Which Big Ten players will be legitimate 2017 Heisman Trophy contenders?

Which Big Ten players will be legitimate 2017 Heisman Trophy contenders?

This year’s Heisman Trophy race basically was over before it even started.

Lamar Jackson raced out to a huge lead in September and coasted to victory in one of the most anticlimactic Heisman competitions in recent memory Saturday night in New York. Jackson received 2,144 votes, 620 more than runner-up Deshaun Watson of Clemson. Michigan do-it-all star Jabrill Peppers finished fifth (208).

Yes, it was that simple for the Louisville quarterback, even despite the Cardinals losing two of their last three games. The 6-3, 205-pound Jackson opened with four monster games in September, passing for 13 TDs and rushing for 12 while piling up wins, yards, headlines and accolades. Could anyone catch him? Nope.

Jackson, Louisville’s first Heisman winner, hasn’t even had time to pose for all his pictures before some began to wonder: Can the true sophomore win the Heisman again in 2017? Hmmm. The only player to win two Heismans, of course, is Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1974-75. Several have tired, and all have failed, to join Griffin’s “fraternity of one.” Jackson will have lots of competition next season. And, one of his main competitors may be Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, assuming he returns to Ann Arbor.

In fact, the Big Ten will have no shortage of top contenders next season. While Peppers will be at the top of the list, once again assuming the junior opts to return for his senior season, there will be others to keep an eye on in 2017.

Penn State QB Trace McSorley, junior to be. He has been a revelation running the new spread offense of coordinator Joe Moorhead, ranking No. 1 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. McSorley is hitting 57 percent of his passes for 3,360 yards with 25 TDs and just five picks. He also is No. 1 in the league in total offense, averaging 285.5 yards. Best of all: He led PSU to the Big Ten title. Augmenting the 6-1, 201-pound McSorley’s Heisman hopes will be the return of lots of skill talent (RB Saquon Barkley, WRs Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, DaeSean Hamilton, TE Mike Gesicki) in State College, Pa., as well as the continued development of the line. His future is mega bright.

Penn State RB Saquon Barkley, junior to be. He won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors, Big Ten Running Back of the Year and the Silver Football from the Chicago Tribune in what was a sensational 2016. Barkley is No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing (100.2), running 247 times for 1,302 yards with a league-best 16 TDs. And he did all of this behind an offensive line that’s still a work in progress. The 5-11, 223-pound Barkley may be the top running back in America next season and already ranks among the best backs ever at Penn State, a place that has produced the likes of Franco Harris, Curt Warner, Blair Thomas, Curtis Enis and Ki-Jana Carter, among others.

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett, senior to be. He has a resume that glistens, earning Big Ten Quarterback of the Year honors and the Silver Football from the Chicago Tribune in 2016. The 6-2, 222-pound Barrett is a tremendous leader who is a perfect triggerman for the Buckeye offense. He has hit 61 percent of his passes for 2,428 yards with 24 TDs and five picks to go along with 847 yards rushing with nine TDs. No player in America means more to his team than Barrett.

Ohio State RB/WR Curtis Samuel, senior to be. He is one of the most dynamic players in the nation. In fact, he’s the only player with over 800 yards receiving (822) and 700 yards rushing (704) in 2016. The 5-11, 197-pound Samuel is a big play waiting to happen.

Looking for a few dark horse candidates? Here you go:

Wisconsin RB Bradrick Shaw, sophomore to be. He is the heir to the Badger running back throne, the next “great one” who looks poised for a monster 2017 behind a line that returns all of it starters. Shaw has 457 yards rushing this season behind Corey Clement, who is a senior.

Michigan QB Wilton Speight, senior to be. At one point this season, Jim Harbaugh touted Speight as a Heisman contender. He is hitting 62 percent of his passes for 2,375 yards with 17 TDs and six interceptions. Speight could become big-time in 2017 but will be working with new wideouts and without tight end Jake Butt.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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