By Andrew Nason
After a long, roller coaster career, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield left the 2017 College Football Awards with a bevy of trophies, highlighted by the highest honor in the sport, the Heisman Trophy. With this year’s race wrapped up, it’s time to look forward to 2018, and take a look at the Heisman top contenders for next season.
The following players are not included in my list because I expect them to declare for the upcoming NFL Draft, but if they choose to stay in school, they will join the list of contenders.
QB Sam Darnold, USC
RB Bryce Love, Stanford,
QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
(in no particular order)
QB Kelly Bryant, Clemson
Saddled with the tall task of replacing a legend in former championship quarterback Deshaun Watson, Kelly Bryant was more than the Tigers could have hoped for. Bryant led the Tigers to a 12-1 record, an ACC Championship, and a spot in the College Football Playoff. He totaled 24 touchdowns (13 passing, 11 rushing) and totaled 3,324 yards (2,678 passing, 646 rushing), showing NFL promise as a dual-threat quarterback. Bryant, a junior, could turn pro, but is much more likely to return to school, where he will head up a team likely favored to return to the playoff for a 4th year in a row and will be trusted with more offensive responsibility, and will likely see higher production because of that.
RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
The true freshmen running back burst onto the scene this year, finishing 6th in this year’s Heisman voting after accruing 1,847 yards rushing on 273 carries, a 6.8 average, to go with 13 touchdowns. Those numbers alone would put most in the finals, but Taylor deals with the struggle of playing for the Badgers, a team often looked over in the national picture due to playing in the same conference as Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. A strong run by Wisconsin is needed in order for Taylor, who by himself is one of the best running backs in college football, a true Heisman threat.
QB Khalil Tate, Arizona
After bursting onto the scene taking over as the starting quarterback for Arizona during their 5th game, Tate became a Heisman dark horse thanks to his playmaking ability with his legs. Despite a slowdown in production toward the end of the season, Tate still ran for a ridiculous 1,267 yards and 12 touchdowns in 8 games, while throwing for another 1,248 yards and 9 scores. Teams may have gotten a better sense for how to defend Tate as the season went on, but he’s still a freak athlete who can create big plays in an instant with his feet, as shown by his 5 carries of 70 yards or more. Arizona won’t be recognized as a playoff contender, but Tate will be must see TV next season.
DL Ed Oliver, Houston
You always have to have one defensive player on the list, but don’t get me wrong, Oliver deserves to be a serious contender. Oliver accounted for a ridiculous 22 tackles for loss as a true freshman, and as a high-profile sophomore, he accrued another 14.5. A one man wrecking machine and a likely top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Oliver could have an Ndamukong Suh like season and be a Heisman finalist.
QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
Scouts are enamored with Herbert as a prospect, with his 6-6, 225-pound mobile frame, so right off the bat he’ll have the public eye on him, as the sophomore will be draft eligible after next season. While I haven’t seen him play yet, the numbers look good for the Oregon quarterback. Despite missing 4 plus games with a collarbone injury, Herbert threw for 1,750 yards and 13 scores, with another 5 scores on the ground. His impact was felt, as Oregon was 6-1 when he started, and 1-4 without him under center. With the national spotlight shining bright on the top prospect, Herbert, such as Wyoming’s Josh Allen, will go from a lesser known player to a star, and a possible Heisman favorite.
QB’s Dwayne Haskins Jr or Tate Martell, Ohio State
JT Barrett, after a long, really long, like seriously long career at Ohio State, is finally moving on, hopefully to the NFL, and the Buckeyes will need to replace him. Dwayne Haskins Jr is the favorite to win the job at the moment after impressing in the win over Michigan when Barrett went down with a knee injury. Martell, a former 4-star, dual-threat recruit out of Nevada, red-shirted this season, and will be looking to show what he can do and will give Haskins a run for his money. No matter who wins the job, the starting quarterback at Ohio State is going to put up big numbers and will lead one of the top teams in the nation. That alone puts them in the Heisman conversation, as Barrett has been for the last few years.
QB Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Another one of the many dual-threat quarterbacks on this list, Fitzgerald was a Heisman dark horse early this season, having flown under the radar going into the year. The Junior lost his season to an ankle injury in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, but had totaled 29 touchdowns and 2,766 total yards in the 11 games prior to that. Unlikely to turn pro next year, Fitzgerald will be among the headlining names at quarterback in the SEC and will be on the eyes of many NFL scouts throughout the year, who will expect large production, especially as a passer next season.
QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Guz Malzahn just inked a new contract extension with Auburn, so he will be putting on the full court press to keep his star quarterback Stidham in school for another year, rather than let the transfer sophomore leave for the NFL. Should Stidham declare, he’s likely to be a late 1st round-early 2nd round pick. Should he return to school, he will be looked at as a top 10 pick in the 2019 draft and one of the top quarterbacks in all of college football. After taking a year off from football following his transfer from Baylor, Stidham led the Tigers to an SEC Championship appearance, a win over Auburn, and a top 10 ranking to end the regular season, while throwing for 2,827 yards and 17 touchdowns, adding another 4 on the ground, all while commanding a run first offense. With a year of football under his belt and more of the offensive workload being put on his shoulders, Stidham’s production should rise exponentially, and Auburn will enter the season as a major SEC threat with the leagues top QB leading it. Stidham, much like Sam Darnold last year, has the name, the momentum, and the NFL hype to make him an early favorite for college football’s most prestigious award.