Last season, Joe Burrow became one of the most unlikely Heisman Trophy winners of all-time. This year, college football’s most prestigious award has an historically overwhelming favorite.
With the Big Ten’s postponement of play sidelining co-favorite/Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence enters this fractured season widely predicted to give Clemson its first-ever Heisman winner.
Recent history helps Lawrence’s case. Nine of the past 10 winners have been quarterbacks. The past three winners all reached the College Football Playoff and were picked first overall in the NFL draft. Lawrence, again leading the top-ranked team in the nation, has taken the Tigers to back-to-back national title games and is considered the best pro prospect in years.
Nevertheless, only one of the past 14 preseason favorites has taken the Heisman home. In perhaps the strangest season ever, another long shot could be lurking.
Here are the top candidates to make history:
QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
There is no need to play. Opting out — like so many of his peers, because of COVID-19 — would have ensured Lawrence’s place as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. But Lawrence has unfinished business, following his first college loss in last season’s national championship game. The Heisman favorite for the second straight year, Lawrence finished seventh in the final voting last season after throwing for 3,665 yards, 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
QB Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
The redshirt freshman never has started a game in college, but a Lincoln Riley quarterback can’t be counted out. After guiding Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray to Heisman awards in his first two seasons as a head coach, the offensive guru elevated Jalen Hurts to runner-up status last season. Now, Riley can mold a five-star prospect, who was ranked the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in his class.
QB D’Eriq King, Miami
King, who sat out his final four games with Houston last season in order to preserve eligibility, has the talent to turn the Hurricanes back into a national power. In 2018, the 5-foot-11, dual threat became one of three players in FBS history to throw for at least 35 touchdowns and run for at least 13 scores in a single season.
QB Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Leading what may be the most talented team of Tom Herman’s tenure, Ehlinger is coming off a strong junior season in which he threw for 3,663 yards and 32 touchdowns, while rushing for 663 yards and seven TDs. Ehlinger’s biggest challenge will be finding new favorite targets, following the departures of Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay to the NFL.
RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
The speedster led the nation with 2,094 rushing yards last season, recording an FBS-high 15 runs of 30 or more yards and 21 touchdowns. In two seasons, he’s averaged 6.1 yards per carry, but just one running back in the past four seasons has finished in the top-three of Heisman voting.
QB Ian Book, Notre Dame
No school has more Heisman winners than Notre Dame — tied at seven, with Ohio State and Oklahoma — but the Irish haven’t claimed the award since 1987 (Tim Brown). Book could be in the mix in his third season as a starter, having thrown for 3,034 yards, 34 touchdowns and six interceptions last year.
RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
Lawrence’s Heisman hopes could be dashed by his own teammate. Etienne, who surprisingly returned to school for his senior season, could become the first player to be named ACC Player of the Year in three straight seasons. Already the owner of the record for most touchdowns in league history — on pace to break the conference’s all-time mark for rushing yards — Etienne has averaged eight yards per carry in his career.