There is history, both recent and decades old, at play in the 2017 Heisman Trophy hunt.
For the fourth time in the past eight years -- and just the eighth time ever -- we have the star power of two of the top three vote-getters returning in Louisville's defending trophy holder Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was third a year ago.
Then there's the task of a winner trying to join Archie Griffin as the only two-time recipients, a journey that has seemingly become more impossible in recent years.
Since Billy Sims, who was second in 1979 as the first to attempt The Archie post-Griffin, repeat bids have fallen further and further behind. Ty Detmer (1991), Jason White (2004), Matt Leinart ('05) and Tim Tebow ('08) all finished third, then Tebow was fifth in his final season of '05, Johnny Manziel was fifth in '13, and, most recently, Jameis Winston came in sixth in '14 in the worst finish ever for a returning winner whose season wasn't derailed by injury.
So where does Jackson rank among the top contenders for the '17 trophy as we wait for the season to fully get underway? The Forecaster has his top 10 -- which is without the likes of Florida State safety Derwin James and Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, because this is about who truly has the best chance to win -- and it begins with a QB who could put his school back into a tie for the most Heismans ever.
1. Sam Darnold, QB USC
The favorite per Las Vegas, though that's been perilous territory for much of the past 12 seasons. Since 2004, only two players to enter the season as the perceived leader actually came through, Leinart in '04 and Oregon's Marcus Mariota in '14. LSU's Leonard Fournette was The Desert's choice last year and didn't make the top 10 and in '15, TCU's Trevone Boykin and Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott got the summer love, with Elliott coming in eighth and Boykin 10th. Why will Darnold be different? Despite not starting until the fourth game of '16, he still managed to throw for 3,086 yards and had five TDs three times, including that epic Rose Bowl against Penn State. The Trojans figure to be in the College Football Playoff hunt with a schedule that, after September's run of four Top 25 teams (No. 14 Stanford, No. 23 Texas and No. 24 Washington State), lightens up considerably. Start fast and he could have a Jackson-in'17-like victory lap last in the season.
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2. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
In terms of being a returning finalist trying to breakthrough, there's no better position to be in than the one Mayfield is in. He was third last year behind Jackson and Clemson's Deshaun Watson, and six times a player has won a year after finishing third compared to just one runner-up since 1968 (that would be Herschel Walker in 1982). Watson was in the same position going into last season and it didn't work out, and Mayfield has gone through a coaching change, the loss of two potent running backs and Biletnikoff Award winner Dede Westbrook. But that new coach, former Sooners offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, helped guide Mayfield to throwing for 7,665 yards and 76 TDs the past two seasons. Plus, a schedule that includes a big opportunity early -- Sept. 9 at No. 2 Ohio State -- and five Top 25 teams in all gives him an enviable platform.
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3. Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville
The expectations surrounding a returning winner are astronomical, and as Jackson told the Forecaster back at ACC Kickoff in July, a little unfair. But the reality is that even if he can somehow surpass 2016's magic, when he passed for 3,543 yards, rushed for 1,571 and piled up 51 TDs, Jackson is now in the position of being judged not on his statistics, but the simple factor of whether he can turn the Cardinals into a playoff team. As broken down above, history is stacked against him, and there's the matter of Louisville needing to get better protection from a line that gave up 47 sacks (126th in FBS) and the running back position is a major question mark with quarterback-turned-wide-receiver-turned-running-back Reggie Bonnafon listed as the starter. Jackson will get votes again, to be sure, but a repeat is a long shot without a playoff spot as part of his resume.
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4. Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State
This one is tricky. Barkley could be the Nittany Lion's best bet; then again, so could QB Trace McSorley. But the bet here is that it's Barkley, the 230-pounder, who ran for 1,496 yards, had 402 more receiving and totaled 22 touchdowns. Like in professional wrestling, the concept of getting over when losing saw Darnold set the stage for his push and the same for Barkley after that 79-yard, game-tying TD run in the third quarter against the Trojans in Pasadena. The Nittany Lion's offensive line will be among the most veteran in the Big Ten with a combined 87 starts (19th most in FBS) and Barkley will benefit from McSorley and WR Juwan Johnson keeping defenses from loading up. The award has been the land of QBs, with Reggie Bush's vacated trophy in '05 leaving two RBs as recognized winners since 1999 and they were both Alabama backs (Mark Ingram in '09 and Derrick Henry in '15).
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5. Deondre Francois, QB Florida State
Amid a 3,300-yard debut season, Francois was often operating in Dalvin Cook's shadow. It's the redshirt sophomore's team now, and he'll have a big opportunity to start the season against top-ranked Alabama in Atlanta, followed by No. 18 Miami two weeks later, which could shoot him up watch lists. His accuracy is a point of interest as he hit at rates of 38.9 (Louisville), 48.6 (Clemson) and 33.3 (Michigan) in three of the Seminoles' toughest games of 2016, but still threw for the fifth-most yards in school history. The last five QBs to win averaged 4,727 total yards of offense, but the last of that mix to come in at under 4,000? Another Seminole in Jameis Winston, the '14 winner, who amassed 3,972.
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6. Jalen Hurts, QB Alabama
When it comes to RBs, the blueprint for Heisman wins and finalists under Nick Saban has been clear. Ingram won in '09 in accounting for 45 percent of the carries, Trent Richardson received 55 percent of the attempts in '11 in getting an invite to New York and in '15, Henry won with 60.4 percent of the attempts. With Damien Harris (146 tries in '16) and Bo Scarbrough (125) and (Josh Jackson (85) all back, it's difficult seeing either get to or above that 45 percent threshold. That make Hurts, the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman, the Crimson Tide's most logical hope, especially if he improves on his accuracy after posting no better than hitting at a 55 percent rate over the last three games of last season.
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7. J.T. Barrett, QB Ohio State
Like Francois, he's a QB whose numbers don't fall in line from what we've expected from a Heisman winner in this era, never totaling more than 3,772 and 45 scores in two healthy seasons. But Barrett the runner became more of a factor late last season with 105 yards against Michigan State and 125 vs. Michigan. If he can go north of 900 yards on the ground, he should be able to get closer to the numbers voters have looked for as the Buckeyes will be front and center in the CFP race, with Barrett as the poster boy. The schedule is tailor-made for a run to New York, with a big opportunity in against No. 7 Oklahoma in the home opener and two more Top-25 games in the last five weeks, No. 6 Penn State (Oct. 28) and No. 11 Michigan (Nov. 25).
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8. Mason Rudolph, QB Oklahoma State
If there is a dark horse in this race, it would appear to be Rudolph. As a junior, he threw for over 4,000 yards and there's real reason to believe he can go over 5,000 yards with the return of WR James Washington (71 catches) and Jalen McCleskey (73) and a schedule that includes just one opponent that was better than 71st against the pass and seven that were 92nd or worse. But can he and the Cowboys deliver the kind of wins that will back up those stats? That's the biggest question mark and they'll have a five-week stretch from Oct. 21 (No. 23 Texas) through Nov. 18 (No. 20 Kansas State) that will include every indication, including the Nov. 4 duel with the seventh-ranked Sooners.
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9. Derrius Guice, RB LSU
New Tigers offensive coordinator Matt Canada has helped running backs to impressive seasons, helping Melvin Gordon (2014) and Montee Ball ('11) become Heisman finalists during his time at Wisconsin. There are question marks in the LSU passing game, but there are always questions in the LSU passing. It's like asking if the jambalaya is still spicy. Canada did wonders at Pitt last season and considering what we saw out of Guice last year, when he ran for 1,249 yards and 14 TDs despite four games in which he had five or fewer carries, he enters the season as a very real threat to reach the 2,000-yard plateau. But that figure isn't a guarantee of anything anymore. Since 2002, seven players have gone over 2,000 yards and not made the ceremony, including two last season in San Diego State's Donnell Pumphrey and Texas' D'Onta Foreman.
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10. Jake Browning, QB Washington
Despite helping Washington seize a spot in the College Football Playoff last season, the final weeks of '16 did little to help Browning's Heisman case. In mid-November, he looked like a viable threat to Jackson, but then he proceeded to throw a combined four picks against USC and Arizona State in consecutive games and against Colorado in the Pac-12 title game, he had just nine completions for 118 yards and hit at 37.5 rate. Browning didn't even make it to the Heisman ceremony, then threw two picks vs. Alabama in the 24-7 loss in the Peach Bowl playoff game. He's operating in Darnold's shadow and is down dynamic wideout John Ross, but will be armed with a more than manageable schedule, with just two ranked opponents (No. 14 Stanford and No. 24 Washington State), both of which are in November and Washington avoids the Trojans until potentially the conference title game. There are plenty of weapons to play with, including the Huskies' top four rushers from a year ago, and WR Dante Pettis and his 15 TDs.