Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley put on a show at the Rose Bowl last season and established themselves as two of the biggest stars in college football coming into 2017.
The two Heisman Trophy contenders highlight the first preseason All-America team in the history of The Associated Press.
Darnold passed for 453 yards and five touchdowns in USC’s 52-49 victory over the Nittany Lions. The sophomore comes into this season leading No. 4 USC on a nine-game winning streak.
“Obviously there are some grand expectations for him, but he’s welcomed those,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “That’s part of being a USC quarterback. That’s why you come to USC. You’re the face of the program and you’re the leader of the program.”
Barkley ran for 194 yards and scored three touchdowns against USC.
“He’s one of the rare guys that if you were building a Frankenstein running back, he’d pretty much have a check mark in pretty much every box,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I guess that’s what makes him special and that’s what makes him different.”
The AP All-America team is the longest-running annual honor roll of the nation’s top college football players, dating to 1925, and is usually released after the season.
Darnold was voted to the first team by a panel of 51 Top 25 voters, edging out Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, who is the second-team quarterback on the lists released Tuesday.
Joining Darnold and Barkley in the backfield is LSU running back Derrius Guice, who spent the last two seasons as backup to former All-America Leonard Fournette.
The first-team defense is led by two players who were postseason All-Americans in 2016: Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who made it to the first team as a freshman last season, and Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. Florida State placed two defensive backs on the first-team with cornerback Tavarus McFadden and safety Derwin James, who missed most of last year with a knee injury.
ACC — 7 players.
SEC — 5.
Big Ten — 4.
Pac-12 — 4.
Big 12 — 3.
American — 1.
Independent — 1.
Washington linebacker Azeem Victor is another preseason All-American coming back from an injury. Like James, Victor blew out his knee, though his injury came in November in Washington’s only regular-season loss against USC. Victor seemed to be on his way to an All-America season last year. He was leading the Huskies with 68 tackles when he went down.
— Washington State guard Cody O’Connell was the only offensive player selected to the first team who was also a 2016 All-American.
— Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky, who was second in the nation last season with a 47.7-yard average, was selected to the first team after being an All-American last year.
Quarterback — Sam Darnold, sophomore, Southern California.
Running backs — Saquon Barkley, junior, Penn State; Derrius Guice, junior, LSU.
Tackles — Orlando Brown, junior, Oklahoma; Connor Williams, junior, Texas.
Guards — Quenton Nelson, senior, Notre Dame; Cody O’Connell, senior, Washington State.
Center — Billy Price, senior, Ohio State.
Tight end — Mike Gesicki, junior, Penn State.
Wide receivers — James Washington, senior, Oklahoma State; Christian Kirk, junior, Texas A&M.
All-purpose player — Quadree Henderson, junior, Pittsburgh.
Kicker — Daniel Carlson, senior, Auburn.
Ends — Harold Landry, senior, Boston College; Bradley Chubb, senior, North Carolina State.
Tackles — Ed Oliver, sophomore, Houston; Dexter Lawrence, sophomore, Clemson.
Linebackers — Arden Key, junior, LSU; Josey Jewell, senior, Iowa; Azeem Victor, senior, Washington.
Cornerbacks — Tavarus McFadden, junior, Florida State; Jaire Alexander, junior, Louisville.
Safeties — Derwin James, junior, Florida State; Minkah Fitzpatrick, junior, Alabama.
Punter — Mitch Wishnowsky, junior, Utah.
Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham contributed to this story.