Sam Darnold will be a Heisman favorite entering 2017

Simply put, the Rose Bowl was a phenomenal game. It featured the type of effort from two clubs that resulted in a number of records falling, and it made us remember why we love these bowl games in the first place. USC’s 52-49 win over Penn State was everything that is great about college football.

But while all the focus on Monday night is on the return of the Trojans — a team that could very well begin next year ranked in the preseason Top 5 — there was something else that can’t be ignored: Sam Darnold is an early 2017 Heisman front-runner. If reigning winner Lamar Jackson is the favorite, Darnold will have to be on the short list right behind him.

For starters, Darnold will come in with plenty of hype, following Monday’s record-setting Rose Bowl performance. To say that the redshirt freshman was spectacular would be an understatement. He was quite literally “historically great,” setting a number of Rose Bowl records, including most passing touchdowns, most points scored and most total yards. That last stat broke Vince Young’s historic 2006 BCS national championship game performance against, ironically, USC.

So Darnold will come back with plenty of hype, and if this season was any indication, he should be able to back it up. For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding what Darnold did on Monday, the simple truth is that he’s basically been that good all season. After taking over for Max Browne following the Trojans’ 1-2 start, Darnold went 9-1 as a starter, losing his first game and ripping off nine straight wins after that. In the process, he put up numbers in 10 games that most quarterbacks couldn’t match in a season. He threw for 31 touchdowns on the year, including three different games with at least five TD scores. In every game he started, Darnold threw at least two touchdown passes.

And finally, Darnold won’t have to do it alone. The Trojans have a stacked roster next year, including 1,000-yard rusher Ronald Jones, as well as Deontay Burnett, who had three touchdown catches in the Rose Bowl. The defense returns most of its key pieces, including leading tackler Cameron Smith (who was thrown out of Monday’s game).

Add it all up, and there are a lot of reasons for Trojans fans to be excited heading into 2017. There also are plenty of reasons to believe that Darnold will be hoisting some extra hardware at season’s end.