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Almost every Heisman race is a tight one, with few exceptions. This year’s Heisman Trophy race will prove to be no different. There are the several obvious candidates that will shine as well as some dark horse candidates with a realistic shot at winning.

Despite the plethora of contenders, there are a couple of names that top every list of betting odds to win the Heisman. Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett top almost every list.

Also frequenting the lists are names like Mason Rudolph, Deondre Francois and Saquon Barkley. The list goes on with the ever-exciting dark horse candidates such as Quinton Flowers and Cam Akers.

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Here are the reasons why each of the top four players has what it takes to bring home the trophy.

Sam Darnold — QB, USC

Although it’s definitely early, Sam Darnold emerges as the clear favorite for the Heisman crown. His name has been on everyone’s radar since the second half of last season, when he won USC’s last nine games and won the Rose Bowl for the Trojans.

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In his starting season, Darnold threw for 3,086 yards, completed 67.2 percent of his 366 attempted passes and threw for 31 touchdowns. This is an impressive feat on its own and it becomes even more impressive when one considers that he only threw nine interceptions throughout the entire season.

As a relatively inexperienced quarterback, these numbers spoke to Darnold’s poise on the field and natural talent at his position.

Add Darnold’s talent to USC’s less-than-tough schedule and he’s a recipe for Heisman success.

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Lamar Jackson — QB, Louisville 

Although Lamar Jackson’s name still shows up near the top of every list, the defending Heisman champion has a tough crown to defend as he goes up against USC favorite Sam Darnold.

Jackson’s 2016 run was nothing short of miraculous. He ended the season with 3,543 passing yards, 1,571 rushing yards and 51 aggregate touchdowns.

What’s more? Jackson is new and improved, according to both himself and his team. A better Jackson would usually mean another Heisman, but with Darnold as a contender there are no guarantees.

In addition, Louisville may be looking towards some tough times. Their schedule isn’t easy and they lost many of their key starters.

If Jackson wants to take his team to glory, he will have to shoulder even more responsibility, but one should not discount him as he is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in history.

Baker Mayfield — QB, Oklahoma 

One can’t have a 2017 Heisman discussion without talking about Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech to Oklahoma after the 2013 season, sat out a year, and then entered the fray. In 2015 and 2016, he had standout seasons passing for 3,700 yards in 2015 and 3,965 the following year. What’s more impressive is his deadly accuracy—he had a 70.9 percent completion rate in 2016 while only throwing eight interceptions.

The Oklahoma quarterback is a favored runner-up for the Heisman and for good reason. He’s poised for another breakout year, but some have misgivings because of the departure of Bob Stoops and some key players on the Sooners’ offense.

However, the offensive line is shaping up to be one of Oklahoma’s best. That kind of protection will give Mayfield plenty of time to make his way to the Heisman podium.

J.T. Barrett — QB, Ohio State

The college football fan won’t hear nearly as much Heisman hype around Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, but a good case can be made for the Buckeye.

Many expected Barrett to have a breakout year in 2016, but he didn’t deliver. While he threw for 2,555 yards and 24 touchdowns, these stats weren’t quite up to snuff to be seriously considered for the trophy. This season, however, oddsmakers think that he’ll transform into one of the top candidates.

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The secret is in the new additions to the OSU squad. The Buckeyes come into the season with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day.

Will Urban Meyer’s star break his Heisman drought and take home the trophy? He has a lot of competition and will need Ohio State to stay on top of the rankings all year.

There are several more candidates who deserve serious consideration for the trophy, but one thing is clear about this upcoming year. It will be an exciting race to the finish line. Whoever wants to win the Trophy will have to put up record numbers to even be considered.

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Nicholai Babis is a sophomore International Studies major at Vassar College. He specializes in College Football. He is a lifelong Seminoles fan, as well as a Rays fan and a Tampa Bay Bucs fan. He grew up in Tampa, Florida. He is a co-owner of the JR report and works for Athletics at Vassar College. He is the college football contributor at the JR Report. Follow Nicholai on twitter @nibabis . Hit him up if you want to discuss CFB, NFL, golf, tennis, and more.
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