Analyzing the 2019 Heisman Race

Heading into Week 10 of the college football season, three quarterbacks have separated themselves from the pack in vying for the 2019 Heisman Trophy, and the second half of the season is shaping up to be one of the most memorable in the award’s recent history.

Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts was the leader in the clubhouse after five games, having picked up Lincoln Riley’s offensive system even better than the most optimistic fan could have hoped for after transferring from Alabama. The senior transfer has put up video game numbers and won his first Red River Shootout against Texas, but OU’s stumble against Kansas State dealt Hurts’ Heisman chances a serious blow.

A competitor of Hurts’ is his former Alabama teammate Tua Tagovailoa. Tua is making every opponent’s defensive coordinator’s head spin at this point, having thrown for 2,166 yards with 27 TDs thus far. He’s accounted for at least four TDs in every game, besting Hurts, while putting on clinics against the Power 5 teams he’s faced. It’s hard to see Tua getting fazed by any road environment at this point.

Finally, the shocking addition to the group is LSU’s senior signal-caller Joe Burrow. An Ohio State transfer, Burrow had a quiet 2,894-yard, 16-TD debut campaign for the Tigers last season, but has taken his play to another stratosphere with the hiring of passing game coordinator Joe Brady to the LSU staff. With Brady, a former New Orleans Saints assistant, Burrow has thrown for 2,805 yards to this point while completing 78.4% of his passes for the 8-0 Tigers. He also has the best winning performance of the trio of favorites, a 45-38 outdueling of Sam Ehlinger in Austin, but LSU’s undefeated season will be put on the line again this weekend against Alabama. If Burrow can continue his unbelievable play after seeing off Texas, Auburn, and Florida already, it’s hard not to see him taking home the hardware.

I’d tab Tagovailoa as my prediction to win the Heisman at year’s end. While Hurts could put up video-game numbers throughout the rest of the season, the college football media is notoriously fickle, like when they awarded the Heisman to Matt Leinart instead of fellow Sooner Adrian Peterson in 2004, largely because Peterson was a true freshman. I’d have a hard time believing they would vote for three straight Oklahoma quarterbacks – at what point do we just give Lincoln Riley the award?

Who the voters will give the nod may come down to the LSU-Alabama game on November 9th. The voters do love themselves an SEC Heisman winner (like Derrick Henry’s undeserving win over Christian McCaffrey, and Mark Ingram’s arguable one over Toby Gerhart), and this game should serve as a great proxy for what we might be able to expect in the de facto SEC Championship game. After Georgia and Wisconsin’s shocking losses to massive underdogs, it’s looking more and more likely that we could have a two-bid SEC West in the College Football Playoff. If that happens, since the Heisman is voted on before postseason play, the award will likely go to the QB of the Bama-LSU winner. Why Tagovailoa over Burrow, then? Because, just like Virginia in March Madness, we don’t predict it (the Tigers downing Alabama) until it actually happens.  Additionally, Nick Saban has coached a pair of Heisman winners, while Ed Orgeron and Brady are in uncharted territory with Burrow. It’s tight, but there are a few signs pointing the Tide’s direction that I’ll back Tua right now.

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