When considering the possible Heisman Trophy winner for 2017, it might be wise to look past running back Saquon Barkley of Penn State and quarterbacks Sam Darnold of USC, Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma, J.T. Barrett of Ohio State and 2016 winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville.
In the past two seasons, preseason longshots have come in to win college football’s top individual prize.
Last year, Jackson had 50-1 odds when practices started but quickly became the favorite after his performance in the first three games, when he accounted for 18 touchdowns. He became the youngest player to win the award.
Two years ago, Alabama’s Derrick Henry was at 25-1 in the preseason before setting a Southeastern Conference single-season rushing record with 1,986 yards and becoming just the second running back since 1999 to win.
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Will this be the third straight season that a dark horse overtakes the field? If so, here are six to keep in mind:
RB Derrius Guice, LSU
With Leonard Fournette in the NFL, Guice has the backfield to himself. The junior still ended up leading the SEC in rushing yards (1,387) and TDs (15) despite splitting time with Fournette. Guice had eight carries of 30 yards or more last season, including a 96-yard touchdown against Arkansas, as well as an LSU single-game record 285 yards in a Thanksgiving win over Texas A&M.
S Derwin James, Florida State
James, who missed most of last season because of a knee injury, has been touted as the best defensive player in college football. At 6 feet 3 and 211 pounds, he will draw comparisons to former Michigan standout Jabrill Peppers, a Heisman finalist last year. James has been used as a rush end, linebacker and safety on defense, plus he returns punts and will see action on offense at receiver.
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RB Ronald Jones II, USC
Darnold has generated plenty of Heisman buzz but Jones has a chance generate some headlines of his own. The junior averaged 6.0 yards per carry and had three touchdown runs of 60 yards or more last year. He won't get 300-plus carries, which could be a prerequisite for consideration, but he can show his ability as a playmaker as a runner and receiver. That could propel him into contention.
QB Trace McSorley, Penn State
Like USC in reverse, with RB Barkley receiving more attention than McSorley, but the junior quarterback could be the best at his position in the Big Ten. In his first year as the starter, he threw 25 touchdowns passes and only five interceptions. He also comes into the season with momentum after big performances in the Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl.
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QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
The senior is not receiving as much attention as in-state rival Mayfield, but Rudolph is one of only two QBs from the Power Five conferences to pass for 4,000 yards last season. He has talented receivers (Jalen McCleskey and James Washington), and if the Cowboys could contend for the Big 12 title, it would raise Rudolph’s profile even more.
QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Could Stidham take the same path as Cam Newton — transfer in, flourish under Gus Malzahn’s offense and win the Heisman? The sophomore had immediate success with Baylor in 2015 with 1,165 yards passing and 12 TDs, then transferred to junior college after coach Art Briles was fired. He could be Auburn’s fourth Heisman finalist in eight years.