College Football is almost here, which means it is time for the 2017 Heisman HYPE Heisman Watch List. This year’s Heisman race should be interesting, with last year’s winner (Jackson) returning in along with three other players who have finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting at least once previously (Mayfield, Browning and Barrett) and likely to very much be in the Heisman discussion (Heisman HYPE Rule of Three #1). Let’s get to the list. (An asterisk indicates a player previously finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting, and any of the Heisman HYPE Rule of Three (RoT) that apply to a candidate are indicated).
Baker Mayfield*(RoT #1) – Quarterback, Oklahoma
He finished third in last year’s Heisman voting after finishing fourth the previous year. Mayfield led the nation in several passing categories and put up nearly 4000 passing yards to go along with 40 passing TDs. He lost his main target in Dede Westbrook, but OU still looks like a favorite in the Big 12. If he can perform well against Ohio State in Columbus on September 9, that should put Mayfield in good position to compete for the trophy.
Saquon Barkley – Running Back, Penn State
His 1496 rushing yards in 2016 are third most among all returning P5 players (behind Lamar Jackson of Louisville and Justin Jackson of Northwestern). He put up 194 yards and 2 TDs against USC in an outstanding Rose Bowl game. If he shows the improvement he had between his freshman and sophomore seasons and Penn State can improve on their strong season last year, Barkley should earn a trip to New York.
Sam Darnold – Quarterback, USC
Darnold has received a lot of Heisman buzz this offseason, with good reason. His 3068 yards, 31 TDs and 161.1 passer rating are very much in line with the numbers the last several pocket QBs put up leading to Heisman-winning seasons (Sam Bradford in 2008, Matt Leinart in 2004, Jason White in 2003, Carson Palmer in 2002). Despite losing a top target in JuJu Smith-Schuster USC has a strong season (all five of the pocket-passing QBs listed above played in a BCS bowl game, with Leonard and Bradford playing for National Championships), Darnold has a very good chance of taking home the trophy.
Jalen Hurts(RoT #3) – Quarterback, Alabama
Hurts stepped in as a true freshman in 2016 and capably led the Tide to the National Championship game. His 954 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns (which led the team) provided an element Alabama has not had at the QB position in recent memory. Alabama will almost surely be in the College Football Playoff again this season and that will give Hurts plenty of opportunities to perform in prime time and earn his way to New York.
Jake Browning*(RoT #1) – Quarterback, Washington
Browning led Washington to a Pac 12 championship and a trip to the College Football Playoff while finishing sixth in Heisman voting. He was second in the nation in passing TDs with 43. Another strong performance in the Pac 12 North could set up quite a showdown between Browning and Sam Darnold from USC in the Pac 12 Championship with major CFB Playoff and Heisman implications.
Lamar Jackson*(RoT #1) – Quarterback, Louisville
Jackson had an incredible season last year, taking home the Heisman. There’s no reason not to expect him to have another outstanding season, but it will be a tall order for him to take home the Heisman again. Historically, Jackson should have a good chance to finish in the top 10 again if he stays healthy.
Other intriguing players: JT Barrett: Quarterback, Ohio State; Nick Chubb: Running Back, Georgia; Derrius Guice: Running Back, LSU; Deandre Francois: Quarterback, Florida State.
My (totally subjective) pick: Jalen Hurts
I should mention that, although the Heisman HYPE is 7 for 7 picking the Heisman winner, I am 0-2 with my preseason Heisman picks. Hurts running ability puts him in the mold of the recent Heisman-winning QBs: 5 of he last 6 QBs to win the Heisman had at least 600 rushing yards in their winning campaign (only Jameis Winston in 2013 fell well short). Alabama has made the College Football Playoff in all three years of its existence and its looks very likely that they will be back again this year (RoT #3). I’m counting on Hurts to improve on some of the mistakes he made as a freshman and take home the trophy.