The 2017 NCAA Football Season will be upon us before we know it ….
And, speaking for myself – I love it. The fall is my favorite time of the year. The weather changes from the blistering and sweltering heat of the summer, the leaves changes colors, a calm overcomes everything – school is back in session, and football again is king.
The preseason rankings for the 2017 season from Sporting News is out. Their Top Ten looks like this:
3. The Ohio State University
4. Florida State
6. Penn State
It’s a good list. Mine would be a tad different. I’d have the Buckeyes at # 2, Clemson a “little” further down, Oklahoma a “little” further up. TTUN I’d put at 11 or 12 and Georgia would be 11 or 12 as well. I would put Louisville in the top ten, as well as Wisconsin. But it’s all semantics at this point ….isn’t it?
There is also a list generated for Heisman Candidates.
After reviewing the list that others have drafted everyone appears to have Sam Darnold QB of USC as the favorite. The Trojans have had seven players who have won the Heisman Trophy, tied with Ohio State and Notre Dame for the most. (Though – officially for the Trojans only six are counted – so Trojans fans must be whispering “thank you Reggie Bush!”) Darnold did not start the 2016 season behind center, replacing Max Browne by the end of September. From there he proceeded to lead the Trojans to nine straight wins after a rough 1-3 start. Darnold was at his best in the Rose Bowl, leading a comeback win over Penn State in which he showcased his talents, making NFL- level throws in tight windows. He threw for 453 yards and five TDs in that “magnificent” game, allowing him to finish the season with a 67.2 percent completion rate for 3,086 yards, 31 TDs and nine INTs while also rushing for 250 yards. He is a highly skilled player whose growth as a redshirt freshman is allowing USC to come back onto the map in the discussion of a National Title.
As I see it, Darnold is included on my list as well…. How couldn’t he be?
But as I see it, USC and the PAC 12, though improving, isn’t prepared for the SEC and Big Ten teams that will certainly be in the national playoffs. On their schedule, they have Stanford (always a headache game), Texas (perhaps a surprise for them early with Tom Hermann??), Notre Dame can never be counted as a win, and UCLA with Josh Rosen just isn’t a given. Then there is always the possibility of Washington and Jake Browning in the PAC 12 Championship game. I see at least a two-loss season for the Trojans, perhaps even three. In that scenario Darold is out of the Heisman discussion … or should be….
My other candidates include Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Our beloved Archie Griffin remains the only player to repeat as winner of the Heisman, and that was 42 years ago. The most recent repeat attempts came from Johnny Manziel, who finished sixth in 2013, and Jameis Winston, who finished sixth in 2014. It isn’t an easy task to repeat. Jackson, will find this out too. I say this for a couple of reasons – repeating Heisman-winning numbers, is a monstrous journey. His Heisman numbers looked like this – passing for 3,543 yards and 30 TDs and rushed for 1,571 yards and 16 TDs, and now he’ll enter 2017 with absurdly high expectations in a season in which his every move will be heavily scrutinized. There also could be inevitable backlash, especially after some voters may have felt buyer’s remorse after the postseason performances of Jackson and Deshaun Watson, who finished second. Jackson peaked in the first half of the 2016 season, and nobody was able to catch him. However, Louisville ended the season with three straight losses, including horrendous offensive outings against Houston and LSU. I don’t see a repeat.
On my list is also Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia. Many won’t have him this high on their list… but I have decided to move him up some because I truly believe he is the real deal. Chubb’s career got off to a remarkable start, first as a replacement for Todd Gurley (seven yards per carry) as a freshman, then as the lead runner to start the 2015 season (8.1 yards per carry). But his sophomore season was cut short by a serious knee injury, and it wasn’t clear if he’d be able to return for the start of 2016. He did, rushing for 222 yards against North Carolina in the opener. However, in an offense that had significant growing pains, Chubb ended up with 224 carries for 1,130 yards and eight TDs — a good season but not his pre-injury level of production. Chubb is still sharing carries with Sony Michel, but he’ll return for his senior season to try to regain his old form. If he returns to 100 percent, he’s as talented as any running back in the country, and a first-rounder in the NFL draft. Still, who knows? It’s all a crap shoot.
How can Jake Browning, QB, of Washington, not be on anyone’s list? Browning’s production fell off late in the season, in the losses to USC and Alabama and even the blowout win over Colorado, but according to The Seattle Times, Browning actually played hurt down the stretch. The week after the USC loss, Browning injured his shoulder against Arizona State, and injury he played through the rest of the way. Despite the late downturn, Browning still took a big leap forward as a sophomore, completing 62.1 percent for 3,430 yards, 43 TDs and nine INTs. While he loses star WR John Ross, he’ll still have a solid supporting cast led by RB Myles Gaskin and WR Austin Pettis, with what will hopefully be an improved line in pass protection. If he comes back at 100 percent, I look for a great season from Washington. I see them beating the Trojans in the PAC 12 Championship … so in truth I see Browning as a serious contender.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma, is on my list too. As, for sure, he’s on everyone’s list too. The Big 12 granted Mayfield an extra year of eligibility last summer, and he’ll use it to try to lead Oklahoma to a third straight Big 12 championship. An ex-walk-on at Texas Tech, Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman race in 2015, then was invited to the ceremony as a finalist in 2016, finishing third. He broke Russell Wilson’s single-season FBS passer rating record, completing 70.9 percent for 3,965 yards (11.1 yards per attempt), 40 TDs and eight INTs. He loses RBs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine and Heisman finalist WR Dede Westbrook, but with offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley still calling the shots, Mayfield is positioned for another big year as a senior. But look for losses from THE Ohio State University, and dare I say Texas! I see that alone as reasons to keep the trophy out of his hands even if he improves on last year’s numbers.
And now, I have JT Barrett on my list as well. Barrett’s long, eventful, and glorious Ohio State career will continue through this season. In 2014 as a redshirt freshman, when he was forced into the starting lineup, he finished fifth in the Heisman race, with 2,834 passing yards, 938 rushing yards and 45 TDs in 12 games before an injury. The next year, he didn’t win back the starting job from Cardale Jones until late in the season. This year, with Jones gone, Barrett was underwhelming as a passer, although he didn’t get much help from his receivers or pass protection. He averaged just 6.7 yards per pass attempt but did rush for 845 yards. As a senior, Barrett will get help from new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. I personally see a good year for JT. The Wilson factor is “huge”. The Buckeyes will play Oklahoma, Penn State, Wisconsin, and TTUN. With wins in each of those games, and a big showing for JT, look to see him in NYC when the announcement of the winner is made.
I understand many will say I am being biased – undoubtedly that is quite likely too! But roll it through your head for a moment – how many pre-favorites actually walk away with the trophy come the end of the season? Look for JT and the Buckeyes to have a good season, if not a great one. Also, keep in mind only a few QB’s that have won the trophy in turn succeeded equally in the NFL. As much as this pains me – JT won’t have a good NFL career. But he will have a fantastic senior year at The Ohio State University and will be the eighth winner for the Buckeyes – moving the Scarlet and Gray past USC and Notre Dame in that honor. That’s how I see it in July anyway!