Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson deservedly won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, and the Big Ten has now officially gone a decade since one of its players last won college football's most prestigious individual award.
Michigan's do-it-all star Jabrill Peppers fared admirably, finishing fifth, but he came nowhere close to becoming the Big Ten's first winner since Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006.
So with another year gone by and another Heisman awarded to someone from outside the Big Ten, let's turn to next year. Which players have the best chances of ending the drought?
Well, what about Peppers? He played more than 900 snaps this season at 15 different positions and took home a whole case of loot from the Big Ten, earning the conference's Defensive Player of the Year, Linebacker of the Year and Return Specialist of the Year honors. All that versatility is great, but the Heisman is real hard to win as a primarily defensive player, hurting Peppers' 2017 chances. But the main sticking point is whether Peppers will be eligible for the award in 2017. An NFL player, after all, can't win the Heisman. A redshirt sophomore, Peppers is draft eligible following Michigan's bowl game, and he figures to be a lock for a first-round pick. But he did have some interesting comments in an interview after the Heisman ceremony on Saturday.
"I was just happy to be there. When you have talent like that in a room, and just to have my name incorporated with it, it definitely meant a lot," he said. "I had fun. It was a tremendous experience. I wish I could do it again, hopefully I can do it again."
Again, huh? Now, that could very well be just some thrill-of-the-moment-type stuff. Or maybe Peppers is torn about leaving Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines could once again have a chance to win a national championship after narrowly missing the College Football Playoff this season.
But let's say Peppers takes off for the NFL. Who are some other guys who could potentially put an end to the Big Ten's Heisman drought?
The obvious choice, it would seem, would be J.T. Barrett, another Ohio State quarterback who will be in his senior season in 2017. Barrett was the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year this season, winning that award for the second time in three years. He passed for 2,428 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for 847 yards and nine more touchdowns. The Buckeyes, who made the Playoff with a young roster this season, will be a year older and just as talented if not more talented thanks to Urban Meyer's never-ending recruiting machine. With a sophomore version of running back Mike Weber at his side, along with a more-experienced offensive line and receiving corps, Ohio State's offense could be an unstoppable force next season, with Barrett potentially reaping Heisman-style benefits.
But heading into 2017, will Barrett be the consensus top quarterback in the conference? Penn State's Trace McSorley will be a junior and will have tons of buzz after what he was able to do in the Big Ten Championship Game, throwing for 384 yards and four touchdowns in that sensational comeback win against Wisconsin. McSorley is a big-play machine — his four touchdown passes in the title game went for 33, 40, 70 and 18 yards — and his four biggest receiving threats will all be seniors next season. McSorley might've broken out on the national stage thanks to the win over Wisconsin — and imagine how much attention he'll get if he can do something similar against red-hot USC in the Rose Bowl — but he's had a whole year of great performances to bolster his Heisman case for 2017. And with Saquon Barkley next to him and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead remaining in place, next year could be a monstrous one for the Nittany Lions' offense.
Then there's that Barkley guy. The Big Ten Running Back of the Year scored more rushing touchdowns than anyone in the league and sits just two yards off the conference's rushing lead with that aforementioned Rose Bowl game still to go. Penn State opened eyes with its ability to throw the ball this season, while Barkley remained an eye-popping mainstay after his sensational freshman campaign in 2015. He'll undoubtedly be one of the top backs in the nation heading into next season, and there's no reason why — with the help of a more-experienced offensive line and a big-play quarterback in McSorley — he shouldn't tear it up again.
Dark horses include a trio of running backs: Northwestern's Justin Jackson (who was the conference's leading rusher prior to the title game), Minnesota's Rodney Smith (who rushed for 15 touchdowns) and Ohio State's Weber (who was named the conference's Freshman of the Year).
But all these names might have to get in line behind the reigning champ. Louisville's Jackson will only be a junior next season.