When eventual Heisman winner and college football Hall of Famer finishes tied for 5th in a Heisman voting list, you know your Heisman Class is deep. In 1997 University of Texas great Ricky Williams finished tied for 5th place with Curtis Enis for the Heisman Trophy. Coming in 4th was a skinny Wide Receiver from Marshall named Randy Moss who only went on to become the greatest receiver of his generation. 3rd was (at the time) a possible redefining quarterback in Ryan Leaf. Finishing 2nd was the actual redefining quarterback of not only his generation but the landscape of football and eventual NFL MVP Peyton Manning. And the man to win it all and ONLY primarily defensive player to win the award was none other than future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.
Any one of those men on that list, in any other year (*cough cough.*..2009….*cough cough*) wins in a landslide. But instead they will forever be known as runner ups in a year that was just too damn stacked.
But can 2017 be even better?
Only time will tell but let’s look at the Heisman hopefuls who have the most potential. I think a legitimate argument can be made for a few reasons 1) Each player has already shown an ability to be the best player at their position for an entire season and 2) There’s no one from a team that can hide behind a system to inflate their abilities (i.e. Alabama, Oregon). Please note these are in alphabetical order by First Name:
1) RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford – Last season Christian McCaffrey broke BARRY FREAKING SANDERS’ single season all purpose yards record. McCaffrey then ended the season breaking the Rose Bowl record for all-purpose yards with 368. Take this quote from ESPN Stats and Info “This is Christian McCaffrey’s 6th game of the season with at least 300 all-purpose yards. No other FBS player has more than 2 this season.”
2) QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson – Watson lead his team to an undefeated season last year capping off with the 2016 Heisman Trophy…wait…Alabama had a running back who didn’t get hurt? Scratch that last part. Watson will be an incredible threat this year and in the future. When compared to Cam Newton’s Heisman year, Watson threw for more yards, more touchdowns, a better completion percentage and 3 more interceptions than Newton (while throwing over 200 more passes). Although his rushing numbers weren’t up to Newton, Watson finished the season with 1,105 yards on the ground with a 5.3 yards per carry rate (Newton finished at 5.6). The only difference….Newton beat Alabama during the regular season…Watson never played them.
3) S/LB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan – Peppers falls into the “why is this guy on this list” category, very similar to Randy Moss at the time. When it comes to defensive players, Peppers can do it all. The big issue is position. Because he can play every position on the field but D-Tackle, he’s constantly being moved around, hurting his stats. Peppers can be a great player but hopefully he can stick to one or two positions (for statistics sake) to allow voters and NFL scouts to see his full worth.
4) QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State – Wait a minute, you promised me no system guys(!), everyone is probably shouting. Calm down. History is often lost in translation. Remember, when JT Barrett took over originally in 2014, Ohio State was built around a running quarterback with a less powerful arm than Barrett. They literally had to figure out how to restructure their system around Barrett in only a few months. The young QB would do a masterful job, leading his team to an 11 – 1 record, throwing 34 TDs on just 203 completions (with another 11 rushing TDs) …and…unfortunately….get hurt. He was then replaced by Cardale Jones. Jones would have an unbelievable 3 game run ending in a championship victory and embrace by Ohio’s favorite son, Lebron James. This, in turn, would lead to a tumultuous 2015 which hurt both QBs in terms of production and statistics. For Barrett, the talent has always been there however. With no Jones, we will watch Barrett take the unquestioned reigns of the OSU offense and should make his mark once again.
5) RB Leonard Fournette, LSU – Fournette had one bad game last year (see November 7th, 2015), but unfortunately that one game happened to be against LSU’s top opponent. Regardless, Fournette ended the season with 1953 yards on 6.5 yards per carry and 22 touchdowns in the defensive front line heavy SEC. With the big game versus Alabama at home this year, look for Fournette to get his revenge. In college football, Home Field Advantage means a hell of a lot.