While only a few players can be finalists for the Heisman Trophy, many more play a crucial role in the success of their respective teams. When these players are on their game, their teams become conference favorites and potential national title contenders. But if any of them are injured, even just for a game or two, the team's playoff hopes can be dashed in an instant.
Here's what 247Sports had to say about each player.
QB Shane Buechele, Texas
What 247Sports said: Buechele isn’t as naturally talented (or proven) as the rest of the players on this list, but that doesn’t make him any less important to Texas’ chances in 2017. If he goes down, the result would be disastrous for Texas.
The Longhorns have only two scholarship quarterbacks on their roster, and Buechele’s backup is a true freshman (Sam Ehlinger) coming off an injury-plagued senior season. Texas, with plenty of talent, is primed for a potential breakout this year with Buechele on the field. If he isn’t, Herman’s first campaign could collapse quickly.
QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
What 247 Sports said: Former five-star Kyler Murray is his backup – but that’s how good the Heisman finalist was a year ago. Most impressively, Mayfield averaged 11.1 yards per attempt (the only quarterback to be above 10.5 for the year) and completed 68.2 percent of his passes.
The senior does nearly everything well.
DB Derwin James, Florida State
What 247 Sports said: The Seminoles already know what it’s like to be without James, and it ain’t easy. A true freshman star in 2015, James played nearly every defensive position for Florida State in a year where it finished ninth nationally in points allowed.
Last year, James suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. From that point on the Seminoles allowed 25.7 points per game, which would’ve ranked the team 48th nationally for the entire season. The junior is the most versatile player in college football, and his skill set cannot be replaced.
DE Harold Landry, Boston College
What 247 Sports said: The nation’s sack leader (16.5) returns for his senior season, which is critical for a Eagles defense that has to go up against offenses like Clemson, Louisville, Florida State and Notre Dame. Landry is arguably the top edge rusher in the nation, but he’s also one of the best run stuffers in the country – Pro Football Focus ranked him fifth in the country among DEs a year ago.
Landry is Boston College’s best player without question, and he’ll have to remain at an All-American level in order for the Eagles to compete in one of college football’s toughest divisions.
DT Ed Oliver, Houston
What 247 Sports said: Oliver finished with 19.5 tackles for loss, 61 total tackles, five sacks and nine pass breakups as a defensive tackle. At 6-foot-2, 290 pounds Oliver is among the nation’s best pass rushers from the interior.
(Photo courtesy of @UHCougarFB)
QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
What 247Sports said: A senior and three-year starter, Rudolph is the caretaker of an offense that could put Oklahoma State in College Football Playoff contention this year. He’s one of college football’s best deep ball throwers and the point man for arguably the nation’s most balanced offensive attack.
QB Quinton Flowers, South Florida
What 247 Sports said: The most important piece for the AAC favorite, Flowers threw for 2,812 yards and rushed for 1,530 yards a year ago. A third-year starter, Flowers has improved significantly every season he’s been in Tampa Bay. Oh yeah, Flowers’ backup, sophomore Brett Kean, has thrown just 26 career passes. South Florida needs Flowers to play well and stay healthy in a conference that's as deep as they come from year to year.
RB Derrius Guice, LSU
What 247 Sports said: Guice, at 5-foot-11, 212 pounds, is a potent blend of natural ability and meanness. He runs with an angry purpose, which resulted in 1,387 yards and 7.6 yards per carry a year ago. That’s after he averaged 8.5 yards per tote as a true freshman in 2015.
There are plenty of highly-touted former recruits behind Guice, there's just nobody left on LSU’s depth chart that can make a Guice-level impact. Guice is a likely Heisman contender for an offense that features a “game manager” at quarterback in Danny Etling. If healthy, the results should be spectacular.
QB Sam Darnold, USC
What 247 Sports said: Want to know how important Darnold is to the Trojans? Once he took over as the full-time in Week 4 last season, the Trojans went 9-1 and averaged 35.9 points per game. In the three games Darnold didn’t start, USC went 1-2 and averaged 20.3 points per contest. So yeah, Darnold makes a difference.
Darnold finished with 3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns and a 67.2 percent completion percentage as a redshirt freshman, and he should only improve in 2017 as a second-year starter. If USC hopes to finally return to college football’s upper echelon, it’ll be Darnold who leads it there.
QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
What 247Sports said: Of course the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is on this list. Jackson played on a different level from every other player in the country for most of last season. He accounted for 51 total touchdowns, which outpaced 78 FBS teams. Jackson threw for 3,543 yards, ran for 1,571 and confounded defenses at every step.