By Joel Devick
Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville – 2016 stats: 230/409, 3,543 passing yards 30 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 260 rushes, 1,571 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns
Last year, Lamar Jackson started the season with a bang, scoring eight touchdowns in the first game of the year, and he never looked back, winning the first Heisman trophy for Louisville. Jackson, a junior, enters the season as the preseason favorite, which gives him a chance to become the second ever two-time winner in the trophy’s storied history. Coaches around Jackson think that he has gotten bigger and faster over the offseason, which is scary for opposing ACC defenses.
Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC: 246/363, 3,086 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, nine interceptions
Last season as a redshirt freshman, Sam Darnold’s stellar play went a bit unnoticed until the end of the season because of USC starting 1-3 and all the late West Coast games. Darnold really showed off late thanks to a stellar Rose Bowl performance against Penn State, where he passed for 453 yards and five touchdowns. Now, with a full spring and summer of being No. 1 under his belt, Darnold looks poised to take the through-the-roof expectations of the Trojans to new heights.
Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma: 254/358, 3,965 passing yards, 40 touchdownss, eights interceptions, 78 rushes, 177 rushing yards, six touchdowns
Baker Mayfield, the face of the Sooners, enters his final year, coming off yet another tremendous season and being a Heisman finalist, but he has lost his top receiver after fellow Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook left for the NFL. Mayfield was granted an extra year of eligibility before last season as a walk-on transfer to Oklahoma, making this his last shot at bringing home the big hardware while leading the Sooners into the new Lincoln Riley era.
Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State: 272 rushes, 1,497 yards, 18 touchdowns, 28 receptions, 402 receiving yards, four touchdowns
Like Darnold, not many people knew of Saquon Barkley until late in the season, when the Nittany Lions made noise, winning the Big Ten championship and coming up short in the Rose Bowl against Darnold’s Trojans. Barkley accounted for 352 yards and five touchdowns in those performances. The offense will run through (pun intended) the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year for Penn State, and that sets him up for a big season.
Derrius Guice, running back, LSU: 183 rushes, 1,387 yards, 15 touchdowns
Many people failed to realize at the end of last season that Derrius Guice had 544 more rushing yards than ridiculously-hyped and often-injured former Tigers star Leonard Fournette. Guice enters 2017 as the featured tailback at LSU and will finally step out of Fournette’s shadow, who left college early for the NFL. Guice, a junior, is a hard nose, angry and downhill runner despite being only 5-foot-11. Guice is the dark horse pick of the preseason, and he will have to put up big numbers against good SEC defenses to have a shot.
Oklahoma State’s Top Candidate
Mason Rudolph, quarterback: 284/448, 4,091 yards, 28 touchdowns, four interceptions
Not only is Mason Rudolph a good candidate for Oklahoma State, but he could be considered a top candidate should he improve his play from last year. Rudolph, a senior signal caller, has been wildly efficient in his time at OSU and last year was no exception. Rudolph threw only four interceptions, averaging one pick every 112 attempts. With a deep corps of wide receivers to throw to and an experienced offensive line, Rudolph figures to be in the hunt for best player in the country.