We're less than two weeks away from actual football, but we can't stop talking about a trophy given away in the second week of December.

By Andy Staples
August 16, 2017

We’re less than two weeks away from actual football, but we can’t stop talking about a trophy given away in the second week of December. We begin with a reader who would love to see some more variety in the Heisman conversation…

From Billy: #DearAndy when can you next foresee a non-QB/Alabama RB Heisman Trophy winner? Hasn’t happened since Reggie Bush.

This looks like a pretty good year for tailbacks—Alabama and otherwise—but the problem for the toters of the ball is it looks like a great year for quarterbacks. I think Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett could put up big numbers in new coordinator Kevin Wilson’s offense. (We’ll examine this particular point in greater depth with the next question.) Penn State’s Trace McSorley may siphon some support away from Nittany Lions tailback Saquon Barkley. Meanwhile out west, Sam Darnold and Jake Browning will be piloting explosive offenses. In the Big 12, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph are going to light up scoreboards. 

In the SEC, any improvement by Alabama’s Jalen Hurts as a passer could put him in the conversation. The same goes for Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, whose 2016 rushing numbers only trailed Cam Newton (’10) and Johnny Manziel (’12) among SEC quarterbacks.

Oh, and by the way, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner might be even better. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson may play in a stacked division, but that also means he’ll play big games that could give him a chance to join Archie Griffin, who is probably getting pretty lonely in the multiple Heisman winner clubhouse. 

So which non-quarterbacks have a chance? There’s the aforementioned Barkley. Bo Scarbrough isn’t a name Billy is looking for because he plays for Alabama, but an entire healthy season filled with games like the ones at the tail end of 2016 could win him the Heisman. Of course, Scarbrough likely will be splitting carries in a loaded backfield. LSU’s Derrius Guice probably has a better chance to win it if the Tigers rely on him a little less than they relied on Leonard Fournette, who spent half of 2015 as a Heisman frontrunner. Why? Less reliance on Guice would mean new offensive coordinator Matt Canada developed a passing game, which means the yards could come more easily for Guice and the wins could come more easily for LSU.

In the non QB/RB category, two potential options are Florida State safety/cornerback/linebacker/edge rusher Derwin James and Alabama safety/cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. Both are versatile future first-rounders who play critical roles on their teams’ defenses. James might have more interesting numbers because he’s used as a rusher more often—that seemed to help Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers last year—but both deserve consideration.

Others who could merit consideration are Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who might be the most disruptive defender in America, and Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, whose freakish skill set makes everything easier for his teammates. Meanwhile, Clemson has two defensive linemen (Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence) who aren’t like anyone else in the country. If the award really was for the most outstanding player in America, those two would be in the conversation.

SI’s 2017 preseason All-America team is out: Who made the cut?

From @SMJenkins: Will J.T. Barrett return to his freshman form, or will OSU come up short again? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From @GeneLoblaw: “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” How badly will college football fans miss Verne Lundquist?

I like Brad Nessler a lot, but Uncle Verne owned that 3:30 p.m. SEC on CBS play-by-play role so thoroughly that he may be impossible to follow. Some announcers have that voice-of-God thing going on (Nessler is one). Some make you feel like you’ve been invited into their living room for beers (think the late Harry Caray). Verne was the rare person who could do both, and he could toggle between the two whenever necessary. Given how SEC football fans view SEC football—simultaneously as a church service and a party—this made him the perfect voice for that game.

Verne didn’t always get names right. When Florida won two consecutive basketball national titles, Verne kept mixing up Gators sixth man Chris Richard with crooner Cliff Richard during an NCAA tournament regional. The basketball Richard pulled me aside during interviews one day and said, “Please tell that man my name isn’t Cliff.” 

Verne did always have fun, though. And he made the people watching at home have as much fun as he did. 

From Bill: Which is more likely, #DearAndy: Clemson loses five games or doesn’t lose any? [Answer linked here, and in the video at the top of this story.]

From Mitch: Will Ole Miss be the most lethal passing attack in the SEC? With deep O-line, talented WRs and Shea Patterson at the helm, could it happen?

An Ole Miss question about actual football? I don’t get many of those these days. But Mitch is correct about the Ole Miss passing game. It could drive defenses crazy. Quarterback Shea Patterson has the improvisational skills to keep plays alive, and he’ll be throwing to a receiving corps that remains deep even after the Rebels lost Evan Ingram, Damore’ea Stringfellow and Quincy Adeboyejo. Van Jefferson caught 49 passes as a freshman. D.K. Metcalf looked like a potential star before a broken foot prematurely ended his freshman season. A.J. Brown, who caught 29 passes for 412 yards, will have an expanded role this season.

So yes, Ole Miss could light up opponents through the air. But here’s the problem. The Rebels rarely had trouble throwing the ball during the Hugh Freeze era. Their real issue was an inability to consistently run the ball and hold a lead. This was especially problematic last season when the defense began to falter. Freeze is gone now and Phil Longo will be running the offense, but the offensive personnel remains the same. The defense remains suspect.

In other words, get ready for some 58–55 games. 

From @ClotsAndSnot: Why do the poll voters give Texas a preseason Top 25 rank when they’ve had three consecutive losing seasons?!?! [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

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