Saquon Barkley

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Baker Mayfield, J.T. Barrett, Lamar Jackson and Sam Darnold among 2017 Heisman Trophy favorites

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The new college football season may still be a long way away, but it is never too early to place your bets on who you think will win the Heisman Trophy in the 2017 season. The very early favorite, according to odds released by Bovada on Monday, is Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Bovada gives Mayfield 11/2 odds to win the Heisman Trophy this fall. He is followed by Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (6/1), which sets up a nice Heisman Trophy showdown in September when the defending Big 12 champions head to Columbus for the second game in a home-and-home series that was won by Ohio State in Norman in 2016. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, is listed with 7/1 odds, with USC’s rising star quarterback Sam Darnold listed at 9/1.

Penn State’s dynamic duo of running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley each have 10/1 odds, along with Washington quarterback Jake Browning.

Looking back to the early odds from last January, Barrett and Mayfield each had 10/1 Heisman odds. Louisville’s Jackson was not on the radar.

A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2017 Top 25

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The last bit of confetti has barely settled onto the Raymond James Stadium turf and the carcass of the 2016 season isn’t even cold yet, and we’re already rolling out a way-too-early Top 25 for the 2017 season? Yep. Because that’s how we roll. Or something.

In our role as preseason Nostradumbass, the first 10 of CFT’s Top 25 consisted of No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Notre Dame (ouch), No. 7 Washington (yeah us!), No. 8 TCU, No. 9 Michigan State (whoops) and No. 10 Tennessee. A little over 4½ months later?

Three of the four playoff participants were in our Top 10; the fourth, Ohio State, was just outside at No. 11. While not No. 1, Oklahoma came into the postseason ranked seventh in the College Football Playoff Top 25, and will likely move up thanks to the 16-point Sugar Bowl win over No. 14 Auburn (not in our preseason Top 25). Florida State (No. 11), LSU (No. 20) and Tennessee (No. 21) were all ranked at least eight spots lower when the postseason began, but all three won their respective bowl games.

On the flip side, TCU, at 6-6, earned a bowl bid… and subsequently lost to finish under .500. And then there was Notre Dame and Michigan State, which combined to win a total of seven games so let’s just forget about that and move on.

The point of this whole review-before-we-look-ahead exercise? Preseason polls are meaningless — but not nearly as meaningless as polls produced nearly eight months ahead of the start of a new season. With that in mind, enjoy this way-to-early Top 25 that will put the “mean” in meaningless. And the “less” in it, for that matter.

Oh, and as always, feel free to complain/whine/moan/bitch away in the comments section below.

NO. 1 USC
WHY? As a redshirt freshman, Sam Darnold emerged as one of the most electrifying playmakers at the quarterback position in college football, and should, to the chagrin of opponents, get even better with a full offseason as the man at the position.  Winning nine straight to close out the season doesn’t hurt either.
WHY NOT? There’s always at least one team that’s way overhyped — hello 2016 Notre Dame — and the hoopla and attention proves to be too much for the young Trojans to bear.

NO. 2 ALABAMA
WHY? Nick Saban + top-ranked recruiting classes year-in, year-out + a burning desire to be the greatest there ever was at this level = a permanent spot inside the Top 10 as long as The Nicktator resides in Tuscaloosa.
WHY NOT? An NFL team (finally) entices Saban to go back and finish what he started — and abruptly ended — in the big boy league of football.  It’s not going to happen, of course, but that’s about the only thing that could derail the Crimson Tide juggernaut — well, that and a Tiger named Deshaun.

Clemson v Florida StateNO. 3 FLORIDA STATE
WHY? The Seminoles are once again loaded with top-flight talent on both sides of the ball and at every positional unit, with Deondre Francois showing flashes in his first season as the starter of being one of the best young quarterbacks in the sport.
WHY NOT? They face Alabama on a (ahem) neutral field to open the season, then travel to Gainesville to face Florida in the regular-season finale.  In between, there’s a trip to Death Valley for their annual ACC Atlantic grudge match with Clemson.

NO. 4 OKLAHOMA
WHY? With Baker Mayfield returning, and the rest of the conference still trying to play catch-up, the Sooners are clearly the cream of the Big 12 crop.
WHY NOT? The twin backfield loses of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine can’t be overcome and Mayfield has to shoulder too much of the offensive burden. Plus, the road trips to Ohio State, Baylor and Oklahoma State for Bedlam.

NO. 5 WASHINGTON
WHY? They have a talented arm in quarterback Jake Browning, a very staunch defense and a schedule that’s very favorable, with the toughest road game being the trip to Stanford.
WHY NOT? They are losing a significant amount of talent that helped get them to the College Football Playoffs.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v ClemsonNO. 6 OHIO STATE
WHY? Given the personnel losses after the 2015 season, 2016 was thought to be a rebuilding year but turned into another playoff appearance.  The target was always the 2017 season for this young Buckeyes team, and a squad loaded with this much talent will be a factor throughout.
WHY NOT? J.T Barrett continues to regress as a quarterback despite Urban Meyer shaking up the top of his offensive coaching staff, and none of the other young quarterbacks are quite ready for prime time.

NO. 7 CLEMSON
WHY? Despite losing a couple of pieces, Brent Venables‘ defense will once again be one of the best in the nation.  The Tigers won 10 or more games in each of the three seasons prior to Deshaun Watson‘s arrival, so it’s far from a one-man show that Dabo Swinney has built.
WHY NOT? Losing Watson, a three-year starter at quarterback, proves to be too much as his replacement simply can’t handle the burden.

NO. 8 MICHIGAN
WHY? For all of his well-publicized off-field antics, Jim Harbaugh is simply one of the best head coaches in the sport and will settle for nothing less than getting his beloved Wolverines back into the national title discussion on an annual basis.  Wilton Speight was a breakout star in 2016 and should flourish despite the loss of his quarterbacks coach, while Don Brown continues to be one of the best defensive minds in the game.
WHY NOT? Too much talent was lost to the NFL, and Harbaugh simply hasn’t gotten the requisite time to completely restock the cupboard in Ann Arbor to compete with the Ohio States of the college football world.

Oklahoma State v BaylorNO. 9 OKLAHOMA STATE
WHY? One of the best quarterback-wide receiver tandems in the country, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, eschewed an early shot at the NFL and returned for one more season in Stillwater.
WHY NOT? A defense that was 53rd in scoring as it was loses nearly half its starters, plus OSU will have to play at Pittsburgh, Texas and West Virginia.

NO. 10 PENN STATE
WHY? They return a bunch of talent from their Big Ten-winning squad, including Heisman contenders in quarterback Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, and get Michigan, Nebraska and Pittsburgh in Happy Valley.
WHY NOT? They lost a very talented wide receiver in Chris Godwin and have to play at Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State.

NO. 11 STANFORD
NO. 12 AUBURN
NO. 13 TEXAS
NO. 14 LSU
NO. 15 WISCONSIN
NO. 16 LOUISVILLE
NO. 17 GEORGIA
NO. 18 WEST VIRGINIA
NO. 19 SOUTH FLORIDA
NO. 20 FLORIDA
NO. 21 KANSAS STATE
NO. 22 COLORADO
NO. 23 WASHINGTON STATE
NO. 24 SAN DIEGO STATE
NO. 25 OREGON

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett says he will be back with Buckeyes in 2017

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On the same day Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan announced his departure from the program in pursuit of the NFL Draft, Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett says he is not ready to leave just yet. Barrett announced with a very brief statement on his Instagram account he will return to play quarterback for Ohio State in the 2017 season, his final year of eligibility.

“I’m coming back for my senior year,” Barrett said in his Instagram post. “Much love to Buckeye Nation and thank God for the blessings.”

Barrett was named a recipient of the Chicago Tribune Silver Football in 2016, sharing the unofficial Big Ten MVP award with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Barrett was a First-Team All-Big Ten player in 2014 and 2016 and a third-team AP All-American in 2014 after stepping into the Ohio State offense for what would turn out to be a national championship season (although Cardale Jones replaced an injured Barrett for the postseason run). Barrett has also been named the Big Ten’s quarterback of the year twice, in 2014 and again this past fall.

Barrett’s legacy at Ohio State is already pretty solid, but coming back for one more season means he could further etch his name in the Ohio State history books. Barrett will start the 2017 season just 1,166 yards shy of the Ohio State career passing record and is 917 rushing yards away from cracking the top five rushing leaders, which is quite a feat given the history of Ohio State rushers. Barrett will also (extremely likely) be the first three-time captain in Buckeye history, and he will look to become the first Ohio State quarterback to beat Michigan four times.

There is some unfinished business for Barrett, who has yet to lead Ohio State to a Big Ten championship (he was injured the only time Ohio State has played for a Big Ten title since his arrival) and there is probably a sour taste in his mouth after how the 2016 season ended with a shutout loss in the College Football Playoff semifinal game in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson. With Barrett back on the field in 2017, Ohio State will have the most experienced quarterback in the conference looking to take the final steps in his progression to lead Ohio State in another chase for the Big Ten title.

With Barrett coming back, the debut for highly-rated incoming Class of 2017 quarterback Tate Martell will clearly be on hold for at least one season. Class of 2016 addition Dwayne Haskins will also have to wait a year to get a crack at the starting job as well.

No. 9 USC fights on for epic Rose Bowl victory over No. 5 Penn State in battle of thrilling comebacks

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PASADENA, Calif. — The Granddaddy of Them All lived up to the billing. And then some.

In one of the most thrilling Rose Bowls in the game’s illustrious history, USC capped a wild second half with a Matt Boermeester 46 yard field goal as time expired to top Penn State 52-49.

It was a result nearly everybody in the stadium would have expected given the way the game began, but few could have imagined would have played out the way it did in the game’s 103rd edition. After all, the Big Ten champions’ first two passes of the game resulted in a pair of awful interceptions. But — as usual this season — the Nittany Lions underwent yet another metamorphosis after a trip to the locker room and bounced back in the second half to set up an instant classic.

As bad as those first few plays were for the blue and white, everything went the opposite way to begin the third quarter as Penn State’s first three plays of the second half all resulted in a trio of miraculous touchdowns to completely flip the game. Tailback Saquon Barkley (194 yards, two scores) kicked things off by zigging and zagging 79 yards to the end zone for one of the best runs the hallowed ground has ever seen.

The Nittany Lions weren’t done yet. Wideout Chris Godwin hauled in his second  incredible touchdown of the day in even more impressive fashion than his first, tipping, and juggling, a pass to himself before going 72 yards to the end zone. The blue and white weren’t done yet, as Brandon Bell picked off USC quarterback Sam Darnold on the ensuing series and returned it down to the three yard line. Trace McSorley (254 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions) punched it in on the next play to finish off a 28 point run for Penn State that sent the 95,128 into a frenzy in different ways depending on what color they were wearing.

The Trojans would not go quietly into the night and preceded to live up to their motto, fighting on to a big response when offensive MVP Darnold (453 yards, five touchdowns and a pick on the night) found the end zone on the ensuing possession by hooking up with ever-reliable receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster

After a whacky two point conversion brought USC to within a touchdown, McSorley and company responded right back by mounting a lengthy 82 yard scoring drive that capped off a run of seven touchdowns on seven series. They would get no further on the scoreboard however.

The two traded big plays back-and-forth (on both sides of the ball) in the final quarter before Darnold led a drive that very well could go down in the program’s illustrious history as one its finest moments, marching 80 yards in just three plays before finding Deontae Burnett in the back of the end zone to conclude a heroic 164 yard and three score effort for the young receiver.

The Trojans defense forced three fourth quarter punts and then picked off McSorley with just 27 seconds left in the game to set Boermeester up for his kick and complete the thrilling comeback for the ages.

It was a finish that was quite fitting given that the two teams were the hottest in the country coming in, having not suffered a loss since late September. The result ended most of the talk that Penn State deserved to be in the College Football Playoff in lieu of Ohio State and should do nothing to slow down talk that both the Nittany Lions and USC should enter the 2017 season in the top five of the preseason polls.

The end of the chilly Southern California night belonged to the Trojans though, who finished off a remarkable comeback of their own from a 1-3 start to the season to emerge as Rose Bowl champions.

Rough start hampers Penn State as USC holds halftime lead in the Rose Bowl

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PASADENA, Calif. — Everything that could go wrong in the opening minutes of Penn State’s return to the Rose Bowl, did.

It all could have been much worse for the Nittany Lions though, and an amazing late rally by the Big Ten champions managed to keep them in the Granddaddy of Them All as USC took a 27-21 lead into halftime.

Penn State’s opening sequence was straight from a coach’s nightmare, as the team muffed the initial kickoff to start at three and then Trojans corner Iman Marshall pulled down an interception on the very first offensive play after a horrible mixup had quarterback Trace McSorley throwing it right to the waiting cornerback.

USC failed to capitalize on that incredible start by going three-and-out and missing a field goal from 51 yards out. Do-everything star Adoree’ Jackson bailed the team out again however, picking off a pass tipped by the hands of wideout DeAndre Thompkins on McSorley’s second pass of the game.

Things went a little better for fellow quarterback Sam Darnold (251 yards, three scores in the half) on the next series, moving around in the pocket and firing a strike to an awaiting Deontay Burnett in the end zone for a 26 yard touchdown pass and the game’s first points. They would later tack on a pair of field goals to extend their lead in a dominant first quarter for what amounted to the home team in a sold out Rose Bowl.

The Nittany Lions were down but they certainly weren’t out despite all that. McSorley found his first completion on final play of the first quarter and, shortly thereafter, terrific tailback Saquon Barkley avoided the blitz and scampered 24 yards nearly untouched for a touchdown and some much needed life on the PSU sideline.

USC would match them score-for-score as that run turned the final minutes of the second quarter into a shootout. McSorley forgot about his early troubles on the next drive, scrambling out of the pocket and then launching a laser to the end zone that receiver Chris Goodwin hauled in for the team’s second touchdown. Darnold marched the Trojans right down the field yet again on the next drive, tossing a lovely touchdown pass that Darreus Rogers out-muscled a defensive back for in the end zone. PSU tight end Mike Gesicki responded right back with a wild touchdown in the back of the end zone on the next drive.

After a number of blowouts this bowl season, it certainly appeared we were well on our way to another one given the way Penn State started the game. But a nice finishing flourish helped this one from getting too out of hand in a game that has been wildly entertaining — even if a bit one-sided in favor of the Trojans in their home away from home.