Last year’s Heisman Trophy was awarded to Louisville Cardinal, Lamar Jackson. While the quarterback had an excellent sophomore season, many felt his lack of notable wins, and the inexplicable three-interception meltdown versus Kentucky, should have kept him from bringing the trophy home.
The Southeastern Conference failed to even land a finalist in New York City last season. Johnathan Allen finished as the highest-ranked SEC player at 7th-place. This year could, and should, be different. The SEC appears ready to return to form this season after what ended as a disappointing 2016 run.
Though this list is likely to be shot up when the season rolls back around, the SEC could end up with two or more finalists next year. While it’s usually a good bet to go with a Crimson Tide running back to be in NYC, the well-stacked stable this year will likely make impressive stat lines hard to come by.
Top 3 Contenders
1. Jalen Hurts (Sophomore QB – Alabama): 62.8%, 2780 yards, 23 touchdowns, 9 interceptions; 191 rushing attempts, 954 yards, 13 touchdowns
Why: After a phenomenal true-freshman season that included a run through the SEC Championship and the Peach Bowl, Jalen Hurts will be looking to shine again. This time he has the tutelage of Brian DaBoll to help him. If the spring game means anything in terms of the difference a coaching change can make, consider his 301 yards and 2 touchdowns (16-of-25 passing) as evidence. His legs will continue to be a factor for the Tide this year, but his arm will serve a much more important purpose.
2. Derrius Guice (Junior RB – LSU): 183 attempts, 1387 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns; 9 receptions, 106 yards, 1 touchdown reception
Why: Those stats are nice. Really nice. But they are even nicer when you consider that the sophomore running back posted those in a back-up role, but not just your typical back-up role. He was playing second fiddle to one of the best running backs in school history in Leonard Fournette. Guice was nevertheless able to shine last year due in part to Fournette’s ankle injury that kept him out of a handful of the team’s games. In the team’s bowl game – a 29-9 beat down of the Heisman Trophy winner’s Cardinals – Guice ran for 138 yards on 26 carries including a score. Should LSU finally find a serviceable quarterback to keep the pressure off of Guice, expect him to bust onto the scene in 2017.
3. Nick Chubb (Senior RB – Georgia): 224 rushing attempts, 1130 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns
Why: Yadda yadda yadda…ever since his injury… yadda yadda yadda. Honestly, every single article I have read over the last few months that mention Chubb anywhere have something to say about the guy not being right since then. Well, to those people: he just ran for over one-thousand yards after suffering one of the most grotesque injuries in college football history. Case closed. Bang the gavel. On top of that, he played in all 13 of the team’s games. Somehow, it seems Chubb went from Todd Gurley’s torch-carrier, to Heisman hopeful, to internet sensation, to handicap. It’s been a roller coaster, but the guy is nothing close to handicap. And it isn’t all about Chubb himself, either. Jacob Eason showed throughout the year he can be a good quarterback, and Kirby Smart’s defense will finish in the top of the SEC next year.
Top 3 Dark Horses
1. Nick Fitzgerald (Junior QB – Mississippi State): 54.3%, 2423 yards, 21 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 195 rushes, 1375 rushing yards, 16 rushing touchdowns
Nick Fitzgerald was one of the most entertaining quarterbacks to watch last year. He was also one of the most frustrating. It felt like he’d go from making an incredible play, to missing a wide open receiver on a flat route six yards in front of him. However, his stats do him a lot of justice. He was responsible for a total of 37 touchdowns for Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs last year. His completion percentage is what raises the biggest red flag for me, though. That said, Dan Mullen may just be the best thing to ever happen to Fitz. After what Dak Prescott has accomplished in both college and now the NFL, it’s fair to say Dan knows a thing or two about quarterbacks. Despite a horrendous four-interception spring game showing, I expect Nick Fitzgerald will step into the realm of elite this season.
2. Minkah Fitzpatrick (Junior DB – Alabama): 66 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 6 interceptions (two touchdowns), 7 pass break ups, 1 forced fumble
As far as defensive dark horse candidates go, it came down to LSU’s Arden Key and Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick. While I feel Arden will have a great season and inevitably be a first-round pick, so will Fitzpatrick. The benefit Fitzpatrick has is an ability to score points in a flashy fashion. After snagging a ridiculous six interceptions in 2016, Fitzpatrick will have a chance to increase that number again, and if his pick-six numbers go up as well, I wouldn’t be surprised for him to make a late push at a spot in NYC come early December. Ultimately, I expect Nick Saban and Jeremy Pruitt could use Minkah the same way Les Miles and company used Heisman-finalist Tyrann ‘Honey Badger’ Mathieu back in his heyday.
3. Jarrett Stidham (Sophomore QB – Auburn): Did Not Record Any Stats
This went well for Jeremy Johnson a couple years ago, didn’t it?
No, but seriously, the SEC should be worried about this guy. He is a 6-3, 214-pound cannon shooting heat-seeking missiles. While breaking down Auburn’s A-Day game, the first thing I noticed is Stidham’s nice touch he adds to his throw – the ball never appears to take a nose dive, instead falls slowly enough for the receiver to run under it – giving his guys a chance to catch and run. Another much more highly noted aspect of his game is his mobility. He has a wide frame like that of a Trevor Knight. That’s not to say the guy is slow, however, so teams can not underestimate his legs. This is the part of his game I really feel could earn him a spot in NYC as it is not expected of him. Additionally, Auburn’s quick-paced, nausea-inducing offense will be juiced up this year under the tutelage of newly hired Chip Lindsey. Stidham ended Auburn’s spring game going 16-for-20 and 267 yards.
If you disagree with any of my top choices, my contact information is below. Please let me know.