10 Seniors with the Best Chance to Win the Heisman Trophy in 2017

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2017

10 Seniors with the Best Chance to Win the Heisman Trophy in 2017

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    The Heisman Trophy has become a young man's award, with the last 10 winners coming from either the freshman, sophomore or junior class.

    The last senior to win was Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006, who at the time was the eighth senior in a 12-year span to earn the hardware.

    A greater dependence on underclassmen has contributed to younger stars dominating recent Heisman wins, in addition to the dearth of standout seniors who remain in college rather than turn pro following their junior season.

    These factors have made the likelihood of a senior winning less and less each season, but that class isn't completely out of the runningcertainly not with the 2017 crop that's in contention.

    The decisions by several notable players to return for their final seasons makes this year's senior Heisman hopefuls among the best in years.

    We've highlighted 10 seniors with the best chance of winning the award, or at least getting an invite to the Heisman ceremony in New York City in December.

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    2016 stats: 2,555 passing yards, 24 TDs; 845 rushing yards, nine TDs

    Why he has a shot

    As he reaches the conclusion of a college career filled with ups and downs, J.T. Barrett might not be able to finally win the Heisman he's been so often linked to. At the very least, though, he is worthy of a Heisman lifetime achievement.

    Barrett's breakout redshirt freshman season put him in the hunt for the award until he broke his ankle in the regular-season finale, and Ohio State's decision to split snaps between him and Cardale Jones in 2015 sapped any shot of being a legitimate candidate that year.

    He was again a top contender entering last season, sitting third in OddsShark's rankings in September, but Ohio State's offense regressed over the course of the year, and he failed to finish in the top 10 in voting.

    It's now or never for Barrett, and what could help his chances are an assault on the Big Ten record books. His 8,846 career yards of total offense is 3,847 behind Drew Brees, and the Ohio State player needs only five total touchdowns to pass the former Purdue quarterback's career mark of 104.

    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Barrett threw four TD passes at Oklahoma last September, and Ohio State gets the Sooners at home this season on Sept. 9. That game will put him toe-to-toe with Sooners quarterback (and 2016 Heisman finalist) Baker Mayfield, likely giving whichever passer has the better overall game a major leg up in the Heisman race.

Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn

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    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 stats: 28-of-32 on field goals, 44-of-44 on PATs

    Why he has a shot

    Kickers are people too, though they don't normally get considered for awards other than the Lou Groza (given to college football's top place-kicker). Daniel Carlson has been a finalist for that trophy the past two seasons and should be a favorite to win this year. And if Auburn's offense struggles to produce like it did in 2016, his value could be even greater.

    Last year Carlson kicked 16 field goals on drives that stalled in the red zone, and he was 4-of-6 on tries from 50 yards out or longer.

    The Tigers' 18-13 win over LSU—best known for being the final game of LSU coach Les Miles' tenure—saw Carlson provide every point for Auburn.

    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Carlson needs 28 field goals (the same amount he made in 2016) to become the FBS career leader. Such a record-setting kick could come in the SEC title game, the playoffs or a bowl game, but even more notable would be if it were to give Auburn a win over archrival Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 25.

    Last season Carlson was 4-of-5 against the Crimson Tide, his team's only scorer in that 30-12 loss.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

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    Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

    2016 stats: 1,130 rushing yards, eight TDs; 86 receiving yards, one TD

    Why he has a shot

    Had he not suffered a horrific knee injury midway through the 2015 season Nick Chubb may have won the Heisman Trophy or at least gotten a ceremony invite.

    That same ailment is responsible for why he's not preparing for the NFL draft, instead coming back for another year to prove he can be the same player who had 13 consecutive 100-yard games prior to getting hurt.

    Chubb looked like he was completely recovered last September when he ran for 222 yards and two touchdowns against North Carolina less than 11 months on from major surgery, the first of five 100-yard games in 2016. But his production (and usage) wavered from game to game as Georgia struggled to figure out its offense with freshman quarterback Jacob Eason and first-year coach Kirby Smart.

    With Chubb and fellow senior rusher Sony Michel back, the Bulldogs should be far more consistent on offense, and Chubb figures to be the focal point to build around. He enters 2017 with 3,424 career rushing yards, needing 1,836 to pass Herschel Walker for the school record.

    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Playing in the SEC provides no shortage of high-profile games for Chubb to participate in, as the last two Heisman-winning running backs (Alabama's Derrick Henry in 2015 and Mark Ingram in 2009) discovered.

    Before diving into those contests, though, Chubb gets an early campaign-launching opportunity when Georgia visits Notre Dame on Sept. 9.

Luke Falk, QB, Washington State

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    2016 stats: 4,468 passing yards, 38 touchdowns

    Why he has a shot

    The turn toward dual-threat quarterbacks winning the Heisman is prevalent in the past decade, with Louisville's Lamar Jackson the latest passer whose win was just as much a product of his running ability as his passing acumen. His 3,543 passing yards were the 11th-most by a Heisman winner.

    Luke Falk's 2016 passing tally would rank third on that list behind only BYU's Ty Detmer (5,188 in 1984) and Houston's Andre Ware (4,699 in 1989).

    Washington State's pass-happy offense makes putting up big numbers very easy, and Falk is entering his third full season in that system. A 5,000-yard effort isn't hard to fathom when he gets asked to throw the ball nearly 50 times per game.

    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    A Sept. 9 visit from Boise State can get Falk on to the radar, but it will be how he does against the Pac-12's best that determines if he can be Washington State's first Heisman finalist since Ryan Leaf in 1997.

Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida

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    Jason Behnken/Getty Images

    2016 stats: 2,812 passing yards, 24 TDs; 1,530 yards, 18 TDs

    Why he has a shot

    Quinton Flowers was the mid-major version of Lamar Jackson last season, a dominant mobile passer who was impossible to stop.

    The fact he played for South Florida against mostly American Athletic Conference teams kept him from getting more attention outside of when he had 319 yards of total offense against Florida State and then 366 total yards with five touchdowns in beating South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.

    The Bulls are still in the AAC but could be the favorites this year, a possibility made greater by the school hiring former Texas coach Charlie Strong to replace Willie Taggart. That's going to bring more attention to South Florida, and if Jackson struggles to match what he did in 2016, the same Heisman voters who picked him last year might look toward Flowers for a player with similar skills.

    Flowers' 1,530 rushing yards were only 41 behind Jackson, and he topped the 100-yard mark eight times.

    Best opportunities for a Heisman moment

    South Florida's only scheduled game against a power-conference team this season is Sept. 15 versus Illinois, a Friday night affair that should be one of many that will get the Bulls on national television.

    Their Sept. 21 game against AAC champ Temple, like the Illinois game, is already slotted for ESPN and the same could be the case for their Aug. 26 "Week Zero" trip to San Jose State.

Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    2016 stats: 51 tackles (22 for loss), 16.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, one interception

    Why he has a shot

    The reigning national leader in sacks was also fifth in tackles for loss, numbers that easily warranted jumping to the NFL after such a tremendous junior season. Yet, Harold Landry decided to stay at Boston College, unhappy with the third-round draft grade he received.

    "I realized that the first round was going to be pretty tough to do," Landry told Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel. "And I believe in myself to be a first-rounder so that's why I came back to prove that I could be one."

    The motivation to prove he deserves more attention from pro scouts could also pay off in Landry being a real Heisman contender despite defensive players' difficulty in winning that award.

    Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers finished fifth and Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen was seventh in the 2016 voting.

    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    In addition to hosting Notre Dame and Florida State, Boston College also gets to play Connecticut in Fenway Park in mid-November. Putting on a show in that unique environment would look great on the Heisman highlight reel, regardless of the opponent.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

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    Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

    2016 stats: 3,965 passing yards, 40 TDs; 177 rushing yards, six TDs

    Why he has a shot

    Three of the top 11 vote-getters from last year's Heisman Trophy voting are back in 2017, most notably winner Lamar Jackson.

    Baker Mayfield finished in third place, getting 26 of the 929 first-place votes, and his return for another season could give the senior class its best shot to win the award since Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was runner-up to Johnny Manziel in 2012.

    Mayfield did a lot last year but will be asked to do even more this fall since all of his best weapons from a season ago are gone. Productive running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine have turned pro while his best receiving target, Biletnikoff winner and fellow Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook, has graduated.

    This means the player with plenty of swagger and a gunslinger mentality may need to do a lot more freelancing. That could prove disastrous but also offer plenty of chances to stand out from the pack.

    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Mayfield gets a chance to avenge Oklahoma's home loss to Ohio State when the Sooners go to Columbus on Sept. 9. He had two of his eight interceptions with a season-low 53.1 completion percentage, so a big showing in that contest will set the tone for a Heisman campaign that could get furthered by several Big 12 clashes.

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

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    Brett Deering/Getty Images

    2016 stats: 4,091 passing yards, 28 TDs; six rushing TDs

    Why he has a shot

    Mason Rudolph has been the driving force of Oklahoma State's offense since the moment he first took a snap, during a November 2014 game as a freshman when he was inserted against Baylor and threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns. That was one of his worst games, with Rudolph seemingly getting better by the game.

    That makes what he could do during his senior year even more intriguing, especially with top target James Washington coming back for another season with him.

    Rudolph only threw four interceptions in 448 pass attempts last year, the fewest of any QB who threw the ball more than 400 times.

    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    The Big 12 schedule provides no shortage of opportunities for Rudolph to build his case, though the Nov. 4 visit from Oklahoma is when he could really stand out.

    Since that's not the regular-season finale, like in most years, a strong outing against the Sooners could be furthered the rest of the month and then possibly in the revived conference title game.

James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

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    Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

    2016 stats: 1,380 receiving yards, 10 TDs

    Why he has a shot

    The last full-time wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy was Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991, but even he had the added benefit of being a return specialist.

    James Washington only fielded one kickoff last season, bringing it back two yards against Texas Tech, but what he lacks in big-play ability on special teams he makes up for when the ball is thrown his way.

    Washington averaged 19.4 yards per reception in 2016, tied for 11th-best in FBS and tops among players with at least 65 receptions. Only 14 percent of his catches resulted in touchdowns but plenty more went for big chunks of yardage, his 10 catches for 40-plus yards and five of 50 or more ranking high nationally.

    He tended to stand out in Oklahoma State's biggest wins, going for 296 yards and two TDs in the 45-38 win over Pittsburgh, and he had six catches for 158 yards and a score in a one-point victory over Texas Tech.

    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Much like with quarterback Mason Rudolph, Washington's chances to stand out will come mostly in Big 12 play.

    That league has failed to send a team to the playoffs in two of the three years it's been held, but with a conference championship game back on the schedule, Washington could use that 13th contest to leap ahead of the Heisman competition with a monster performance.

Logan Woodside, QB, Toledo

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2016 stats: 4,129 passing yards, 45 TDs

    Why he has a shot

    The Mid-American Conference has never had a Heisman winner, and rarely has it been close to having one. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch finishing third in 2013 was a monumental event and not one that's expected to be matched or surpassed anytime soon.

    Unless Logan Woodside takes what he did in 2016 and kicks it up a notch, if that's possible.

    Last season Woodside led FBS in touchdown passes, two more than Washington's Jake Browning had in one more game. That was in addition to a nice 69.1 percent completion rate as Toledo went 9-4. Add another 1,000 yards and a few more TDs, and it will be hard to ignore his production regardless of the competition.

    Best opportunity for a Heisman moment

    Miami (Florida) has produced two Heisman-winning quarterbacks and has had plenty of other hopefuls, but the Hurricanes could serve as the unwitting victims to another potential candidate this season.

    Toledo visits Miami on Sept. 23, where a big performance from Woodside could at the very least get him on the radar for the remainder of the season.

           

    All recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com, unless otherwise noted. All statistics provided by CFBStats, unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.