2017 Preseason Award Projections: Walter Camp Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2017 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2018 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

The Walter Camp Award is given to the Player of the Year in college football. Last year’s winner was Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Walter Camp Award Winner:

Sam Darnold, USC

Surprisingly, Deshaun Watson didn’t win this award for the 2015 or 2016 season. He will join Tim Tebow as winning almost every other award possible but not the Walter Camp Award. In this century, only six times has the Walter Camp Award not gone to a quarterback; those other winners were Derrick Henry, Manti Te’o, Darren McFadden, Reggie Bush, Larry Fitzgerald and Larry Johnson. Thus, I’m going to stick with a quarterback. Colt McCoy is the only player this century to win it twice, so I will rule out Jackson to repeat given that track record. The Walter Camp Award has an inclination toward pro-style quarterbacks, so I’m going with Darnold over other college signal-callers.

Darnold was an extremely efficient passer last season, leading the Trojans to a 10-3 record. After a 1-2 start to the season for USC, the redshirt freshman was made the starting quarterback. He lost his first start against a good Utah team, but after that he led his team to ripping off a nine-game win streak to close out the year, including impressive wins over Colorado, Washington, and a comeback Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He should produce a big 2017 season and will have plenty of attention as perhaps the most high-profile player in college football. The Trojans have good receiving talent for Darnold to work with, and he has played at another level compared to the competition. There is no reason to think that Darnold won’t have a great year for USC and earn plenty of postseason honors. He could easily end up winning the Walter Camp Award.

Walter Camp Award Runner-Up:

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Mayfield went on a tear late in the 2015 season as he turned the Sooners’ offense into a point machine. He was a Heisman finalist who completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,700 yards with 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Mayfield also ran for 405 yards with seven scores. His effectiveness carried Oklahoma into the college playoff. In 2016, Mayfield completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,965 yards with 40 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He picked up six rushing touchdowns as well. Mayfield should produce more as a runner in 2017 as Oklahoma lost both Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to the NFL. Mayfield could easily end up winning a ton of honors like the Walter Camp Award with staggering amount of production in 2017.

Walter Camp Award Dark Horse:

Saquon Barkley, Penn State

For the dark horse, I’m picking a running back. The Walter Camp Award typically goes to quarterbacks, but occasionally a tailback has won it. The running back who I think has the best shot at winning over a quarterback for 2017 is Barkley. Entering the season, he looks like the most physically talented running back in college football with the potential be a high pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The 5-foot-11, 223-pound Barkley has good speed to go along with size, quick feet, vision, natural pad level, and elusiveness. He is a well-balanced back who is a threat to rip off runs in chunks and dominate any defense.

Barkley was superb in 2016, averaging 5.5 yards per carry on the year for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns. The sophomore also made 28 catches for 402 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver. Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley, and wide receiver Chris Godwin led an effective offense that took Penn State to the Rose Bowl in a breakout year for James Franklin’s tenure at Penn State. Barkley was also impressive as a freshman in 2015 when he averaged 5.9 yards per carry for 1,076 yards with seven touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 161 yards and a score.

Barkley will see a quality schedule with tough defenses during his 2017 slate. However, he is so physically talented that he should still be productive even with defenses selling out to stop him. Barkley is a safe bet to be one of the best offensive players in college football this coming season, and he could end up winning some honors that typically go to quarterbacks, like the Walter Camp Award.

Honorable Mentions: LSU RB Derrius Guice, Georgia RB Nick Chubb, UCLA QB Josh Rosen, Washington State QB Luke Falk, Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph, Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald, Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham, Marshall QB Chase Litton, Memphis QB Riley Ferguson and Florida State QB Deondre Francois.

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