It’s All in the Repetition

Sam Darnold. Baker Mayfield. J.T. Barrett. Saquon Barkley. Those were four of the top-five preseason candidates to win this year's Heisman trophy. The fifth is someone else you may know. He's a dynamic quarterback from Louisville. He also happens to be the reigning Heisman winner. Lamar Jackson was not buried among a bunch of contenders, but the reigning title holder wasn't the favorite either. On July 26th, the Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook had him at third on the list (behind Darnold and Mayfield). But is that too low for a young man that has gained such stature?

Jackson is just the latest Heisman winner to return to college the next year. That trend has actually happened a lot lately. In the last 10 years, six players have won the award while classified before his Junior year of eligibility (Tim Tebow started this trend back in 2007). Of the previous five underclassmen (Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram, Johnny Manziel, and Jameis Winston), Tebow ranked the best in their follow-up Heisman campaign (third behind Bradford and Colt McCoy in 2008). If Jackson wants to join Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner of the trophy, the deck is stacked against him.

I must admit ... the numbers through the first two games of last season were more eye-popping than through the same time period this season.


He didn't even play in the second half of the 2016 opener against Charlotte, which would have made a huge disparity between the timeframes. But the path to this season's success showed both similarity and progress.

Both seasons began with a non-conference foe. In 2017, they played a neutral site game (in Indianapolis) against a Purdue team that actually looks improved to "above doormat" status. That's a bit different than the 2016 starter against those same 49ers that ended up at 4-8 (surprisingly, better than what I remember) in Conference USA. The second game, in both years, put the Cardinals on the road for an ACC matchup. Again, 2017 appears to win out, with a win over an established (and decent) North Carolina program trumping a 2016 victory over a clearly rebuilding Syracuse program. Now up comes similarity No. 3.

Last season, the second-ranked Florida State Seminoles came to Louisville. It was a game that drew the attention of the country. How would this high-flying offense fare against an athletic, potentially dominant defense. Thanks to a big day on the ground (146 rush yards, 4 rush TDs), Jackson vaulted up the postseason awards lists, going from a novel story to a blossoming sensation. There was a couple of lulls during 2016. But with that start, how could there not be?

This coming Saturday, a big-time opponent comes up on the schedule again. The Clemson Tigers, ranked third in the AP poll, will put their championship defense on the line at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Missing on the chance to derail the Tigers' title hopes last season, you know that Jackson had this game in mind all offseason. The Clemson defense has looked very good, shutting down a prolific Auburn offense just this past weekend. The Cardinal signal-caller would like to show them what he showed the Seminoles a year ago.

So, what's the big difference between this season and last? A year ago, Louisville had FSU and Clemson tightly packed on the schedule (a two-in-three game stretch). This time around, there are four contests between Saturday's Clemson matchup and the one in Tallahassee (on Oct. 21st). And if he showed out against Purdue and UNC, imagine what Jackson might have in store for the "other States" (Kent, Murray, N.C.) and Boston College. It could be very intriguing to watch the potential eye-popping numbers just around the bend.

Yes, Lamar Jackson was not installed as the Heisman favorite in 2017. But the road to getting there has a familiar start. And, this time, we won't be as taken aback.

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