Re-Evaluating the 2019 Heisman Trophy Race

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Let’s talk Heisman! The Open Man evaluates the most prestigious individual award in college football over the coming weeks with an examination of each race in the 21st Century. Who went to New York? Who should have? And did the voters name the wrong winner? 

Heisman Trophy competitions rarely go down without controversy, but Joe Burrow’s landslide win last season functioned as the FDR vs. Hoover of Heisman votes.

Burrow’s cake-walk victory became abundantly clear early to anyone who isn’t a jackass, so The Open Man isn’t here to quibble with the LSU quarterback’s win. Even the group of finalists was defensible, if not acceptable. However, The Open Man posits some rigid guidelines for the Heisman ceremony that apply to this exercise — specifically, five players go to New York every year without exception.

In 2019, four players received the invitation:

Joe Burrow, QB, LSU 

The runaway winner threw for more than 4,600 yards and 48 touchdowns at the time of the presentation — and hadn’t yet even played his two most productive games of the season. Those came in the College Football Playoff.

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Georgia transfer Justin Fields proved to be an immediate fit in Ohio State’s hyper-charged offense. He led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship while throwing just one interception against 40 touchdowns and rushed for 471 yards with another 10 scores.

Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Jalen Hurts’ Heisman nomination made him the third straight Oklahoma quarterback to have transferred in from another program and parlay his time in Norman into a trip to New York. Hurts totaled 50 touchdowns by Heisman weekend, with 32 passing and 18 rushing. He joined the illustrious 3,000/1,000 Club by regular season’s end, and the even more elite 30/20 Club after the Playoff.

Chase Young, DE, Ohio State

Before Joe Burrow’s otherworldly finish to the season, I don’t think it’s out-of-bounds to declare Chase Young the frontrunner. He’s the first defensive player to carry such distinction since Manti Te’o in 2012; but, like Johnny Manziel proved then, dismantling an Alabama defense carries plenty of Heisman clout. Regardless, Young finished the regular season with 21 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks, astronomical numbers made all the more impressive by the fact he missed two games.

Young also embodied the mindset that statistics don’t tell the full story when it comes to dominance. To watch how Young manhandled would-be blockers and drew double-and-triple teams underscores his excellence. If I have an primary gripe with the 2019 Heisman vote, it’s that so many regions voted Young a distant fourth when to me, he deserved to be runner-up.

Following in that same vein, the present-day Heisman voter has become consumed with quarterback play.

It makes sense from the perspective that quarterbacks have never at any point in the game’s history put up gaudier numbers. However, which gaudy numbers voters respect in the modern game deviate.

For example, 2,000 yards rushing used to be a guaranteed invitation to the Heisman ceremony. Not so any more. Ahead of the 2017 vote, I used this space to lobby for San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who went off for an astronomical 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns that season (on top of other statistical contributions, but I don’t want to spoil too much of an upcoming post in this series).

Certainly some of Penny’s neglect can be attributed to playing for a Group of Five program, which in and of itself Heisman voters treat like a scarlet letter. But the historic impact of rushing for 2,000 yards also fails to resonate with those who have ballots: Case in point, Jonathan Taylor.

Jonathan Taylor is my addition to the 2019 Heisman finalist pool. How the three-year standout at Wisconsin never once went to New York will remain one of college football’s great mysteries for as long as I cover the sport. The 2019 campaign wasn’t his best individually, but it concluded with him at the Rose Bowl Game joining Troy Davis as the only players in history ever to log consecutive 2,000-yard campaigns.

Although Taylor had not yet reached that milestone by the time of Heisman balloting, he had finished the regular season over 1,900 yards and had piled up 21 rushing touchdowns. Taylor’s 2019 included a remarkable streak of three straight 200-plus-yard games — one of which came against a stout Iowa defense.

Tack on another five scores via reception, which gives Taylor an advantage over Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins with two, and Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard who had none.

Another interesting case is that of Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards, scored 21 rushing touchdowns and passed for more than 1,000 yards with seven scores. Perry had the most compelling case among Group of Five contenders last season. But, as we’ll dig into later in this series, his lack of consideration among voters isn’t even the most egregious among Midshipmen quarterbacks in this half-decade.

Stay tuned.