We are done with the regular season and it appears we will have a near-unanimous Heisman winner. Joe Burrow has so thoroughly earned the Heisman that it’s almost boring to talk about him. Instead, let’s talk about who is and who isn’t a finalist contender.
Pac-12 broadcasts love to pretend the Pac-12 is important, so it shouldn’t have been surprising when they pretended that Tyler Huntley is a Heisman contender. The Utah QB has been excellent this season and is a major reason why Utah might make the College Football Playoff. But he hasn’t carried the Utes to the Pac-12 title, not remotely. He’s not anywhere near the top 5 for the Heisman, and may not even finish top 10. He’s a really good QB who efficiently moves the chains for a methodical offense, but let’s give him all-conference honors and call it a day.
Unlike Huntley, team success is the only reason Chuba Hubbard won’t be a Heisman finalist. The Oklahoma State running back is the most prolific rusher in the nation as he has 1936 yards (1st in the nation) and 21 touchdowns (2nd). He’s been better than Jonathan Taylor, statistically, and has helped carry an explosive Pokes offense. Admittedly, Taylor garners finalist consideration because he is everything for Wisconsin, and he has nearly 6,000 career rushing yards to give him benefit of the doubt. I still think Hubbard has been better this season and is underrated in the national dialogue.
Tua Tagovailoa should be a finalist, but his season-ending hip injury doomed his chances. He was so insanely good when he was healthy that he deserves some votes, a la Dennis Dixon finishing 5th place in 2007 after tearing his ACL. Likewise, co-preseason favorite Trevor Lawrence has come on strong, but his poor start to the season eliminated him after three games. Those are the two best pro prospects in college football (health permitting for Tua), and probably the two best quarterbacks straight up, but they understandably won’t get invited to the ceremony.
5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
Jonathan Taylor is fifth on this ranking, but I doubt he’s invited to the ceremony. I went with a top-5, but I’m guessing only four (maybe three) players will be invited. Taylor is as prolific as they come. By the end of the Big Ten Championship, he will likely have over 6,000 career rushing yards and 50 rushing touchdowns. He still has one more year of eligibility and would very likely break Ron Dayne’s all-time record of 2034 rushing yards. He benefits from narrative as he is synonymous with Wisconsin’s success, although his importance may be overrated slightly as they have won big even in his down games.
4. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
Jalen Hurts became the Heisman favorite in the early stages of the season, but he has since come back down to earth. He’s been lethal as a two-way threat for Oklahoma and has put up crazy stats (3,347 passing yards, 31 passing TDs, 1,217 rushing yards, 18 rushing TDs) for an elite offense. He might even make the Playoff if Oklahoma blowout Baylor in the Big 12 Championship. But still, he’s slowed down after a torrid start, particularly once teams started taking advantage of his aggressiveness. Hurts should still be a finalist, but it’s difficult to compete with the three names above him.
3. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Justin Fields still has another year at Ohio State, so he may just be getting started. The Georgia transfer has been phenomenal as a dual-threat playmaker. He doesn’t quite have the raw stats of Hurts, but it’s because Lincoln Riley’s offense exists on an entirely different plane, and Ohio State has been involved in so many blowouts that Fields has played one meaningful fourth quarter. Fields has still posted a 37:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (!) and has 10 rushing scores. He’s less stats and more a model of peak efficiency in an offense that may be balanced to perfection.
2. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
After Ndamukong Suh finished fourth place in 2009, it was clear that no defender would ever again sniff a Heisman. Chase Young’s Heisman campaign was doomed from the start, then he missed two games for an NCAA infraction. Nonetheless, he’s been the best player in college football, full stop. He’s an absolute freak on the edge. No one has his size (6’5, 270) with his explosiveness, bend and technical ability. More so than just his NFL potential, he has put up ridiculous numbers (16.5) while being the most disruptive player in college football. If Ohio State wins the National Championship, it will be because he wreaked havoc on the opposing offenses.
1. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
Young has been the better player, but Joe Burrow very much deserves the Heisman. He has come out of nowhere to lead a resurgent LSU offense to a likely spot in the Playoff. His accuracy is unreal as he’s completed a nation-high 78.3% of his passes — passes that are thrown into tight coverage and consist largely of deep passes. It helps that LSU created a scheme to put their players in open space — it turns out scheming receivers to be wide open is a good thing — but they needed a passer like Burrow to make next-level throws. The Tigers will face Georgia in the SEC Championship in what will be Burrow’s biggest test this season. With a Playoff berth and Heisman on the line, he will continue to ball out on the big stage.