By Ryan Decker
College Football is just three Saturday’s away.
Training camps all across the country are under way, meaning the 2017 season is truly upon us.
Each new season begins and ends with discussions and wagers of which team will win the national title, and which player will hoist the Heisman trophy.
Last year’s winner, Lamar Jackson, returns for another season, in an attempt to repeat as the best player in the country for just the second time in the sport’s history. However, a number of experienced players are poised to make sure that doesn’t happen, such as quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Deondre Francois, and running back Saquon Barkley.
Preseason Front-Runners –– Top 4
We normally have a pretty good idea of at least a few of the players that will be in New York for the announcement of the Heisman trophy before the season starts. That doesn’t necessarily mean one of those players will win, but it’s not bad to be on everyone’s radar from the jump.
Some of the players mentioned above are in that category.
USC quarterback Sam Darnold is the presumptive favorite. He and the Trojans enter the year fourth in the nation in the Coaches Poll.
Darnold and company will be tested early, with games against No. 15 Stanford and No. 23 Texas in Weeks 2 and 3. After that only one currently ranked team remains on the schedule, but a matchup against a ranked Washington team in the Pac-12 title game is expected.
Fellow quarterback Deondre Francois also has high odds to hoist the trophy.
The FSU gun slinger threw for well over 3,000 yards and combined for 25 touchdowns both through the air and on the ground.
Francois will be on full display when the Seminoles take on Alabama on Sept. 2. Other marquee games include Week 3 against No. 18 Miami, three weeks later against No. 17 Louisville, and then on the road against No. 5 Clemson and No. 16 Florida for two of the Seminoles final three games of the regular season.
A pair of running backs round out the four front-runners.
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough are two of the best tailbacks in the nation, who both put their mark on their programs in two of the biggest games of the 2016 season.
Barkley carried the ball 25 times and picked up 194 yards on the ground in the Rose Bowl, while Scarbrough averaged 9.5 yards per carry, finishing with 180 yards, against a stout Washington defense in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
|Player||Team||Pos.||Most Recent Odds|
|Deondre Francois||Florida St.||QB||12-1|
|Saquon Barkley||Penn St.||RB||20-1|
Players to Keep an Eye On
I mentioned last year’s winner, Lamar Jackson, earlier. Now we will get to him fully.
It’s not often that a Heisman winner that is returning to school gets this little attention from the national media, but that’s what’s happened to Jackson so far. And that may be OK with him, given that he wasn’t a front-runner last year, either.
Jackson is as electric as they come. He passed for over 3,500 yards and ran for nearly 1,600 more, becoming the first player in FBS history to do so in a single season.
You can check out the rest of his record-breaking year in detail here.
Two mobile and durable quarterbacks out of the Big 12 will also garner a lot of attention.
The two both finished in the top 10 in passing yards and passer efficiency, and are expected to do much of the same this year.
Fellow athletic quarterback J.T. Barrett can’t be forgotten.
In his second season as the full-time QB for Urban Myer, Barrett eclipsed 2,500 passing and 800 rushing yards, while scoring 33 times between the air and ground.
Finally, Baton Rouge is once again home to a running back with star potential.
Derrius Guice takes over as the feature back for LSU, a program that is still somewhat going through a change of the guard in its first full season without the “Mad Hatter” Les Miles at the helm.
Guice will certainly help smooth the transition, and then some, with what is said to be a, “winning combination of speed, power and balance,” and, “elite body control through contact.”
|Player||Team||Pos.||Most Recent Odds|
|J.T. Barrett||Ohio St.||QB||12-1|
|Mason Rudolph||Oklahoma St.||QB||20-1|
Don’t Count On It
There is one QB in particular that has been given good odds to win the most prestigious award in college football that fans shouldn’t count on him taking home the trophy.
That is Washington Huskies passer Jake Browning.
Browning received a lot of praise last year, deservedly so, for helping Washington have arguably the best season the program has had in some time. However, his performance when the lights were brightest was not up to par.
He completed less than 40 percent of his passes in the Pac-12 title game against Colorado, and less than 50 percent while throwing two interceptions, against the Trojans in Washington’s first loss of the year.
Browning also threw two picks against Alabama in the CFP Semifinal, and was held to -21 and -36 yards against Bama and USC.
Running backs are great but college football, much like the NFL, is a quarterback league.
Only two halfbacks have won (and kept) a Heisman trophy since 2000, even with former Stanford back Christian McCaffrey putting together one of the best seasons in CFB history two years ago.
Not only do Barkley and Scarbrough have precedence going against them, but each has more than capable quarterbacks in front of them that could take away some of their Heisman candidacies.
Jackson also has factors working against him.
It’s hard to recreate a Heisman-worthy season which is why there is only one two-time winner of the award. He will not only have to improve on last year’s totals but also somehow do it in a more dominating, exciting way.
I don’t expect Mayfield to have as good of a season as he did last year, due in part to what looks to be a better Big 12 Conference this year. In fact, within his conference, I see Rudolph having the better odds of winning the award than Mayfield.
Prediction: Sam Darnold, USC QB