At the end of every college football (CFB) season, like with almost all sports, awards are given to players who uphold certain standards on and off the gridiron. The most prestigious of these awards is the Heisman Trophy, created in 1935 to recognize the most outstanding player in CFB that given year. Last year, Louisville University’s sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson took home the honor after a tremendous 2016 season. Jackson had over 5,000 total yards of offense, 51 total touchdowns and led the Cardinals to a 9-4 record, including a loss in their final game of the season to Louisiana State University (LSU) in the Citrus Bowl. This year the Heisman race has many young men in consideration early in the football season.
Lamar Jackson is still rolling after his sophomore Heisman-winning season. So far Jackson has racked up over 1,400 total yards and 11 total touchdowns through the first three games of his junior season. Unfortunately for his case, the Louisville Cardinals were beaten handily by Clemson’s bullying defensive line with a final score of 47-21, putting the Cardinals’ record at 2-1 to start the season. This loss doesn’t derail Jackson much, but it doesn’t help his push to become the second player ever to win two Heisman trophies either.
Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield finished third in Heisman voting last season and has only seemed to improve this season. Through his first three games, he has led the Oklahoma Sooners to a 3-0 record, averaging over 47 points a game. One of these wins included a huge win over then number two ranked Ohio State in which Mayfield seemed to separate himself as one of the best quarterbacks in college football. The numbers don’t lie for Mayfield either. Through these three games he has over 1,000 yards passing and 10 touchdowns. Most have him leading in the Heisman race so far.
New Faces Becoming Household Names
One of the best football games played in the 2016 CFB season was the Rose Bowl. On Jan. 2, 2017, the University of Southern California (USC) edged out Penn State University 52-49 in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. Two key players from that game have stayed in the spotlight and become not only household names in CFB this season, but have also made their claims in the Heisman discussion this season.
Sophomore Sam Darnold became the leader of USC’s offense when he took over quarterback week four of 2016, a loss to Utah and USC’s final loss of the season. He led the Trojans to a record of 9-1, with one win and two losses coming at the hands of another quarterback for an overall record of 10-3, including the Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Darnold’s exceptional pocket-passing quarterback play has not only gotten the attention of CFB fans and players, but after such a big bowl game win over Penn State, he is projected to be the number one overall pick in the 2018 National Football League (NFL) Draft. While Darnold has gotten off to a relatively slow start for his sophomore season, throwing just over 1,000 yards and having only seven touchdowns to six interceptions, the USC Trojans are as hot as ever and have started the season 3-0, which has kept his name in the discussion for the honor thus far.
Penn State had a balanced attack in the Rose Bowl matchup with USC with over 250 yards passing and over 200 yards rushing. This season, the balanced attack of the Nittany Lions is still intact, but it is very clear who the focus of their offense’s attack has become. Junior running back Saquon Barkley has been the focal point of the Penn State offense and has established himself as one of the best running backs in CFB this season. Barkley has over 500 yards of total offense, five total touchdowns and has led the Lions to a 3-0 record in which their offense has averaged 47 points per game. Barkley himself has averaged over 100 yards per game with an over eight yards-per-carry average. Having only played one conference game has hurt Barkley’s case thus far, and he will need to perform exceptionally well against opponents like Michigan and Ohio State later in the season to have a real chance to take home the Heisman hardware at the end of the season.
UCLA junior quarterback Josh Rosen was the number one ranked CFB quarterback recruit in 2015 and is finally starting to live up to that reputation this season. After leading the Bruins to the greatest comeback in CFB history, a 34-point deficit to Texas A&M Sept. 3, Rosen has put his name on the Heisman shortlist. His over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns are evidence as well. His team’s recent close loss to unranked Memphis, however, hinders his case and drops UCLA to 2-1 this season. The team will need to have a good finish to the year to legitimize his bid for the trophy.
Oklahoma State senior quarterback Mason Rudolph has led the Cowboys to its first AP Top-10 ranking since 2011. The Cowboys have had a hot 3-0 start, and their offense has scored an average of 54 points per game due in large part to Rudolph’s play. The quarterback has over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns in these first three games.
The entirety of LSU’s offense revolves around getting the football down the field in the arms of human locomotive Derrius Guice. The junior running back entered the CFB scene last season as his colleague and then-LSU work horse running back Leonard Fournette went down with multiple injuries. Guice has exactly 300 yards rushing and four touchdowns through three games, but after an embarrassing loss to Mississippi State on Saturday, dropping the Tigers to 2-1 so far this season, Guice has a steep uphill battle to climb to be a Heisman finalist.