What is the most prestigious individual award in all of sports? Many would be quick to point out college football’s Heisman trophy, and I would have to agree with them. There just isn’t anything quite like college football. Perhaps the most competitive of any sport, where anything can happen on any given Saturday. The game demands you to be near perfect throughout the year, both in the stat sheet and from a team perspective if you want any chance of being invited to New York City come December.

The beauty of the Heisman trophy is that it’s one of the most difficult to predict. As we saw just this past year, someone like Lamar Jackson can come out of a program like Louisville to claim the bronzed Ed Smith stiff arm. More often than not do you see someone come out of nowhere to claim the award, rather than someone that you prematurely had on your radar.

Below I listed my top 20 Heisman contenders for this upcoming season, along with some players who ‘just missed’ the list. Read all the way down to number 1 to see who I have coming home with the 2017 Heisman trophy. Comment below with some of your own candidates who should be on my radar.

On Twitter I will be conducting a Heisman bracket as I matchup 32 individual players poll style. Follow along @JonValencia_WiB to see who will be the last man standing.

Just Missed List:

  • QB Jacon Eason (Georgia)
  • QB Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State)
  • QB Justin Herbert (Oregon)
  • QB Shea Patterson (Ole Miss)
  • QB Brett Rypien (Boise State)
  • QB Jarrett Stidham (Auburn)
  • RB Nick Chubb (Georgia)
  • RB Chris Evans (Michigan)
  • RB Royce Freeman (Oregon)
  • RB Justin Jackson (Northwestern)
  • WR Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)
  • EDGE Arden Key (LSU)

20. QB Shane Buechele (Texas)

You saw him show tremendous flashes last season as a true freshman, particularly if you tuned into Texas’ opening week defeat of Notre Dame in 2OT. Now with a new head coach in Tom Herman, the distractions should fade off down in Austin and it will be all about the football. I expect Buechele to flourish under Herman, and to continue to show strides in his development.

With D’Onta Foreman gone to the NFL Draft, the Longhorns will lean more-so on their passing game in 2017, giving Buechele plenty of opportunities to rack up the production. He ended his true freshman campaign with nearly 3,000 passing yards and 21 passing TDs.

19. QB Luke Falk (Washington State)

Primed to be a fairly early NFL draft pick in 2017, Luke Falk elected to stay in school for his senior season and again take command of Washington State’s air-raid offense. Any QB in a Mike Leach led offense is going to produce, especially when you have the type of arm of a Luke Falk. Last season he was able to stay healthy and passed for 4,468 yards with 38 TD passes.

The Cougars will win a good amount of games, but they’re not likely to compete for a Pac-12 title against the likes of rising programs such as USC and Washington. Regardless, Falk will put up monster numbers and very well could lead the FBS in passing yards, warranting him some Heisman hype.

18. QB Jake Browning (Washington)

While Jake Browning was in the Heisman conversation for the entirety of last season and could even be considered a finalist snub, I expect a big dropoff in production this season. Not to say he will be bad. However, when you lose a guy like John Ross III who accounted for so much of it, you can’t expect to see similar production when you don’t have someone to fill that slot. Especially when you have a guy like Myles Gaskin hungry for the rock.

Last season Browning put up historic numbers and led the Huskies to their first Pac-12 title since 1995. However, that came with a lot of help on offense, and defense as well – a lot of which is now gone. As I said, Browning will still be a good player, but you can’t again expect 3,430 passing yards and 43 TD production.

17. QB Trace McSorley (Penn State)

You saw him in the Rose Bowl overcome two early interceptions to comeback and put together a respectable performance while displaying some great flashes. Trace McSorley had a formidable debut year under center for the Nittany Lions, and he’ll only get better in 2017.

With most of his WR corps still intact from last year, plus Saquon Barkley’s presence remaining in the backfield, McSorley has all the pieces around him to put up even larger production this season. His arm got better as the year went on, and he can even make plays with his legs – adding 7 TDs on the ground. If Penn State can again compete for a Big Ten championship, McSorley will be mentioned in the Heisman conversation – but he won’t be the only Nittany Lion discussed.

16. QB Josh Rosen (UCLA)

If this was an NFL mock draft, Josh Rosen very well could find himself as the top of the list. Ultimately, Rosen may not have the production or team success to be a consistent contender for the 2017 Heisman trophy. However, he is a polished passer and mans the QB position like it’s an art form. That will be sure to garner some hype as he’ll have a handful of big games this upcoming season.

Rosen missed a lot of time in 2016 due to injury. Assuming he can stay healthy, Rosen is set to breakout and emerge on the national scene as he prepares to put his top draft pick campaign underway.

15. WR Calvin Ridley (Alabama)

While his production dipped a bit in 2016 from his freshman season, Calvin Ridley emerges as the lone #1 option for Jalen Hurts in Alabama’s passing game with ArDarius Stewart departing for the NFL Draft. Ridley is prone to the big play and will make a ton of them this season as Hurts continues to progress as a passer.

During his two year career, Ridley has combined for 161 catches, 1,814 receiving yards and 14 TDs thus far. He will set career highs in 2017 and be one of the top receivers in the Heisman discussion.

14. RB Myles Gaskin (Washington)

With key components in the passing game like John Ross and Dante Pettis moving on, Myles Gaskin will be the main source of offense for the Huskies in 2017. Gaskin has started since he was a freshman, and has been a steady producer. He’s rushed for over 1,300 yards and double-digit TDs in both years of his career thus far.

With premier RB talent moving to the NFL Draft like Fournette, Cook and McCaffrey, that will pave the way for Gaskin as he emerges as one of the best RBs in college football. Gaskin will get fed the rock in 2017 and set career highs in rushing.

13. DT Ed Oliver (Houston)

No other true freshman made as big of an impact as Ed Oliver. Already in his debut season, Oliver has emerged as one of the most disruptive defensive players in the country. Oliver brings a Ndamukong Suh level of play like he did back in his old Nebraska days, and also found himself in New York City for the Heisman ceremony.

Even after one year, Oliver has a good amount of hype moving forward. He’s a future top 5 NFL Draft pick. Oliver finished his freshman season with 22.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 9 pass breakups. If a defensive line is going to garner Heisman hype like Jonathan Allen did in 2016, it’s Ed Oliver.

12. QB J.T. Barrett (Ohio State)

I thought J.T. Barrett was set to graduate, turns out he has another year of eligibility. Barrett has been quarterbacking the Buckeyes for 3 years now, and it seems as if every year he’s relevant in the Heisman race.

Barrett is one of the best dual threats in the nation. Last season he rushed for 847 yards with 9 scores while passing for 2,428 yards and 24 TDs. If Ohio State again makes the College Football Playoff, he’ll receive a great deal of recognition as he’s set to put up huge numbers.

11. QB Jalen Hurts (Alabama)

It didn’t take long for Hurts to secure the QB job in Tuscaloosa, in fact, it took just one game. The true freshman came on strong in the opening week against USC, and never looked back. Hurts is one of the most dynamic QBs in the nation, and he will only continue to get better with more experience. Assuming Alabama reaches the 2017 National Championship (why wouldn’t you?), that’s just even more steam riding his Heisman candidacy into next season.

Now with a full year under his belt, Hurts will be a force to be reckoned with in 2017. He’s already one of the best dual threats in the country. As a true freshman he threw for nearly 2,600 yards to go with 22 TDs-9 INTs. He was a menace on the ground, racking up 841 yards with 12 TDs. His numbers will continue to increase. Alabama is a dynasty at the college level, and with a QB that puts up numbers like him, they’ll get themselves in the Heisman conversation. Alabama hasn’t had a QB like this throughout the entire Saban regime.

10. QB Deondre Francois (Florida State)

Starting as a redshirt freshman, Francois put on a show. He follows in line of: Jameis Winston, E.J. Manuel and Christian Ponder as standout signal callers at the prestigious program. A high profile recruit, Francois was the #1 dual threat QB in the 2015 recruiting class.

Francois turned in an impressive freshman season. He tossed for over 3,000 passing yards with 18 TDs and 6 INTs. He was held in check on the ground as he played behind a terrible offensive line, but the Seminoles should see some improvement in that facet in 2017. Assuming Francois continues to grow as a passer and is able to open up that running dynamic more, he’ll have a huge year and be poised for Heisman hype.

9. WR James Washington (Oklahoma State)

As we saw last year with Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook, the QB-WR tandem both found their way to New York City as Heisman finalists. If there’s any duo that will repeat that feat in 2017, it will be the tandem down in Stillwater. Like Rudolph, James Washington also decided to return to school for his senior season.

James Washington is one of the most dangerous wide receivers in all of college football. He can take a screen to the house or he can beat you deep. The speed and playmaking ability is there, as you may have saw in the Alamo Bowl as he torched a stout Colorado secondary for 171 yards and a TD. During 2016 he compiled 6 games with over 100+ receiving yards, including a game where he went for 296 yards and a pair of scores. Washington is a threat to go off each week, and he should see even more big games this season. With Rudolph tossing him the ball, he very well could finish as the top WR in the Heisman voting.

8. QB Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)

As if a 38-8 shellacking of Colorado in the 2016 Alamo Bowl wasn’t a good enough way to end the year, Oklahoma State received tremendous news as signal caller Mason Rudolph announced he would return to school, along with the aforementioned James Washington.

Rudolph is the most decorated passer in Oklahoma State history, which is saying a lot. Last season he passed for over 4,000 yards with 28 TD passes to just 4 INTs. If the Cowboys can run the table, Rudolph will be up there in the Heisman race throughout the year as he’s poised to put up even bigger numbers in 2017.

7. S Derwin James (Florida State)

If Jabrill Peppers can get Heisman consideration, there’s no doubt in my mind Derwin James can as well. It’s well known that only one primarily defensive player has won the Heisman, that coming back in 1997 (Charles Woodson). James is a rare talent in Florida State’s secondary and hasn’t even been tagged the “best defender in college football” by some. He played in only 2 games this past season due to injury, but he’s due for a breakout 2016 campaign.

James is a future top 5 NFL draft pick, and could even corral the Heisman on his way there. He makes big plays and gets all over the field in doing so as he showcased as a freshman. His freshman stat-line included: 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Assuming he pumps up his coverage production, there’s no doubt he’ll be invited to New York next December.

6. QB Quinton Flowers (South Florida)

Last season it was Lamar Jackson, this year it will be Quinton Flowers. Jackson came out of nowhere and bursted onto the Heisman scene and ultimately came away with the hardware. Flowers is another explosive dual threat QB out of the American Conference He does most of his damage on the ground, running for 1,530 yards in 2016, trailing just Lamar Jackson. He added 18 TDs via the ground game and was an efficient passer, accumulating over 2,800 yards and 24 TDs through the air.

There is a new look down in South Florida as the Bulls lose key playmakers such as Marlon Mack and Rodney Adams Jr., along with head coach Willie Taggart. However, Flowers is a special college talent and this is even more of a chance to shine as the sole leader on that football team. His production will be there, but ultimately I don’t think his team success will be enough to get him to New York City.

5. RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State)

One of the most complete backs in the country, meet Saquon Barkley. The Nittany Lion is one of the best running backs in all of college football. He was monumental in Penn State’s Big Ten championship this past season, rushing for over 1,300 yards while scoring 19 total TDs and adding nearly 350 receiving yards. In both seasons thus far he’s eclipsed 1,000 yards and has continued to progress and get better.

Penn State will continue to get better and again compete in 2017, Barkley will be the main factor in doing so. He will make his presence felt in both the running game and passing game, leading to bulky production. Barkley very well could be a 1st round draft pick in 2017, and he’ll be in the running for the Heisman trophy. The New York native will look to get the invite to NY for the Heisman ceremony.

4. RB Derrius Guice (LSU)

Stealing the show down in Baton Rouge for the past couple seasons has been a man by the name of Leonard Fournette. With him now gone to the NFL, it’s going to be the Derrius Guice show for LSU. In relief of Fournette and filling in during injury, Guice has showcased some serious talent. On over 200 career carries, Guice has averaged over 8 yards per carry – absolutely absurd. While Fournette missed some games in 2016, Guice still ran for 1,249 yards with 14 TDs.

Now the feature back in LSU’s offense, the sky is the limit for Guice. A 2,00o yard-20 TD season is not out of the realm of possibility for the junior Tiger. Especially when you consider the inconsistent passing game LSU displays year after year. Guice could become only the 2nd LSU Tiger to win the Heisman trophy, and achieve something Fournette couldn’t.

3. QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville)

After winning the 2016 Heisman trophy, of course you have to include him on this list. While he may enter the 2017 as the Heisman favorite, let me start by saying that only one player in college football history (Archie Griffin) has won multiple Heisman trophies which definitely doesn’t bode well for the Louisville star.

Jackson turned in a historic 2016 campaign and seemed to score a TD almost every time he touched the ball – he led the FBS with 51 total TDs. He passed for well over 3,000 yards, but also led all QBs with 1,538 yards via the ground. Jackson is a dynamic athlete under center and will continue to post absurd production. I don’t think Louisville will be as successful next season, hurting his campaign a tad when compared to a guy like Mayfield or Darnold.

2. QB Sam Darnold (USC)

The redshirt freshman took college football by storm in 2016. It took just 3 weeks for Sam Darnold to steal the starting QB job from incumbent Max Browne. Darnold provided a much needed spark for the Trojans and led them to an 8-1 record as the starter, including a win in the Rose Bowl. In the process he threw for over 2,600 yards with 26 TDs and ran for over 200 yards with a pair of TDs.

As the full-time starter in 2017 and with his rookie season out of the way, Darnold is poised for a huge year and sure to be in the Heisman conversation after a strong showing to finish the season in the Rose Bowl. His dual threat ability will pay dividends on the stat sheet and USC should see another successful season and contend for the Pac-12 title. He’s bringing the glamour back to LA football.

1. QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)

The Oklahoma gunslinger will almost certainly be a finalist for the 2017 Heisman trophy, marking the 2nd year in which he appears in New York City for the ceremony. Baker Mayfield is clearly one of the most polarizing players in all of college football. He makes his impact felt through both the air and the ground. Mayfield is coming off his best season yet where he threw for 3,669 passing yards and 38 TDs to just 8 INTs. He added 6 TDs on the ground as well.

As a senior, the expectations will be higher than ever for Mayfield. The Sooners will likely enter the season as Big 12 favorites with the high possibility of getting back to the College Football Playoffs like they did in 2015. Mayfield is in for yet another huge season and if the Sooners reach the playoffs, he’ll play will be a huge reason why. His playing style makes him a poster child for this award, and I very well could see him bring it home during his final college season. If Mayfield is able to secure the 2017 Heisman as I predict, he would be the 6th Sooner to do so, and the first since Sam Bradford back in 2008.

About The Author Jonathan Valencia

Jonathan has been investing his time in sports writing for the past decade. Breaking Football's lead writer covers anything from the NFL Draft to providing fantasy football insight. Born and raised in the Jersey Shore. Follow him on Twitter @JonValencia_WiB to talk anything football.