Lamar Jackson’s Heisman run didn’t come out of nowhere, but at times there’ve been finalists and even some past Heisman winners that do come out of the blue.
Last year, former Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook made the trip to New York. That previous offseason, if somebody said, “That Westbrook guy from Oklahoma is going to be a Heisman contender,” they would’ve probably caught some weird looks. And let’s not forget about former Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel coming out of nowhere to win the prestigious award back in 2012.
So it is quite possible that a relative unknown at this point could contend for or even win the Heisman in 2017.
There are several from the SEC who make compelling cases that shouldn’t be discounted in the race this fall. Here are three of them who established themselves as potential darkhorse candidates.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn quarterback
This one should come as no surprise.
When Stidham announced that he was transferring to Auburn back in December, it seemed like a perfect fit. With Stidham’s talents, the Tigers offense could possibly reach the level it was once at when Cam Newton was under center if his spring game outing is any indication.
The Baylor transfer had an outstanding spring game. Stidham went 16-20, passing for 267 yards and led five scoring drives in the first half. Not only was Stidham effective, he had several phenomenal throws as well. One of the highlights was this 50-yard dime to sophomore wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers.
While Stidham could possibly make good on his recruiting hype and lead the Tigers to the College Football Playoff, he may lack the statistical resume that other candidates may have come late November, early December. Remember, Stidham has to share a backfield with fellow Heisman candidate running back Kamryn Pettway, and it’s extremely doubtful that Auburn abandons the running game to help Stidham’s Heisman chances.
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M running back
The Heisman Trophy is typically dominated by the signal caller position. However, the only two running backs to win the award during the 2000s came from the SEC: Alabama’s Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry.
Texas A&M sophomore RB Trayveon Williams breaking ankles pic.twitter.com/CIdv0VJlFn— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) March 19, 2017
Trayveon Williams had a tremendous first season in College Station. He began his Aggie career as a backup, but Williams still managed to run for more than 700 yards through A&M’s first six games.
The now-sophomore tailback finished his freshman year with 1,057 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. The game that showed that he has the ability to contend for the most coveted individual award in all of college football was Williams’ performance against Tennessee. He gashed the Vols for 217 yards and two scores on 28 carries, for an average of 7.8 yards per carry.
Williams will be the Aggies’ featured back in 2017. Former starter Keith Ford is gone and Texas A&M is breaking in a new quarterback, so Williams’ production should skyrocket in 2017, making him a viable candidate for the award.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State quarterback
There have been three SEC quarterbacks to rush for 1,000 yards in a season: Cam Newton in 2010, Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Nick Fitzgerald in 2016.
Fitzgerald has all the makings to be a Heisman candidate. He is one of the most dynamic players in college football’s toughest conference. He passed for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for 1,375 yards and 16 scores in 2016. However, if he wants to truly contend for Heisman, he needs to make Mississippi State a winner in 2017.
Normally, Heisman winners/contenders play for 10-win or National Championship-contending teams, not 7-6 teams like what Fitzgerald played for last year. However, with more playmakers at his disposal and an easier schedule, a Heisman run for Fitzgerald is not unrealistic. In fact, I believe he is one of the most underrated players heading into the 2017 season.