Let’s be honest. Even though there’s still half a regular season left, the Heisman is down to a three-horse race. It’s mid-October and there are still big games to play that can alter the College Football Playoff landscape, but it’s safe to say right now that it’s these three guys and everybody else.
There are definitely other players not included here who would be right in the thick of this conversation another year. Ohio State QB Justin Fields is off to a fast start and has been torching defenses, Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor is averaging 137.5 rushing yards per game and leads the nation with 14 rushing touchdowns, and Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb is fresh off a ridiculous game against Texas where he caught 10 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns. And then there’s everybody’s preseason favorite, Trevor Lawrence, who has been criticized for throwing six interceptions (after having only four last year) and not having to play a difficult schedule.
But as it stands, the below three guys have separated themselves the most and will make things tough for voters in December.
Here’s a look at how the race is unfolding:
1. Joe Burrow
The LSU superstar quarterback has been a pleasant surprise this season, running one of the most exciting offenses in college football. Through six games, Burrow’s 79.6% completion rate is the best in the country and his 2,157 passing yards and 25 touchdowns rank second. To put that in context, the best single-season pass completion rate ever belongs to Colt McCoy, who made 76.7% of his throws in 2008 while leading Texas to the national title game.
In his biggest test of the season last week vs. No. 7 Florida, Burrow went a near perfect 21 of 24 for 293 yards and three touchdowns, and led the Tigers to score 21 unanswered points in the second half on their way to a 42-28 victory. The Gators’ defense went into that game leading the nation in interceptions and the SEC in sacks. But the Tigers piled up 511 yards and didn’t give up sack or a turnover.
Burrow still has to play against Auburn and at Alabama. If he passes those tests—and wins the SEC championship—the trophy is his.
2. Jalen Hurts
While some people, including Hurts himself, didn’t think the Oklahoma QB had his best game in last week’s Red River Showdown vs. Texas (he threw a pick in the end zone), let’s take a quick look at his stats. The Alabama transfer threw for 235 yards with three touchdowns and rushed for 131 yards and another score. On a third-and-12 in the third quarter, Hurts literally went behind his back with the ball to avoid a sack and found Lamb for an 11-yard gain.
Right now, Hurts ranks ninth nationally in averaging 293.0 yards passing per game and has 17 passing touchdowns to just three interceptions. He’s also rushed for eight more scores. In order to knock off a guy like Burrow though, Hurts would likely need a big day like Kyler Murray had in last year’s Big 12 championship game when he passed for 379 yards and three touchdowns.
Obviously if Hurts wins, he’d become the third consecutive Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma, following in the footsteps of former transfer QBs and No. 1 draft picks Baker Mayfield and Murray. And the Sooners would then have the most Heisman winners in history (OU would have eight with Hurts, passing Notre Dame and Ohio State which both have seven).
3. Tua Tagovailoa
Alabama’s QB, and the 2018 Heisman runner-up, is quietly having an even better season than he did last year. The junior leads the nation with 27 touchdown passes (with just one interception), is ranked No. 3 with 2,011 passing yards and has the fifth-best completion percentage, making 73.6% of his throws.
Top-ranked Alabama won’t face a true tough test until it hosts No. 2 LSU on Nov. 9, but that’s not Tagovailoa’s fault. Against Texas A&M last week, he threw four touchdowns and became Alabama’s career passing TD leader with 81. He did throw one interception—but it was his first since the national championship game in January.
If the Crimson Tide run the table—which means they would beat LSU, Auburn and likely Georgia or Florida in the SEC title—and Tagovailoa stays healthy, he has a strong chance of winning the Heisman.