You could see it coming in the last week or two, and after the Notre Dame victory over Syracuse it started heating up. That would be the Notre Dame push for quarterback Ian Book to be a Heisman Trophy contender. The question is, however, is Book a real Heisman contender?
Book certainly has one key ingredient to what the Heisman Trophy has become, and that is he's the starting quarterback on one of the nation's best teams.
Another factor working in Book's favor is he is playing his best ball late in the season, and he played well in two victories over ranked opponents, both of which happened in November. But is that enough for Book to be considered a legitimate Heisman contender?
Let's begin by looking at Book's season stats compared to nine other players considered top quarterbacks and possible contenders.
Among that group of 10, Book has the lowest passing yards per game, lowest quarterback rating and lowest total yards (passing and rushing). He has the second lowest touchdown total, and the only player with fewer (Justin Fields, Ohio State), has played half the games.
Book is tied with Fields for fewest touchdown passes (15), despite Fields playing just five games. Book has the third lowest yards per attempt average and the third lowest yards per play average.
His numbers are much closer to those of Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma) and Sam Ehlinger (Texas) than top contenders like Mac Jones (Alabama), Kyle Trask (Florida) or even Trevor Lawrence (Clemson).
Another key ingredient to being a Heisman contender is playing well in big games. This is an area I have hammered Book for in the past, but in 2020 he has played extremely well in Notre Dame's two biggest games. His fourth quarter comeback against Clemson is that kind of "Heisman moment" that is needed to be in the conversation.
Let's look at how the "contenders" fared against ranked opponents.
Book's rating numbers and touchdown totals don't compare to Trask or Jones in these games, but if you pop in the film you see he played very well in those games. He simply does not play in an offense that allows him to put up those monster numbers, and both Jones and Trask put up monster numbers, even in the big games.
Jones, for example, passed for an average 426 yards and four touchdowns in a pair of wins over opponents that are currently ranked in the Top 10. Trask averaged 393 passing yards and accounted for eight touchdowns in his two games against Top 10 opponents. Florida went 1-1 in those games, but it wasn't because of Trask, who led Florida to 38 points while throwing for 312 yards and four touchdowns in the loss to Texas A&M.
What hurts Book's candidacy is the numbers, and whether you think that's fair or not, it's a part of the process. His numbers are also brought way down by the first six games of the season.
Through six games, Book averaged just 204.2 passing yards per game, 239.5 total yards per game and accounted for just 12 touchdowns.
In the last four games, Book averaged 289.3 passing yards per game, 352.5 total yards per game and accounted for 11 total touchdowns. Had Book played like this all season he'd be in a different place to compare numbers.
Here are Book's number if you expand his last four games over the entire season:
2,893 passing yards, 632 rushing yards, 352.5 total yards per game and 28 total touchdowns. His total yards per game would trail only Jones at that point, and not by much.
He certainly started playing his best ball in the most important part of the season. The Irish defense and the running game were good enough to carry Notre Dame to a 6-0 start despite Book not playing good football. It could not, however, win all of its final four games without Book being at his best, and he was certainly that.
So to answer the question, should Ian Book be a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender? By contender I mean a guy who should be in the conversation to be in the Top 5 of the final vote. My answer is no, he shouldn't, at least not yet. The fact is he has too many games that were average (Duke, USF, Louisville, Georgia Tech), and those games drag his numbers way down.
I do, however, believe there is still one last chance for Book to get into the conversation. I don't believe voters should send in their picks until after all the games have been played, and Book gets one last shot to make a statement.
On Dec. 19, Book and Notre Dame will face Lawrence and Clemson for the ACC title game. If Book out-duels the Tiger quarterback and leads Notre Dame to victory it will result in him having yet another big-game performance and it will make his numbers look much, much better. If that happens, I believe Book will and should be in the conversation of being a finalist for the nation's most prestigious trophy.
Here is what my vote would look like right now:
1. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
2. Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
3. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
4. Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
5. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
If Book out-duels Lawrence and leads Notre Dame to an ACC title I would remove Lawrence from the No. 3 spot and add Book.
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