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In a QB-heavy season, all eyes are on USC sophomore Sam Darnold

USC quarterback Sam Darnold, shown here during the

USC quarterback Sam Darnold, shown here during the Rose Bowl, when he threw five TD passes to beat Penn State, is only a sophomore but is expected to be a very high pick in the next NFL Draft. Credit: Getty Images / Sean M. Haffey

It’s being called the year of the quarterback.

The college football season will feature a number of big-name and highly regarded quarterbacks spread across the country. It should be one of the most memorable seasons for quarterbacks in recent memory.

USC’s Sam Darnold, a 6-4, 225-pound sophomore from Capistrano Beach, California, is perhaps the best of the bunch. Darnold was spectacular in last season’s Rose Bowl, leading the Trojans back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Penn State in a thriller, 52-49.

Darnold threw for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, despite not getting his first start until the fourth game of the season. He threw five touchdowns in a game three times, including against the Nittany Lions.

He is a serious Heisman Trophy contender and a big reason why the Trojans could be in the mix for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Darnold has also caught the eyes of NFL teams and is expected to be a high draft pick whenever he is ready for a professional career. Expectations are high as he prepares for his first full season as a starter.

“I’ve learned a lot and there’s always more room to grow,” Darnold said last month at the Pac-12 preseason media event. “I’m going to continue to learn as the season goes on.”

Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is back at Louisville. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield is also expected to be a Heisman contender and the Sooners are a preseason top 10 team.

Darnold won’t be the only elite quarterback in the Pac-12. UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Jake Browning of Washington and Washington State’s Luke Falk figure to garner national attention, as well. Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph in the Big 12, the Big Ten duo of Penn State’s Trace McSorley and J.T. Barrett of Ohio State, and Florida State’s Deondre Francois in the ACC are other quarterbacks who should put up big numbers this season. In the SEC, watch for Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, the former starter at Baylor, and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald. Wyoming’s Josh Allen doesn’t play in a Power Five conference, but he could end up being the top pick in next spring’s NFL Draft.

That’s a lot of quarterback star power.

Jackson has been overshadowed a bit by the hype surrounding Darnold, but the junior could end up as a repeat Heisman winner. Jackson threw for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.

So what does Jackson do for an encore?

“I’m trying to win more games than last year, and the biggest goal is the national championship,” Jackson told reporters at the ACC preseason media event last month.

With USC and Oklahoma expected to compete for a playoff spot, Louisville will likely need to win more games to put Jackson in position to challenge Darnold and Mayfield for the Heisman. Louisville, which went 9-4 last season, hosts defending national champion Clemson on Sept. 16 and travels to Florida State on Oct. 21, games that will impact Jackson’s case for another Heisman.

Jackson was asked at the ACC preseason media event last month about the pressure of being a Heisman winner coming into this season.

“I don’t really worry about it,” he said. “It’s done. I have it. I’m going to every game trying to win it. I’m not worried about the Heisman Trophy or anything like that. I wasn’t trying to win it last year. It happened.”

Mayfield, a fifth-year senior, threw for 3,965 yards and 40 touchdowns last season, finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting. Mayfield won’t have running back Joe Mixon or wide receiver Dede Westbrook with him on offense, as both players are now in the NFL. Lincoln Riley took over for Bob Stoops as head coach in June. Mayfield has familiarity with his new coach since Riley had been the Sooners’ offensive coordinator.

Mayfield has also had to answer questions about his arrest in February. According to reports, Mayfield was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing.

Despite the coaching change and loss of key offensive players, Mayfield is expecting to have a big season for the Sooners.

“I feel great,” Mayfield told Fox Sports at the Big 12 preseason media event last month. “I think we’ve had a great offseason. People are talking about the coach Stoops change, but coach Riley’s done a great job. I’m comfortable knowing that we have our offensive coordinator and the guy that’s been calling plays for us. I’m really excited knowing that the defensive guys get to have a little piece of him and get to pick his brain and get to learn from him. So it’s exciting times for us. I think the team feels the energy and it’s been a great offseason because of that.”

It’s exciting times for a lot of teams with top quarterbacks around the country.

New York Sports