The college football season doesn’t start until the fall but it’s never too early to start looking ahead.
USA TODAY Sports
The recent history of the Heisman Trophy suggests two paths to college football immortality: either play quarterback – such as last year’s winner, Lamar Jackson of Louisville – or play running back for Alabama.
It’s possible to find at least one part of that statement, the pull of quarterback play on Heisman voters, within the long history of the trophy. With the exception of two backfield standouts for the Crimson Tide, Mark Ingram in 2009 and Derrick Henry two years ago, every Heisman winner in the last decade has played quarterback.
So it can be hard for running backs to gain a foothold – unless they’re the top running back for Nick Saban. Don’t look for this coming season to be any different: Quarterbacks top every early Heisman projection, with many lists topped by last year’s winner.
But there are running backs in the mix. This week’s top 10 list takes a look at those ball-carriers with Heisman potential. Does Alabama have another contender in the backfield?
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State (Jr.)
Barkley has managed to stay largely under the national radar despite putting together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the Nittany Lions. After helping his team win the Big Ten title and reach the Rose Bowl, however, Barkley is set to begin the 2017 season as a top-five Heisman contender and very likely the first (and perhaps only) running back on most lists.
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2. Derrius Guice, LSU (Jr.)
Guice was superb in his role spelling Leonard Fournette, and even better when used as the starter. During his first two years, Guice has topped the 100-yard mark in seven of the nine games in which he’s landed 15 or more carries. No other number speaks to his potential as the Tigers’ full-time top back entering 2017.
3. Nick Chubb, Georgia (Sr.)
That Chubb decided to return to Georgia for his senior season was more than a bit surprising, given his injury history and the recent trend of top backs leaving for the NFL with at least one season of eligibility on the table. While he’ll split some touches with teammate Sony Michel, Chubb is one of the SEC’s top backs and, if healthy, a lock for at least 1,000 yards during the regular season.
4. Myles Gaskin, Washington (Jr.)
The other of Washington’s two junior stars – joining quarterback Jake Browning – Gaskin has gained at least 1,300 yards and notched double-digit scores in each of his first two seasons on campus. What hurts his candidacy is Browning himself, unfortunately; voters will lean toward quarterbacks above all, as noted. But Gaskin is one marquee performance against a high-profile foe from making his own name in the Heisman race.
5. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama (Jr.)
He was one of the country’s breakout stars during the second half of last season, running for 454 with six scores during Alabama’s final four games. That helped to create a unique situation: Scarbrough wasn’t his team’s leading rusher or leading scorer last fall – the honor went to fellow junior Damien Harris and sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts, respectively – yet he enters the spring as the Tide’s top Heisman contender.
6. Mike Weber, Ohio State (So.)
There will be at least one Ohio State skill player in the Heisman conversation. It may likely be quarterback J.T. Barrett, especially if new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson revamps the Buckeyes’ passing game. But don’t ignore Weber, who gained 1,096 yards as a redshirt freshman and should find even easier sledding – and even wider running lanes – should Wilson, Barrett and Ohio State’s receiver corps loosen up opposing defenses.
7. Royce Freeman, Oregon (Sr.)
Oregon’s disappointing 2016 season can be seen on a smaller scale with Freeman’s own injury-hampered junior campaign, which began with immense expectations yet failed to get off the ground until November – he gained at least 100 yards in the Ducks’ last three games, providing a bit of momentum amid an otherwise forgettable year. However, don’t forget about how Freeman took the Pac-12 by storm as a freshman and sophomore. His Heisman stock will rise if Oregon can move back up the conference ladder.
8. Kamryn Pettway, Auburn (Jr.)
Alabama stopped Pettway last fall, limiting the then-sophomore to 17 yards on 12 carries, but that’s OK: Alabama stopped everyone. If you remove the Tide from the equation, Pettway gained 1,207 yards on 197 carries across just eight games, providing a level of bang-for-your-buck production nearly unmatched across the Football Bowl Subdivision. Pettway’s Heisman candidacy rests on Auburn’s performance as a team, but he’s in the early mix.
9. Josh Adams, Notre Dame (Jr.)
DeShone Kizer’s move to the NFL only increases Adams’ importance to the Irish’s new-look offense, now under the controls of former Memphis offensive coordinator Chip Long. Even with Kizer under center, Notre Dame has clicked best when giving Adams his touches in the running game. If healthy, Adams will make noise on a national level – and it doesn’t hurt that he’d do so for Notre Dame, of course.
10. Phillip Lindsay, Colorado (Sr.)
Colorado’s breakthrough last fall brought some attention on its all-conference back, who rushed for 1,252 yards after flashing in spurts as a reserve during his first two seasons. Given the new face at quarterback, look for the Buffaloes to lean even more heavily on Lindsay in 2017.
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