This year’s Heisman Trophy race didn’t seem like much of a race at all. Lamar Jackson was the clear frontrunner for most of the season, and he ended the regular season as the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy. Jackson’s numbers were like something out a video game: 51 total touchdowns (30 passing, 21 rushing), 3,390 passing yards, and 1,538 rushing yards. Since he’s only a sophomore with a huge upside, Jackson is a favorite to at least compete for another Heisman Trophy in 2017. However, there are a couple of players who will give him a run for his money (in no particular order.)
QB Baker Mayfield (Senior) Oklahoma
Baker Mayfield was the runner up for the 2016 Heisman Trophy, and all signs point to him having another fantastic season in 2017. Mayfield threw for 3,669 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2016. Losing Dede Westbrook to graduation would be a big blow on most teams, but Oklahoma will be loaded across the board next season with talent. If Mayfield can shine in week two at Ohio State, he will be the early frontrunner.
QB J.T. Barrett (Senior) Ohio State
J.T. Barrett does it all for the Buckeyes, who are playing in their second college football playoff in three seasons. Barrett’s dual threat abilities out of the shotgun are a nightmare for teams to prepare for. His 3,275 all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns earned him B10 quarterback of the year honors. Urban Meyer knows a thing or two about coaching a dual-threat quarterback to a Heisman Trophy, also.
QB Jalen Hurts (Sophomore) Alabama
It’s no surprise that Alabama is loaded again for 2017. One thing the Crimson Tide always has is a smart, dependable quarterback. Hurts is no exception. To get over the Heisman hump, he needs to get away from being a game manager and transition into his team’s playmaker. The problem with that, which is a great problem to have, is that Alabama may have too many great players next season for Hurts to really shine. The season opener against Florida State at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will be a good indication on if Hurts is ready for the Heisman race.
QB Sam Darnold (Sophomore) USC
USC came on strong in the second half of the season, and Sam Darnold was a big reason why. Many analysts were even mentioning the Trojans in the playoff picture despite a three-loss record. Offensive Coordinator Tee Martin has been with the Trojans since 2012, and he has developed an impressive core of receivers for Darnold to throw to. Look for USC to contend for a Pac-12 Championship while Darnold climbs the ranks of the Heisman ladder in 2017.
RB Saquon Barkley (Junior) Penn State
Penn State was the dark horse of the 2016 college football season. The Nittany Lions relied heavily on Saquon Barkley during their historic B10 Championship run. Barkley finished in the top three in rushing yards (1,302) and total touchdowns (19) in the B10. Barkley could come close to eclipsing 2,000 rushing yards in 2017, which would catapult him to the top of the Heisman discussion.
Although it’s early, there’s a good chance at least one of the previously mentioned players will finish amongst the top of the field in 2017. The emergence of unknown players, injuries, and surprises all play into what makes the Heisman race, and college football in general, one of the most exciting sports to follow.