For the second year in a row, the SEC whiffed on sending a Heisman Trophy candidate to New York. The conference will have had zero representatives in New York since Derrick Henry won the honor in 2015.
Baker Mayfield, Bryce Love and Lamar Jackson will be the three Heisman hopefuls crashing the party this weekend, though there isn’t much of a debate who will walk away with college football’s most coveted award.
So why not move on to next year?
These are three SEC players who I think have the best chance of earning a trip to New York in 2018:
1. D’Andre Swift, Georgia RB
Let’s start with a guy who isn’t even listed on the 2-deep depth chart on his own team. Swift, of course, is the exact opposite of your typical 3rd-string tailback. He can run between the tackles, outside the tackles, he can catch passes out of the backfield, and he can go the distance.
SWIFT INDEED pic.twitter.com/Faw9APj4pf
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 3, 2017
Swift is in line for a huge workload increase when Nick Chubb and Sony Michel leave for the NFL. Those two guys got 322 carries this year, and as much as I like the shifty Elijah Holyfield, I think it’s Swift who stands to see the biggest uptick.
Keep in mind that this is a relatively young offensive line and Swift, a true freshman, already has been very efficient. Even if he doesn’t average 8.2 yards per carry as a sophomore, Swift could easily eclipse 1,500 yards rushing while picking up another few hundred yards as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He might not be on his level physically yet, but Swift’s impact could be Saquon Barkley-like in the Georgia offense.
I think offensive Jim Chaney has big plans for Swift’s future, which could include a trip to New York.
2. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn QB
So if you listened to me talk about Stidham this preseason, it might come as a bit of a surprise that I’d include him in this company. My problem with the pre-2017 Stidham hype was that a guy with 3 career starts shouldn’t have been on the short list of Heisman Trophy contenders.
After watching what Stidham did in his first full season as a starter, I’m absolutely ready to put him in that conversation.
It took awhile for the sophomore signal-caller to learn the ropes of Gus Malzahn’s offense. Entering November, Stidham had just 8 touchdown passes. He wasn’t fluent with the decision-making that came with all of the run-pass options. Since the second half of that Texas A&M game, Stidham looked like a different quarterback.
Yes, he struggled in the SEC Championship after that opening drive. Not having a healthy Kerryon Johnson had something to do with that, too. But even if Johnson leaves for the NFL, Auburn has plenty of capable backs who will establish the all-important run game next year. And now that we know Malzahn will be back, another offseason to develop Stidham should make for an even better version of the guy we saw down the stretch.
Stidham will get a ton of preseason buzz for the honor, and given the fact that his cumulative numbers haven’t been great (21 total TDs, 2,827 passing yards), it won’t be hard for him to build on his sophomore season. It’s a quarterback award, and Stidham could certainly be a household name to stay in the race throughout 2018.
3. Jalen Hurts, Alabama QB
I actually thought there was a chance that Hurts would’ve been in New York had Alabama run the table leading up to the Playoff. That didn’t happen, and Hurts’ long-shot candidacy took a hit in 2017. In 2018, however, Hurts will still have plenty working in his favor.
As long as he’s leading a national title contender and playing his usual mistake-free football, why wouldn’t the 3rd-year starter be on the short list of Heisman hopefuls? He might not be the top choice to win the award because he’s never going to be a guy who puts up Lamar Jackson-like numbers.
But there’s still plenty of room in New York for the guy who throws for 2,500 yards, runs for 1,000 yards and racks up 30 touchdowns for the No. 1 team in America. Nobody would be surprised if Hurts did that.
Would I like his odds of making it to New York a bit better if he was all aboard the Lane Train? Of course. Who wouldn’t? But in his second year with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Hurts could get even better next year. Shoot, Hurts could get even better this year.
But something tells me Hurts cares more about getting to Atlanta in a month than getting to New York in a year.
Source: Saturday Down South