5. QB Sam Ehlinger, Sr. Texas
Talk about your great seasons that got completely and totally blown off.
Ehlinger didn’t get a lick of help from an underwhelming team that didn’t play enough defense and couldn’t find any consistency. He didn’t run for as many touchdowns as he did in his 16-score sophomore campaign – he ran for five – but he was a sharper, better passer, throwing for 3,462 yards and 29 touchdowns with nine picks.
Also totally forgotten about: 401 yards, four touchdowns, no picks, 60 rushing yards, one score in the loss to LSU.
If he doesn’t turn pro early, and if he can boost back up the rushing scores a bit, and if Texas can rebound and be back in the chase for things that matter, he’s going to have the name recognition and the upside to be a major factor in the chase.
But that only happens if he’s not totally overshadowed by …
4. QB Oklahoma (insert name of your choice)
There are a whole lot of ifs in play here.
If Lincoln Riley doesn’t bolt for the big leagues, and if it’s not former star recruit Spencer Rattler stepping up into the starting spot, and if it’s not Tanner Mordecai who rises up – one might do what West Virginia’s Austin Kendall did last year and transfer – it’s up to whatever top quarterback transfer wants the keys to the Ferrari.
Here’s the problem, though – there’s only one Jalen Hurts.
That was a special get for a program that was able to build up Baker Mayfield and work with a terrific talent in Kyler Murray – they were transfers, but the weren’t one-year free agent signings like Hurts was.
Houston’s D’Eriq King and Texas Tech transfer Jett Duffey will be the easy names, but it’s not that simple. There isn’t a sure-thing superstar out there who’s all that obvious, and there’s another issue.
Oklahoma might not be the No. 1 grad transfer destination …
3. QB Alabama (insert name of your choice)
Is it really going to be Mac Jones?
He’s knows the system and he’s got the skills to be just fine with the Alabama talent around him, but he’s not Tua Tagovailoa.
Will Tagovailoa really give any honest thought to returning and risking further injury when he could be a sure-thing first round pick? Someone will absolutely take the chance on him in the top 15.
Will it be Taulia Tagovailoa? He’s not the talent his brother is, but he’ll be given every shot at the job.
Will it be top recruit Bryce Young, a dual-threat baller out of California who seemed destined to go to USC before changing his mind?
Or will the new star be a top transfer?
Nick Saban won a national title with Jake Coker – a transfer from Florida State – who wasn’t exactly Tagovailoa.
No one will step and be Tua, and a slew of the top receivers are certain to be gone, but there will be just enough back to keep this all rolling.
No matter who the starter is, the numbers, wins, and spotlight will be there.
However, in terms of hype – assuming Jonathan Taylor doesn’t return – it’s going to be a two-man race …
2. QB Trevor Lawrence, Jr. Clemson
It’s unbelievable how America just checked out when it came to the defending national championship starting quarterback.
Lawrence might not have set the world on fire early on, but he was ridiculous over the back half of the season with a six-game finishing kick of 20 touchdowns and no picks.
He’s the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, he’d be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft if he was eligible, and he’d have been the No. 1 pick in 2019 if he could’ve come out as a freshman.
So what was the problem? Why wasn’t he within 63 miles of the Heisman this year? He threw eight picks in his first seven games, was a bit erratic, and was taking too many chances. He settled in, the team got in a groove, and he took target practice.
Okay, so it helped that he put up numbers against a light and breezy schedule, and that was part of the problem, too. There weren’t any high-profile games to make him a part of the Heisman chase.
There’s nothing big early on next year, but November 7th at Notre Dame. That’s good enough to get the spotlight on his Heisman candidacy, if it’s not already glaring because of …
1. QB Justin Fields, Jr. Ohio State
Ohio State has had two Heisman finalist quarterbacks in the last two seasons, and if it’s at all possible, they were underrated.
Dwayne Haskins had every bit the season that Kyler Murray did in 2018, but he Ohio State had the one rough loss to Purdue and it didn’t make its way into the College Football Playoff.
And yeah, Fields was underrated, too.
Everyone loved Joe Burrow. And Jalen Hurts.
And on Fields’ own team, everyone kept fawning all over Chase Young – even though he didn’t register a tackle against Michigan – and started to throw in JK “All Day” Dobbins into the Heisman discussion.
40 touchdowns, one interception. Burrow threw 48 touchdown passes, and he threw for almost 1,800 more yards than Fields did, but again …
40 touchdown passes, one interception.
Fields also ran for 471 yards and ten scores.
But that was 2019. Going forward, Fields will be huge again with another loaded Buckeye team around him, and now he has a year of experience under his belt.