2017 for a return trip to New York. Mayfield’s going to put up some good numbers, but he’ll need to find reliable weapons without RB Joe Mixon, RB Samaje Perine and WR Dede Westbrook — a fellow 2016 Heisman finalist — on the team this season.
JT Barrett, Ohio State QB: Could Barrett follow an AJ McCarron-like track to the stage at the trophy presentation? McCarron was a Heisman finalist in 2013 largely thanks to Alabama’s success while he was the team’s starter.
Barrett’s situation isn’t exactly similar; his 2015 going back-and-forth with Cardale Jones wasn’t the smoothest and he missed the title run at the end of the 2014 season. But still, Ohio State has posted a record of 37-4 since Barrett’s freshman year.
Mason Rudolph/James Washington, Oklahoma State: We saw that quarterback/receiver combinations can both be Heisman finalists with Mayfield and Westbrook in 2016. Could it happen with another school in Oklahoma this season?
Rudolph needs to up his touchdown numbers from the 28 he threw in 2016. And Washington needs to haul in more than 71 passes and score more than 10 touchdowns. But if he does that and keeps his yards per catch at a lofty 19.4, he’s got the best chance of any receiver of making it to New York.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn QB: If Auburn is the team that will challenge Alabama in the SEC, it reasons that Stidham will be a major reason why. While he benefitted from last year’s starter Sean White missing spring practice, Stidham has immediately excelled with Auburn’s first-team offense in practice. If he puts up great games to start the year vs. Clemson and to end it vs. Alabama, watch out.
Derrius Guice, LSU RB: Without Leonard Fournette in the backfield in 2016, Guice has a sliver of a chance to rack up 2,000 yards rushing in 2017. After all, he averaged 7.6 yards a carry in 2016 and scored 15 touchdowns. That rate is likelier than not to come down in 2017, but if he gets 225 carries or more and averages more than 7 yards a carry, he should be in New York no matter LSU’s record.
Justin Jackson, Northwestern RB: Here’s a super-sleeper for you, especially if Northwestern topples Wisconsin atop the Big Ten West. Jackson ran for 1,524 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. If Northwestern wins 10 or 11 games — it’s doable with an upset of the Badgers or Penn State — Jackson could start getting a lot of recognition.
Bryce Love, Stanford RB: If a running back from Stanford has a super season in 2017, will voters pay more attention than they did two years ago? Love had 783 yards on 111 carries as Christian McCaffrey’s backup in 2016. He’ll be the feature back running behind a Stanford offensive line that returns four starters.
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama RB: Much like Henry in 2015, we’re going with the “best offensive player on the best team in the country” idea and picking Scarbrough. It’s a bit of a risk; he was Alabama’s third-leading rusher a year ago and running backs Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs both return. But Scarbrough’s crazy blend of speed and size could make him unstoppable if he’s healthy for the entire season.
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