As we continue on with the annual preseason Outrageous Predictions series for college football, it's time to take a look at the race for the most prestigious and coveted individual award in college football – the Heisman Trophy.
The annual race for the Heisman Trophy rarely goes how the experts think it will. Everyone has a list of front-runners and favorites, but most of those lists look the same. Here are some OUTRAGEOUS* predictions about the 2017 Heisman race that have the potential to render most, if not all, of those preseason lists wrong.
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Outrageous Predictions for the 2017 Heisman Trophy Ceremony
Lamar Jackon will not return to NYC
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is a unique talent, there’s no question about that. The fact remains, however, that Jackson won the award last season based almost solely on what he did during September and October. From November through the bowl season, the Louisville quarterback was only able to lead his team to a 2-3 record against Boston College, Wake Forest, Houston, Kentucky and LSU. During that stretch, he completed just 52 percent of his passes and had a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His effectiveness as a scorer on the ground decreased during that stretch as well, as Jackson ran for five touchdowns over the last five games, failing to find the end zone with his legs in three of those contests. Long story short, it looks like once teams had a couple of months’ worth of film on Jackson, defenses were able to limit his effectiveness, subsequently limiting Louisville's offense. I expect that to carry over into the 2017 season.
Sam Darnold will not be invited to NYC
Everybody loves USC after finishing the 2016 season with a nine-game winning streak capped by a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. I've seen this movie dozens of times, and it never ends the way everyone expects it to. Darnold will be playing behind an offensive line the returns only two starters, while two of his projected top three receivers combined for 14 catches last year. The Trojans are going to look a lot different than the squad that went on a serious roll from October through Jan. 2. Darnold's omission as a Heisman finalist won't be about his lack of talent so much as his team's regression.
Three running backs will finish in the top four of the Heisman voting
A quarterback has won the Heisman in eight of the last 10 seasons. That doesn't mean we won't see one of the most talented groups of running backs in years compete for the Heisman in 2017. Look for big seasons from Penn State's Saquon Barkley, LSU's Derrius Guice, Auburn's Kamryn Pettway and Georgia's Nick Chubb to land three of the four front row seats for the ceremony in December.
Mason Rudolph wins the Heisman Trophy
Make that nine of the last 11 Heisman Trophies going to quarterbacks. Oklahoma State's offense is stacked at the skill positions and head coach Mike Gundy (He's 50 now!) has solidified his offensive line. The Cowboys are going to make a serious run at the College Football Playoff as they roll through a schedule full of blowouts and shootouts. Rudolph's stat line will be the biggest beneficiary, and Cowboys fans will get to celebrate their first Heisman winner since Barry Sanders in 1988.
*Remember, "outrageous" can be defined as “wildly exaggerated or improbable,” and “very bold, unusual, and startling.” These are "outrageous" predictions and should be treated as such.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also covers the Big Ten for Black Heart Gold Pants, Iowa's SB Nation blog. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.