It’s tough enough to follow in the footsteps of one Heisman Trophy winner. Try two.
That’s the unusual position that Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts stepped into this season, and so far, he has risen to the challenge. Through seven games, Hurts is a strong candidate to win college football’s most prestigious award, keeping it in the Sooners’ camp for the third straight year.
But Hurts arguably has stiffer competition than the two previous Oklahoma quarterbacks — Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield — faced in pursuit of the trophy. Both of them ended up being drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL.
According to most of the early voter polling, Hurts trails Louisiana State’s quarterback, Joe Burrow, and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is also contending, despite an ankle injury that is expected to keep him out of Saturday’s game against Arkansas.
Here’s a look at the most likely Heisman contenders, including a running back looking to challenge the recent history of voters favoring passers.
Quarterback, Louisiana State
LSU’s spot at No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll isn’t so unfamiliar to college football fans. What is unusual is how the team got there this season.
The Tigers are second only to Oklahoma in scoring, averaging more than 50 points through seven games. That’s rare for LSU, which as a program has struggled to score in big games — including a shutout loss to Alabama in the national title game for the 2011 season. It’s also rare for the Tigers to have a superstar quarterback leading its juggernaut attack.
LSU’s passing offense hasn’t cracked the top 80 nationally since 2013. But after years of piecemealing seasons together — whither Jordan Jefferson, Zach Mettenberger, Jarrett Lee and Danny Etling? — the program made a philosophical shift under coach Ed Orgeron to commit to a spread offense, and that shift met the right quarterback at the right time in Burrow.
The redshirt senior has been a revelation this season, leading the nation in completion percentage (79.4) while sitting in a tie for the most touchdown passes (29) and in second place in yards (2,484). A transfer from Ohio State and the son of a college defensive coordinator, Burrow has showcased a strong arm and a sharp mind.
Fans already knew Hurts could play. He was 26-2 at Alabama, where he started in two national title games and came off the bench to help the team reach a third.
But after the mortification of being benched for Tagovailoa in the championship game after the 2017 season, Hurts, a graduate transfer, arrived in Norman, Oklahoma, with more than a chip on his shoulder. “It’s a boulder,” he told Dennis Dodd of CBS.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley took Mayfield and Murray — both largely un-hyped transfers — and turned them into playmaking sensations. Now Hurts has been given free rein to let loose, silencing detractors who felt he hung on to the ball too tightly or bailed out of the pocket too frequently at Alabama.
He leads all quarterbacks with an average of 13.5 yards per completion and has a total of 2,074 yards and 20 touchdowns in the air — plus 705 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Tagovailoa, a Saint Louis School in Honolulu alumnus, is familiar with Heisman contention. After finishing second to Murray in the Heisman voting last year, the junior from Hawaii is off to another phenomenal start for No. 1 Alabama, throwing 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions through the first seven games.
But after sustaining a high ankle sprain to his left leg last weekend, Tagovailoa had less clarity about his future. He has already been ruled out this week, and the team hopes he can return for its next game, a showdown with No. 2 LSU on Nov. 9.
The last time a Heisman winner missed a game and still took home the award? Florida State’s Charlie Ward in 1993.
Quarterback, Ohio State
Fields is turning heads in his first season for the undefeated Buckeyes. The lanky dual-threat sophomore has 30 touchdowns (22 passing, eight rushing) and a 70.7 completion percentage, far exceeding expectations after transferring from Georgia.
One question he may have to contend with: Is his team too dominant to help his chances? Ohio State has won every game by at least 24 points, and as a team it has the third-highest rushing average in the country. If it steamrolls in the Big Ten without needing Fields to clearly do most of the work, that could actually weaken his case for the award.
A big matchup with No. 13 Wisconsin looms this weekend.
Running back, Wisconsin
Jonathan Taylor is the only non-quarterback getting serious attention, but his chances took a significant hit after Wisconsin’s stunning loss to Illinois, in which he lost a fourth-quarter fumble and finished with 132 yards on 28 carries.
Taylor can still turn things around with a big performance at Ohio State on Saturday and stand out amid a crowded quarterback field. He holds the Division I record for the most rushing yards through his first two seasons (4,171) and Saturday became just the third junior to eclipse 5,000 yards.