Heading into the 2016 college football season it is nearly impossible to overstate just how much known star power we have returning to the field this fall. There simply are not enough regional and alternate covers of preview magazines to cover them all, but ESPN The Magazine did a decent job with their four covers.
I’m not sure how many people actually subscribe to or read ESPN The Magazine. I know the only reason I am a subscriber is because I found a dirt cheap subscription offer and it came with free ESPN Insider access, so I figured it was worth a couple of bucks each year. When the magazine come sin the mail, it actually makes a quick move to the recycling bin. There is one notable exception though, and that is the annual college football preview issue. This one at least gets a quick glance and is store don the book shelf next to my copies of Athlon Sports previews and Phil Steele’s annual preview magazine. I find it fun to go back at the end of the year and see what predictions went horribly wrong and which ones turned out to look pretty good.
We;ll have to wait a few more months to see if any of ESPN’s magazine predictions come true, but it is probably safe to say they included some heavy favorites in the Heisman Trophy race on their four covers this season. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma‘s Baker Mayfield all ended up on a cover for ESPN The Magazine‘s preview issue this season. McCaffrey, Fournette and Watson seem like consensus preseason picks to make it to New York, and Mayfield is certainly in the discussion.
It might come as a slight surprise to see Alabama did not make the cover this year. With the Crimson Tide coming off a national championship season, ESPN certainly is selling Alabama to be the team to beat once again this fall. Alabama comes out on top of the ESPN preseason ranking, as noted on the cover, but it is fair to suggest Alabama does not have a bonafide star player that the masses around the college football nation know the way they may be familiar with the players that do appear on the cover. And besides, the SEC is already represented on the cover by LSU’s Fournette.
Fournette was the popular preseason pick for the Heisman Trophy heading into the 2015 college football season, and for two months he was the clear frontrunner in the race. That is, of course, until he fumbled the Heisman Trophy against Alabama and Derrick Henry picked it up and ran all the way to New York with it. Fournette and LSU’s championship hopes and Heisman Trophy plans were stomped on by Alabama in Tuscaloosa last November, but I anticipate a bit of a revenge factor fueling Fournette and the Tigers this season. Fournette is the guy I am going with as my official Heisman Trophy pick for the 2016 season (Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is my second pick and the guy I tell people to pay attention to, especially if he leads the Buckeyes to a road win at Oklahoma against Mayfield).
I am not nearly as sold on Mayfield being a Heisman Trophy favorite the way some others are this season, but there is no denying he belongs in the preseason discussion if we are to jump on the Heisman Trophy conversation before anybody plays a single down this season. Sure, his last game against Clemson in the College Football Playoff leaves something to be desired, but he should be more than capable of putting up big numbers in the Big 12 this season and help lead the Sooners on a Big 12 title run. Mayfield will have some early spotlight games too, with a season opener against Houston and a home game against Ohio State a couple of weeks later.
Watson’s cover may be the coolest. It certainly has the swag factor down like no other. Sporting some shades and Clemson’s brand new football uniform complete with paw prints on the shoulders, Watson has the cool factor down and appears to be having the best time posing for his cover shot. Watson is the best player in the ACC, I believe, but he may not play on the best team in the ACC. That would be Florida State, who also features a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Dalvin Cook. Cook was the only Seminole to really show up against Clemson last year. This year, those roles could be reversed in Tallahassee when the two top ACC contenders clash once again.
What is noteworthy about ESPN’s various covers is they each say “The Heisman starts here…” with the cover athlete profiled. This is standard operating procedure in today’s media world, catering to various demographics to generate positive feedback. I have to ask, however, how a conversation can have four different starting points. Perhaps four different writers or analysts have different starting points. If that is the case, I feel that should be pointed out on the cover as well. But this is just a bit of minor media nitpicking.