Houston, TX- Now that the dust has settled in the close Heisman Trophy race in the 2018-2019 football season between former Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray and current Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, it’s time to look ahead.
With the 2019-20 NCAA football campaign kicking off on Sat. Oct 24, 2019, the time is now to predict who’s going to be this year’s Heisman trophy winner. Now, of course any pre-dictions made in the preseason in any sport is solely based on that particular player’s previous season performance as well as a detailed look at how that player is going to look in present tense.
Factoring in talent above everything else, quality of play, and ability to impress voters in marquee games, let’s take a look at the top 5 candidates for this year’s Heisman Trophy. You may think it’s too early to predict, but where’s the fun in that?
5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
It goes without saying that anytime a RB who led the entire nation in rushing yards returns for senior year competition must be considered in the Heisman conversation. Last season, Taylor rushed for 2,194 yards and 16 touchdown, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. The closest RB to Taylor in terms of yardage last season was former Memphis RB Darrell Henderson who now plays for the LA Rams. With the help of his offensive line whom are mostly returning from last season, Taylor has an opportunity to break Wisconsin’s single season rushing record set by Melvin Gordon in 2014.
The last time a RB won the Heisman trophy was in 2015 when Derrick Henry was rewarded for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdown on the ground. And the last time was a Heisman trophy winner from the Big 10 was in 2006 when QB Troy Smith had the second largest voting margin in Heisman voting. Jonathan Taylor could be the x-factor that brings the Heisman trophy back to the Big 12.
4. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
As a freshman in 2017, Ehlinger shared the starting QB spot with Shane Buechele. He appeared in 9 games and completed 57% of his passes as Head Coach Tom Herman was likely undecided as to who would be the starting QB heading into the 2018 football season. A hip injury in the Texas Bowl victory over Missouri on Jan 17, 2018 and a shoulder injury in the season’s opener against Maryland by Buechele made Hermon’s decision easier than expected. Last season, Sam lead the longhorns to 10 victories that included an impressive 48-45 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the Red River Showdown. To add to his impressive performance, Ehlinger completed 64.3% of his passes for 3,127 yards, 25 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. Not to mention 418 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
With Oklahoma losing 2018 Heisman winning quarterback, even though he’s being replaced by Jalen Hurts, Lincoln Riley still has to figure out the offense is going to function in the absence of Murray. West Virginia no longer has Will Grier, which means the Big 12 can be wide open for Sam Ehlinger. Who knows, the Heisman may wear the burnt orange again.
3. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
Hurts’ college football journey has already been one to make a movie about, and the ending hasn’t even been written. The former Alabama star has been the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, SEC Freshman of the Year, and he’s been benched. He’s been criticized for his lack of accuracy on down-field throws, and glorified for replacing an injured Tua Tagovailoa who led a come-from-behind win in the SEC title game against Georgia.
He’ll now close his college career at OU under Lincoln Riley, who has produced two consecutive Heisman Trophy winners with quarterbacks who transferred in just like Hurts. We cannot ignore the fact that 2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech and 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray transferred from Texas A&M. If Hurts is a more consistent passer in OU’s explosive offense than he was at UA, he could end his block-buster story in a way none of us would have ever dreamed of.
2. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
It’s no secret that the best pure passer in the college football this season wasn’t in the race a year ago, in part because he didn’t take over the starting job until Week 5 where he completed 10 out of 15 of his passes for 93 yards that contributed to their 27-23 victory over Syracuse. From there, however, the freshman played like a seasoned senior in leading the Tigers to 11 consecutive wins and a national championship win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff where he nearly tied his season-high with 347 yards through the air.
Despite playing behind the now-transferred Kelly Bryant for a month, Lawrence finished the year with robust totals of 3,280 yards, 30 TDs and only four interceptions. On the outside, he has two explosive and experienced receivers in Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins, and behind him, a top-flight running back in Travis Etienne to take the pressure off and keep defenses more honest. Lawrence with get a full season along with veteran head coach Dabo Swinney to prove that he belongs in this year’s Heisman conversation.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
The journey for this young QB could not have been sweeter. As last year’s Heisman runner-up, Tagovailoa earned 299 first-place votes — and in the wake of finishing second, he outplayed the winner Kyler Murray in a College Football Playoff semifinal where he completed 88% of his passes for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns.
If that isn’t enough to predict the junior’s name to preseason front-runner status, let’s throw in college football’s most talented corps of wide receivers that he’ll have access to. Tagovailoa’s top four targets from a record-setting 2018 are all back, including Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy who caught 68 passes for 1,315 yards.
Tagovailoa’s production totals suffered last year due to the fact that he spent the majority of second halves watching his backup polish off Alabama blowout wins, and this year will likely be no different. The only blemish on Tua’s record is the embarrassing 44-16 loss to Clemson in the 2018 National Champion game. Assuming Heisman voters don’t penalize him for that, his candidacy couldn’t look much stronger heading into the 2019-20 campaign.