Sam “Heisman” Darnold
“And the winner is … Sam Darnold!”
As the audience screams and shouts in celebration of Darnold’s 2017 Heisman Trophy victory, he climbs victoriously and humbly onstage to shake the hands of his predecessors. Sam Darnold — college football’s new Heisman Trophy winner.
Darnold is, in fact, favorite to win the coveted title next year (4–1), closely followed by 2016 winner Lamar Jackson (13/2) and other nominees Baker Mayfield (13/2) and Jalen Hurts (10/1). He had an incredible season, which he played second fiddle to Max Browne who really embodied what I will call a “bust.” After leading the Trojans to a 1–2 start, head coach Clay Helton strategically decided to start Darnold over Browne, a choice that ultimately changed the fate of USC football.
Darnold’s resume speaks for itself. After a 31–27 loss in his first start to Utah, the Trojans would go on a 9-game win streak and one of the greatest Rose Bowl comeback victories of all time. The young stud finished the season with a 67.2% passing completion, 3086 total passing yards, 31 touchdowns, and a 161.1 passer rating. Truly a remarkable feat considering he started the season as a red-shirt freshman and truly had to battle for a starting gig at the start of the season.
Something that these numbers may not show, though, is his professional, mature handling of the game — otherwise known as his “clutch gene.” For anyone who has witnessed the greatness that took place on the Rose Bowl field in Pasadena against Penn State. In a stellar 52–49 victory, USC coaches, players, fan, and opponents all began the cementing of a star in Sam Darnold, if his season did not say so for itself. With a Rose Bowl title under his belt in his first season as a starter, Darnold also broke Vice Young’s total yard record with 473 total yards.
Darnold’s “golden boy” of an arm does tremendous feats for this team. But what stands out more to me than his almost effortless passing ability is his calm demeanor on the field. The most notable play for me throughout the entire season was his scramble touchdown pass against Colorado. After fumbling a snap and what looked to be a near catastrophe (AKA a sack for a loss), Darnold recovers the football running down to USC end zone while being chased by two Buffalos. Trojans at the edge of their seat, eyes not blinking to miss a one of Darnold’s steps, he miraculously airs the ball to Petite, who then dives in for a touchdown. Plays like this, which were not one in a million, are the most notable and become the building blocks of a Heisman-worthy career.
Granted Darnold will not have Juju Smith-Schuster to throw to, he elevates the offense and there is no one more exciting to watch than the Trojan quarterback. We know where the destination is (a Heisman trophy), now we can just enjoy the journey.