A Way-Too-Early Look at 2020's Top Heisman Contenders

No one saw Joe Burrow coming last year, but we take our best crack at identifying several candidates for the 2020 season.
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There are many lessons that could be gleamed from Joe Burrow’s national title-winning season. One of which is simply that predicting the winner of the Heisman Trophy is tough to do. Burrow entered the year as a 200-to-1 Heisman longshot, but by midseason, he emerged as the odds-on favorite to win the award. With the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2020 NFL draft headed to the pro ranks, will a fourth different transfer quarterback take home the award in as many years?

Here are some potential candidates that have a realistic shot to bring home the most prestigious individual award in college football.

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

In most sportsbooks, the Buckeyes’ signal-caller is the early favorite to take home next year’s award. After completing just 27 passes during his 2018 season at Georgia, Fields emerged as one of college football’s biggest stars last year, throwing for more than 3,000 yards, 41 touchdowns and just three interceptions in his first year in Columbus. A dynamic runner as well, Fields is the lone 2019 Heisman Trophy finalist who is returning to school. He has a number of showcase games on his schedule, namely an early-season road contest at Oregon, a trip to Penn State in mid-October, and of course, his team’s rivalry matchup with Michigan in late November. With star running back J.K. Dobbins headed to the NFL draft, Fields, who finished fourth in last year’s voting, might be in line to take home the trophy.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Maybe now that’s he’s lost a game in college football, Lawrence can potentially take home the Heisman Trophy. While Lawrence is undoubtedly one of the sport’s most recognizable stars—partly as a result of his flowing blonde locks—the Clemson QB has yet to be named a finalist for the Heisman. The 6’6’’ QB has one of the strongest arms in the sport and in his team’s Fiesta Bowl victory over Ohio State, he showed off his legs as well, rushing for a career-high 107 yards.

Lawrence got off to a slower start than many expected this past season, throwing five combined interceptions in his first three games. Maybe that threw people off his scent? From that point forward, however, he threw just three picks, playing largely mistake-free football. A similar stretch of dominance could bode well in 2020.

The Tigers are ranked No. 1 in Sports Illustrated’s early Top 25 list and are the presumptive title favorite heading into next year. With Burrow and Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa out of the picture, maybe it’s time for the sport’s golden armed and haired quarterback to take home the trophy.

Bo Nix, QB, Auburn

After Bo Nix helped Auburn win the Iron Bowl this past November, Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn had some high praise for his then freshman signal-caller. “I’ve said it all along—he’s got something special to him. He’ll win a championship…before he gets out of here.”

In addition to attempting to win a national title, it’s possible that Nix takes home a Heisman Trophy before he’s done with the Tigers. His 2019 numbers of 2,542 yards, 16 passing touchdowns, seven rushing scores and six interceptions were far from Heisman-worthy this past season, but he showed flashes of potential stardom.

“Bo Nix is going to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in our history,” former Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson said last week at the Senior Bowl. “And, I mean, I put that on him because I know he can handle it.” Nix has the talent to jump into the Heisman conversation as early as next season.

Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia

If you think another transfer QB will win the Heisman Trophy in 2020, then Georgia graduate transfer Jamie Newman could be a name to watch. Newman transferred to UGA in early January, praising offensive coordinator James Coley among others in his announcement.

The 6’4’’ QB from Graham, N.C., started 12 games for Wake Forest last season, completing nearly 61% of his pass attempts for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns. He also ran for nearly 600 yards and six scores, quarterbacking a Demon Deacons offense that finished second in the ACC in total offense. Newman will likely be Georgia’s starter next season. It’s a distinct possibility that he can lead one of the most talented offenses in the country to the top of the SEC and also the nation.

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor recently showed just how difficult it is for a tailback to become a Heisman Trophy finalist. Throughout Taylor’s three seasons in Madison he set countless records, including rushing yards by a freshman, rushing yards by a sophomore and rushing yards by a player in three seasons, and won two Doak Walker awards. Never once, however, was he a Heisman Trophy finalist.

But if a running back were to be a finalist next season, then Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard seems poised to be the back to watch. Hubbard led the nation in rushing yards last year with 2,094 yards and scored 21 total touchdowns, the second-most of any non-QB in the country. He could have been one of the first running backs taken in the upcoming draft, but elected to return for a senior season. Plus, it’s very possible that Clemson RB Travis Etienne, another surprise returner, cancels out with his star QB, making Hubbard the sport’s most productive back.

At a pep rally in late January, Hubbard was asked why the team’s fans should get their tickets for next season. He responded succinctly, “Because we’re bringing a national championship to Stillwater.” With one of the most impactful players in the country on their team, the Cowboys, led by Hubbard, are certainly on the rise heading into next season.

Defensive Player to Watch

Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

In the winter of 2018, Derek Stingley Jr. arrived on LSU’s campus as a midyear enrollee, getting to Baton Rouge in time to participate in the Tigers’ Fiesta Bowl preparations for UCF. As a then 17-year-old, he was pitted against future Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow during his first practice, and intercepted the future college star.

Stingley Jr. might be the next face of the Tigers. He will be just 19 years old by the time next season rolls around, but he was a consensus All-American last year as maybe the most impactful true freshman in the program’s history. Stingley Jr. led the SEC in interceptions with six and ranked second in the nation in passes defended with 21. On top of his shutdown man coverage, he also was the Tigers’ punt returner this past season. Coaches and teammates rave about him. Opposing players avoid him.

If Stingley Jr. continues to be prolific on defense and becomes an even more dynamic returner, he could have a Charles Woodson-esque Heisman Trophy winning season.

Other Players to Watch

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
D’Eriq King, QB, Miami
Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Kedon Slovis, QB, USC
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

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