The greatest player in college football is a title held by an exclusive club and this year’s race for the Heisman is wide open. With the 2017 college football season on the horizon, find out who’s on Heisman-watch this Fall:
Quinton Flowers: Quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Johnny Manziel came out of nowhere to win the Heisman. They both did it by being completely unpredictable dual-threat weapons. South Florida’s Quinton Flowers can do the exact same. At the helm of an offense that returns 10 starters from an 11-2 team, Flowers will captivate college football fans across the country and fill highlight reels with his strong arm and running ability. Charlie Strong seems to have been gifted his next Teddy Bridgewater, maybe even someone who is better than Bridgewater.
Derwin James: Every year, one defensive player works his way into the Heisman conversation. Like Jabrill Peppers last season, Florida State star safety Derwin James will be all over the field. He may not be the offensive and special teams threat Peppers was, but James will do everything on the defensive side of the ball. One play, he will stuff the run, and the next, he will lock down the other team’s best receiver. His ball skills will lead to signature plays that will not only win games but also win over the fans. The only thing that could slow him down is his health, after missing most of last season due to injury. His matchup with Calvin Ridley, Jalen Hurts and the rest of the Crimson Tide offense will make for compelling TV.
Saquon Barkley: The biggest surprise in the Big Ten last year was that neither Michigan or Ohio State won the Big Ten Conference. Penn State grinded its way to a berth in the Rose Bowl, where it lost in an instant classic to USC. Do not expect last season to be a fluke. The Nittany Lions have a workhorse in the backfield who is capable of at least 2,000 rushing yards – Saquon Barkley. Barkley is a mix of the powerful, mean running of Leonard Fournette and the playmaking ability of Christian McCaffrey. Barkley is a generational player who can dominate any defense. Using stiff arms, jukes, spins and a powerful frame, he can single-handedly carry Penn State to the College Football Playoff. There should not be any doubt he will receive an invite to New York.
Lamar Jackson: Last year, nobody could match the numbers produced by Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Every time the ball was snapped, defenses had no way of knowing if he was going to throw the ball 50 yards down the field or escape the pocket and run for 20 instead. He was the clear-cut favorite for the Heisman Trophy. Playing as the defending Heisman winner is not easy. Only Archie Griffin has taken the award twice. For Jackson to win again, he will have to beat the standard he set last year, which will be difficult.
Sam Darnold: After taking over for Max Browne early in the season a year ago, USC’s Sam Darnold has garnered a large fanbase. For the first time since Mark Sanchez, the Trojans have one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Darnold possesses a strong arm, better-than-average athleticism and exceptional football savvy that draws comparisons to Andrew Luck. His ability to stretch the field vertically with accuracy will torch Pac 12 defenses. The hype train for him this season started when he out-dueled Penn State in last year’s Rose Bowl. That performance has led to talk of him being the first player selected in the 2018 NFL draft. His ceiling is as high as he wants it to be. It is hard to imagine anyone else outplaying him this season.
Odds: Highly Likely