by Eric Fulton
The 2020 college football season has been one most people would like to forget. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to rescheduling or cancellation of a lot of games, including many big showdowns like the annual after Thanksgiving showdown between the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
However, many major college football programs were able to get at least six games in, which gave voters of college football’s most prestigious individual prize a chance to determine who was the best player in a very unique year. This year’s finalist for the Heisman Trophy represent two of the best conferences in college football, the SEC and ACC. The final four candidates are Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and two Alabama players, quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
For Alabama, having Jones and Smith together as finalist is rare air in the race of Heisman. The last time a team had two players as finalist for the Heisman Trophy were the USC duo of running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart. Though Bush won the Heisman, he would later have the trophy vacated due to improper benefits late in the 2004 season prompting USC to vacate their final two wins of the 2004 seasons and all their wins from the 2005 season. Alabama also made history as running back Najee Harris finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy campaign marking the first time since 1946 that three players on the same team finished in the top five of the Heisman standings. Army’s trio of Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard and Arnie Tucker went first, fourth, and fifth respectively that year.
This year’s final four contenders of the Heisman Trophy will have their college football legacy etched forever. I will rank the four players from least deserving to who is most deserving.
4. Trevor Lawrence, QB – Clemson
2020 statistics: 2,753 yards passing, 29 total TDs (22 passing, 7 rushing), 4 INTs.
Going into the season, every expert would tell you that Lawrence is clearly the best player in college football. If it was not for the pandemic and Lawrence missing a couple of games, the likely No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft would have sealed the Heisman in November. But because he missed two games due to COVID-19, including the first matchup between Clemson and Notre Dame in which the Irish won 47-40 in double overtime, he did not have the statistics that would wow voters in 2020. Great college players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady did not win the Heisman and if Lawrence doesn’t win the Heisman in 2020, it would not mess him up in the NFL. He is expected to go number one overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. So even without the Heisman, the future still looks bright for Lawrence.
3. Kyle Trask, QB – Florida
2020 statistics: 4,125 yards passing, 43 TDs, 5 INTs
While most college football programs did not have double digit games played, Florida was one of a handful of programs that were able to play 11 games. The Gators were picked by most experts to finish just behind Georgia in the SEC East. Thanks to the stellar play of Trask, the Gators won eight games and the SEC East. Many of Trask’s touchdown passes were caught by Kyle Pitts, who will be drafted in the first round in the upcoming NFL draft. Based off the season he’s had, Trask’s draft stock has risen to where he could be a top 10 draft pick in the spring. Trask is looking to become Florida’s fourth Heisman trophy winner joining Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1996) and Tim Tebow (2007) and all three previous winners played quarterback for the Gators.
2. Mac Jones, QB-Alabama
2020 statistics: 3,739 yards passing, 76.5% completion, 32 TDs, 4 INTs
I went back and forth as for the two Heisman contenders from Alabama. Mac Jones waited three years behind a great quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa to get his opportunity at being the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide. He took the opportunity in 2020 leading Alabama to another SEC championship and another spot in the College Football Playoff. Throughout its storied history, Alabama has won 17 national championships, but has only produced two Heisman Trophy winners, both of which have come during the Nick Saban era and were running backs (Mark Ingram in 2009 and Derrick Henry in 2015). If Mac Jones were to win the Heisman, he would become Alabama’s first starting quarterback to win the Heisman. Regardless of how well he plays in the playoff, Jones has good chance to not win the Heisman, but also land a pretty good spot in the NFL Draft.
1. DeVonta Smith, WR-Alabama
2020 Statistics: 98 Receptions, 1,511 yards, 17 TDs
Only three wide receivers have ever won the Heisman (Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska in 1972, Tim Brown, Notre Dame in 1987 and Desmond Howard, Michigan in 1991). In most years, the Heisman is won by players who came on strong, especially in key games later in the season. Alabama’s receiver DeVonta Smith has come up huge for the Crimson Tide after fellow wide receiver Jaylon Waddle was injured against Tennessee with a serious ankle injury. Since then, Smith has carried Alabama in the receiving game as well as the return game. The Crimson Tide has produced a lot of great wide receivers in recent memory from Julio Jones to Amari Cooper, but Smith is soon leaving as statistically their best wide receiver ever. He is also the first wide receiver to be a Heisman finalist since Cooper in 2014. It would be nice to see someone who plays a position other than quarterback or running back win a Heisman. Very rarely does it ever happen. (Only six times to be exact).
The 2020 Heisman Trophy winner will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 5 on ESPN.