USC quarterback Sam Darnold is joining the list of early entrants to the NFL after declaring his intention to enter the 2018 NFL Draft. A Rose Bowl champion and the former Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year a year ago, Darnold could potentially be one of the top draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft even after a bumpy 2017 season.
Darnold led the Pac-12 in passing in 2017 with 4,143 yards, with the conference’s third-highest passing yards per game (205.9 ypg). Darnold passed for 26 touchdowns with 13 interceptions in a bit of a roller coaster season that still ended up with USC in the Cotton Bowl as the Pac-12 champion. Despite some off moments and sub-par performances from one of the hottest quarterbacks coming into the season, pro scouts still see plenty of upside to Darnold at the next level. Darnold’s decision to turn pro likely is influenced by the confidence he will not have to wait very long to hear his name called this spring at the NFL Draft.
Darnold was a key player in USC’s second-half turnaround in the 2016 season. After a rough start to the season, Clay Helton opted to make a quarterback change and gave Darnold the chance to start. After a close loss to Utah, USC went on a roll and ended the 2016 season as one of the best-looking teams. Although the hot finish couldn’t quite wiggle USC into the Pac-12 championship game, Darnold delivered in the Rose Bowl as the Trojans rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Saquon Barkley and Big Ten champion Penn State. With expectations incredibly high for the 2017 season, Darbnold and USC had to settle for a Pac-12 championship and a spot in the Cotton Bowl. Darnold had a rough performance in the bowl game against the Buckeyes, but that is not enough to suggest his draft stock plummeted. Darnold will be one of the top quarterbacks, if not one of the top players, selected in the NFL Draft as long as he has a solid scouting combine and draft-prep experience.
As for USC, the door is open for Matt Fink to start getting ready for the starting job this spring. Jack Sears, a four-star recruit in USC’s Class of 2017 could also start to lobby for the job in the spring.
Darnold’s announcement comes on the same day UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft. Rosen and Darnold may be battling for the top spot in the draft.
WHO: No. 5 Ohio State (11-2) vs. No. 8 USC (11-2)
WHAT: The 82nd Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
THE SKINNY: We have ourselves a nice little Texas version of the Rose Bowl when the champions of the Big Ten (Ohio State) and Pac-12 (USC) collide in the Cotton Bowl. Because the Rose Bowl is being used to host a College Football Playoff semifinal game, and because neither the Big Ten nor the Pac-12 will be represented in the playoff field this season, the Cotton Bowl benefits by getting a great matchup between storied programs.
Similar to last year’s Rose Bowl, Ohio State is the Big Ten champion being left out of the playoff and looking to take on USC. The difference this year is the Trojans are the Pac-12 champions with quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Ronald Jones II pacing the offense for a strong finish to the season. Since losing on the road against Notre Dame, USC has won five straight games with three double-digit margins in their favor and a Pac-12 championship game victory over Bryce Love and Stanford. Their next opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes, is loaded with talent.
The question for Ohio State is whether or not they will be in sync for the Cotton Bowl. At times this season, the Buckeyes have stalled. A stagnant offense could not keep up against Oklahoma early in the season and the Buckeyes were ambushed on the road against Iowa. If not for a career day from J.T. Barrett, Ohio State may have lost at home to Penn State a swell. But when the Buckeyes are locked in, they are tough to beat. The rise of freshman running back J.K. Dobbins continues to spark Ohio State’s offense, just so long as Urban Meyer doesn’t choose to move away from utilizing the young star in the making.
Odds are this game will come down to Sam Darnold vs. J.T. Barrett. Both players should have an impact in different ways. Darnold will be more likely to do most of his damage through the air, while Barrett may be looked to dabble in some runs at times to keep USC’s defense on their toes.
This one could be one of the most entertaining games of the bowl season. In this one, J.T. Barrett will go out a winner.
THE PICK: Ohio State 38, USC 34
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was held in check for much of the afternoon on Saturday by Northwestern, but that wasn’t enough to change Barkley’s Heisman odds this week. The latest Heisman Trophy odds form Bovada held firm with the 5/4 odds placed on Barkley last week, which keeps him atop the Heisman board for now.
The most notable development in the Heisman odds this week may be the rise of Stanford running back Bryce Love. Love rocketed up the board this week by going from 14/1 odds last week to 4/1 odds this week. The only two players ahead of Love right now are Barkley and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. After a home loss to Iowa State, Mayfield’s Heisman odds moved from 9/4 to 13/4.
Love leads the nation with 206.67 yards per game and is the only running back in the nation to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark so far. Love leads the nation with 1,240 rushing yards, which is roughly 240 yards than the next leading running back, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny. For reference, Barkley’s rushing total stands at 649 yards, although Barkley’s all-purpose yardage adds up to 1,302 yards, which is ahead of Love’s all-purpose yardage so far.
Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, saw his odds dip from 10/1 to 16/1 after a road loss at NC State on Thursday night.
Coming off a monster performance against Iowa, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is now the new leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman Trophy, according to Bovada at least.
Bovada’s weekly updated Heisman odds put Barkley atop the Heisman board with 7/4 odds. He moves ahead of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, USC quarterback Sam Darnold, and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville, and separates himself from Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Barkley has rushed for 518 yards with four rushing touchdowns in the first four weeks of the season. That alone would not be worthy of such high Heisman praise, of course, but Barkley has shown how good he is by contributing to the Penn State passing game. Barkley currently leads the Big Ten with 23 receptions and a conference-leading 335 receiving yards. Barkley has also added some yards on special teams returns, although he has not broken loose for a significant kickoff return just yet.
Barkley is not the only running back moving up Bovada’s board, however. Stanford running back Bryce Love went from 66/1 up to 33/1 following a big performance against UCLA. LOve is currently the nation’s leading rusher.
Two players were dropped from the Bovada board this week. Ohio State freshman running back J.K. Dobbins went from having 25/1 odds last week to off the board this week. I’m not entirely sure why Dobbins fell off the map so quickly, but he’ll have a chance to pop back on the board in the coming weeks. LSU running back Derrius Guice also fell off the board this week after having 50/1 odds last week.
After Week 3 of college football has been given time to settle in and reflected upon, Bovada still feels Alabama is the clear favorite to win the national championship this season. But that confidence was shaken a tiny bit after the performance turned in by Clemson at Louisville on Saturday. While Alabama’s national title odds of 2/1 are still heavily in Alabama’s favor, the Tigers crept up a bit this week.
Alabama’s national title odds were listed at 7/4 a week ago and have now been dropped to just 2/1. Clemson improved their title odds from 14/1 to 11/2 following a thorough road win at Louisville for a second straight win against a ranked opponent. Despite being 3-0, USC saw their odds drop slightly from 6/1 to 7/1 over the weekend, while Oklahoma stayed firm with 8/1 odds.
Ohio State saw their odds improve too, going from 8/1 to 17/2 this weekend. Oklahoma State is right behind the Buckeyes with 9/1 odds, followed by Penn State at 12/1 and Michigan at 20/1.
Mississippi State jumped onto the board this week following their blowout of LSU and are now listed with 40/1 odds. Six teams came off the board this week: Colorado, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, South Carolina, and UCLA.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is currently Bovada’s favorite for the Heisman Trophy with 7/4 odds. Louisville quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is tied for second-best odds with USC’s Sam Darnold at 11/2. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph share the same 9/1 odds as well. Players jumping from off the board include Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins (40/1)m Oregon’s Royce Freeman (25/1) and Justin Herbert (25/1), and Stanford running back Bryce Love (66/1).
(Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley was not dropped from the board as posted in this tweet, but his odds went down)