The 2020 Heisman Trophy Race is one of the most unique campaigns of all time given the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
A candidate missed two games after testing positive for COVID-19. A team has three candidates who could finish in the top five. Another player might have multiple FBS achievement records with a few extra games.
The race will likely go to the Alabama trio of Mac Jones, DaVonta Smith and Najee Harris, Trevor Lawrence of Clemson and Kyle Trask of Florida.
Sporting News measures the case of each candidate (in alphabetical order by last name):
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Advantages: Harris has accumulated 1,262 yards and 24 touchdowns this season, and added 32 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. He just had an incredible performance in the SEC Championship game with 178 rushing yards, 67 receiving yards and five total touchdowns. He’s the all-time leader of Crimson Tide with 3,639 yards and could follow in the footsteps of the last two Heisman winners in Alabama. They are running backs Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015).
The inconvenients: Breece Hall of Iowa State led the FBS in scrum yards (1606), and Harris will likely share the vote with Jones and Smith on his own team. Heisman voters tend to focus on 100-yard games, and Harris has played five games under 100 rushing yards this season.
A statistic: Harris has scored multiple touchdowns in eight of Alabama’s 11 games this season.
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Advantages: Jones finished with 3,739 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and four interceptions with an FBS best 76.5 completion percentage as a full-time starter for the Crimson Tide. He mastered the Alabama offense with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, averaging an incredible 11.4 yards per attempt. Jones was at his best in big games. In four games against ranked opponents, Jones is averaging 393 passing yards per game with 18 touchdowns and three interceptions. He would be Alabama’s first quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy.
The inconvenients: Smith and Harris are also deserving candidates in the same offense, and some voters might shy away from Jones in favor of Lawrence or Trask. It’s a quarterback award, but voters could drift into a positional player given Alabama’s offensive talent.
A statistic: Jones led the FBS with a 202.3 passer rating. LSU’s Joe Burrow – last year’s Heisman Trophy winner – had a 202.0 passer rating.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Advantages: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney gave an impassioned speech after the ACC Championship game that puts Heisman voters in a bind. Is Lawrence the best college football player? Lawrence has won all nine starts this season and finished with 2,753 yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions. He added seven quick touchdowns and continued to live up to billing as a future No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence had 322 passing yards, 90 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. in the ACC championship victory against Notre-Dame.
The inconvenients: Lawrence has missed two starts after testing positive for COVID-19 this season and given the statistical nature of the Heisman Trophy, he is behind the other contenders. He finished 10th in the FBS with a 172.7 assist rating, which is a touch behind Justin Fields of Ohio State (174.5). Lawrence might get enough votes for a finalist for the first time, but the other four candidates have played in 11 games.
A statistic: Lawrence is 34-1 as a starter for Clemson. The Heisman Trophy isn’t an award for his entire career (ask Peyton Manning), but it might be enough to persuade voters to keep Lawrence in their top three.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Advantages: Smith led the FBS in catches (98) and receiving yards (1,511) and was second with 17 touchdowns. The Big Play wide receiver accounted for 38.8% of Alabama’s receiving yards. He’s also averaging 24.9 yards per punt return with a TD. Smith finished the season with 15 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game win over Florida. This big-game ability and consistent production make a solid argument that he is the best player in the country, regardless of his position.
The inconvenients: A wide receiver hasn’t won the Heisman Trophy since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. Jones could get more votes because he’s the quarterback, and Harris will split evenly in those votes. Smith has the best chance of winning the award, but voters tend to look to quarterbacks. Amari Cooper of Alabama finished third in the Heisman poll in 2014 – the last wide receiver to finish in the top three.
A statistic: Smith has had a four-game streak this season racking up 749 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
Advantages: Trask has led the FBS with 4,125 yards and 43 touchdowns this season – incredible numbers considering those games in just 11 games. Trask has managed at least three TD assists in every game but one this season, and he helped lead Florida to the SEC East Championship. Trask racked up 408 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-46 loss to the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship game. If you go by the stats, Trask has the edge over the other quarterbacks.
The inconvenients: For those who want to argue that Trask didn’t have enough help, tight end Kyle Pitts should get some of those votes. Heisman often goes back to the best player on the best team and Florida have lost three games this season. Trask was lucky enough to put his stamp on the prize, and he was knocked down by three candidates from Alabama.
A statistic: Trask averages 375 passing yards and 3.9 touchdowns per game. Burrow averaged 378.1 passing and 4 touchdowns per game last season. Is it close.