2017 Early Heisman Candidates

1. Sam Darnold (USC)– He came onto the scene and established himself as a star and if anyone can help make the USC Trojans relevant again, it’s this kid. He came in for Max Browne and never looked back. The Trojans offense looked completely different once he stepped in. USC was on pace to finish the season in disappointing fashion, then, we saw a big time turnaround that saw USC make a run at the College Football Playoff. They eventually got to the Rose Bowl and defeated Penn State. USC comes into this season with some high expectations and Darnold has shown the ability to carry an offense and lead a team no matter the situation.

2. Saquon Barkley (Penn State)– This is a kid that I’m very high on entering the 2017 season and he kicked off his Heisman campaign for 2017 in the Rose Bowl and he showed the world that he’s one of the best all-purpose running backs in the country. He had a few down games last year due to the offensive line’s inconsistency, but he was still able to earn the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year and proved to be a dynamic big-play threat with power and exceptional agility and burst. He finished last season with 1,496 rushing yards, 402 receiving yards, and 22 total touchdowns. He’ll look to build off last year and become the first Heisman candidate for Penn State since Larry Johnson in 2002.

3. Lamar Jackson (Louisville)– Of course his name was going to show up eventually. After all, he did win the award last year and he was clearly the best player in the nation. Lamar will look to become only the second repeat winner. Archie Griffin is the only guy to win back to back Heisman trophies and that happened in 1974. The closest efforts to repeat came from Johnny Manziel in 2013 who finished in sixth place and Jameis Winston in 2014 who also finished sixth. It could be harder of course for Jackson to match what he did last season. He accounted for a total of 46 touchdowns (30 passing and 16 rushing). Jackson should make more strides as a passer in his junior year, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see his rushing production take a step back. He’s a well-known star on what should be another good Louisville team, and he’ll be in the conversation. It’s just difficult to put together a fully satisfying follow-up to a Heisman season, which opens the door to somebody new.

4. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)– He was granted another year of eligibility by the Big-12 and he will look to take advantage of it and try to lead the Oklahoma Sooners to their third straight conference championship. He’s been a star since transferring to Oklahoma from Texas Tech. In 2015, he was a Heisman candidate and finished in fourth place and last season, he was invited back to New York City and finished in third place. He enters the 2017 season without his top three weapons from last season in Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, and Dede Westbrook, but offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is still running the offense and Mayfield will be poised to have another big season.

5. Bo Scarbrough (Alabama)– He will look to continue the tradition of Alabama running backs to win the Heisman and join Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry to become the third back from Bama to receive the award. Injuries have slowed Bo Scarbrough down, but when he’s healthy, we see how much of a threat that he can be. He was dominant in the semifinal game against Washington rushing for 180 yards and was on pace to have another big game in the national title game before breaking a bone in his leg. His Heisman candidacy is limited by a few factors, however: Durability has been an issue, and even if he is 100 percent and getting the most carries, this is a crowded backfield that also features Damien Harris, B.J. Emmons, Joshua Jacobs and incoming five-star recruit Najee Harris, plus QB Jalen Hurts. Still, Scarbrough looks like the best returning playmaker in that backfield

Other Names to Watch: QB Deondre Francois (Florida State), QB Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), QB Jake Browning (Washington), RB Derrious Guice (LSU), QB Jalen Hurts (Alabama), QB Quinton Flowers (South Florida).