It seems only fitting that in this bizarre season we get a Heisman Trophy race like this. That as we close in on Thanksgiving, as some teams have already played two-thirds of their schedule, there is no clear favorite.
There isn’t even a top two. Pick an elite quarterback — Mac Jones of Alabama, Kyle Trask of Florida, Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, Justin Fields of Ohio State — and you can make an argument why they deserve the prestigious award.
The game-changer won’t be performance — it will be survival. Who plays the most games just might determine the winner.
If not for missing two games after testing positive for COVID-19, Lawrence is likely the front-runner. The Big Ten starting late and limiting Fields to eight regular season games — and that’s only if the Buckeyes can reschedule Saturday’s canceled contest against Maryland — may have diminished his chances. Jones’ season was impacted for the first time on Saturday, when LSU-Alabama was canceled, while Trask had a three-week layoff due to positive tests at Florida. They have all been impacted one way or another.
My vote, as of now, would go in this order:
I could be swayed. I can understand ranking these four in any order. As of now, I would vote for Jones. He’s the best player on the best team, completing 78.2 percent of his passes, throwing 16 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Yet, he also may have the most talent around him and in a down SEC, hasn’t truly been tested. He did lose star receiver Jaylen Waddle to a season-ending ankle injury, and hasn’t slowed down.
Trask, in my opinion, is the most valuable of the four. He HAS to put up big numbers every week — he leads the nation with 28 touchdown passes — otherwise his team may lose due to a subpar defense.
But I wouldn’t count out Lawrence or Fields, either. Both have monster games left — Fields against undefeated Indiana on Saturday and Lawrence likely against Notre Dame in the ACC championship game — and each have been terrific as well. Fields has as many touchdown passes (11) as incompletions. Lawrence has 21 total touchdowns and two interceptions.
The SEC may give us a play-in game for the winner, if Alabama and Florida meet for the league’s title as expected. It could set up a winner-take-all game with Jones facing Trask.
Expect this race to come down to the final weekend of the season, when all four quarterbacks could be in action in their conference title games, spots in the playoff and the Heisman Trophy all on the line. Right now, very little separates the four. The only player to suffer a loss is Trask, and that was a three-point road setback to much improved Texas A&M.
The pandemic, and who can avoid further cancellations, may very well determine the winner.
King of the North’
Indiana isn’t the only Cinderella story in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers have company. Northwestern is all alone atop the Big Ten West, 4-0 for the first time since 1996, and if it can beat Wisconsin at home next Saturday, the Wildcats’ path to a stunning division crown is clear.
They do it with defense, with three second half shutouts in four games and allowing a paltry 12.0 points per game. Northwestern hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet, unless you count 2-1 Maryland or 2-1 Purdue. Undefeated Wisconsin will be a significant step up in class. Still, for a program that was picked sixth in the Big Ten West by the league’s media members and won just three games all year, this certainly wasn’t expected.
It sets up a huge Saturday in the league, with Indiana visiting Ohio State as well. If the two surprise teams prevail, it would conceivably set up the potential for an Indiana-Northwestern Big Ten title game. How very 2020 of the powerhouse conference.
You can criticize some of Dan Mullen’s actions this year, whether it was wanting to “Pack The Swamp” during a pandemic days before a COVID-19 outbreak within his program or his actions during a brawl with Missouri that led him to be fined $25,000 by the SEC. But his work on the field has been terrific.
Florida looks like the class of the SEC East. The Gators’ only loss, a three-point setback at Texas A&M, doesn’t seem nearly as bad now that the Aggies have established themselves as the second-best team in the SEC West. He has molded Kyle Trask into a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. In fact, he’s now 26-6 in his first 32 games as Florida’s head coach — the same record Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer posted in their first 32 games.
Nobody in Gainesville is complaining about getting spurned by Chip Kelly anymore.
1. Alabama (6-0) (Last week: 1)
It is uncertain if Alabama and LSU can make up Saturday’s cancellation due to COVID-19. The floundering Tigers probably wouldn’t mind missing the Crimson Tide this year.
2. Ohio State (3-0) (2)
The Buckeyes will enter the Indiana showdown coming off a bye, after their game against Maryland was canceled due to COVID-19. It gives them even more time to study up on the Hoosiers in the Big Ten’s game of the year.
3. Notre Dame (8-0) (3)
Ian Book has never played better, following up the come-from-behind win over Clemson by notching four touchdowns and 368 total yards in a road rout of Boston College.
4. Clemson (7-1) (4)
If nothing else, Clemson saw what capable hands it will be in next year when Trevor Lawrence is in the NFL. True freshman D.J. Uiagalelei was that impressive, throwing for 883 yards and producing eight touchdowns, in his two starts in place of Lawrence.
5. Florida (5-1) (5)
The Gators’ offense is playoff-caliber. The defense is more worthy of the Gasparilla Bowl. It’s hard to see this porous unit improving enough to seriously challenge Alabama in the SEC championship game.
6. Cincinnati (7-0) (6)
It’s almost as important for the quality teams the Bearcats have defeated — Army, SMU and Memphis — to play well as it is for Cincinnati to win going away each week. Strength of schedule is so important for a non-power conference team trying to argue it belongs in the playoff.
7. Texas A&M (5-1) (7)
That win over Florida keeps looking better, as the Gators continue to look like the best team in the SEC East. The Aggies, currently in second place in the SEC West, have finished that high just once since 2013.
8. Indiana (4-0) (8)
It’s the biggest college football game for Indiana since 1987, a trip to Ohio State on Saturday with a shot to stake claim as the best team in the Big Ten.
9. Oregon (2-0) (9)
The Ducks were minus-three in turnover margin and still cruised past Washington State on the road. That’s the sign of a quality team.
10. BYU (8-0) (10)
The Cougars face a no-win situation against winless South Alabama. Win big and they hold serve. Anything less hurts.
Dropped out: Georgia (4-2)
(in alphabetical order)
QB Mac Jones, Alabama
The junior was in a quarterback battle this summer and now his name is in mock drafts and atop Heisman lists. 2020 hasn’t been a bad year for everyone.
QB Kyle Trask, Florida
He may not be the favorite, but it’s hard to imagine Trask being very far behind, after his second six-touchdown performance of the season.
QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Nearly a month later, Lawrence will be back under center after a COVID-19-created layoff. He gets a soft landing spot: Defenseless Florida State.
QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
There’s Tank for Trevor and there should be Fail for Fields. He might not be quite the prospect as the Clemson superstar, but Fields isn’t too far behind, either.
QB Zach Wilson, BYU
BYU has launched Wilson’s campaign with a hype video and a series of tweets. If only it could give him a few opportunities against high-profile opponents to sway voters.
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