Heisman Race 2019: Why LSU-Alabama Won’t Eliminate the Losing Quarterback

This weekend gives us No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama – likely the biggest game of the regular season and one of the biggest in recent memory. As we’ve written in the past, the game will have ramifications on the SEC West, SEC Championship, College Football Playoff and the Heisman Trophy.

It makes you wonder: What happens when two Heisman Trophy frontrunners face off?

Since the 2000 college football season, there have been 22 games played in the regular season or in a conference championship game where the Heisman Trophy winner’s team has played an opponent that had at least one player who also finished in the top 10 of Heisman voting that season.

The Heisman Trophy winner’s team went 15-7 in those games and in two of the seven losses, the opposing team’s top-10 Heisman finisher was a defensive player, which deserves to be noted because the defensive player’s team winning wouldn’t necessarily give him a leg up in the Heisman race as it might if he was a Heisman-contending quarterback.

Eight of those 22 games featured two quarterbacks who finished in the top 10 of Heisman voting and the Heisman winner’s team went 5-3 in those games, which are listed below.

The Heisman Trophy winners and their teams are listed in bold.

  • 2018: Oklahoma def. West Virginia 59-56
    • Kyler Murray: 20/27, 364 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT; 9 att., 114 rushing yards, 1 TD
    • Will Grier: 32/49, 539 yards, 4 TD; 1 rushing TD
  • 2016: Clemson def. Louisville 42-36
    • Lamar Jackson: 27/44, 295 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 31 att., 162 rushing yards, 2 TD
    • Deshaun Watson: 20/31, 306 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT; 14 att., 91 rushing yards
  • 2010: Auburn def. Arkansas 65-43
    • Cam Newton: 10/14, 140 yards, 1 TD; 25 att., 188 rushing yards, 3 TD
    • Ryan Mallett: 10/15, 96 yards, 1 TD
  • 2008: Texas def. Oklahoma 45-35
    • Sam Bradford: 28/39, 387 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT
    • Colt McCoy: 28/35, 277 yards, 1 TD
  • 2008: Oklahoma def. Texas Tech 65-21
    • Sam Bradford: 14/19, 304 yards, 4 TD
    • Graham Harrell: 33/55, 361 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
  • 2004: USC def. California 23-17
    • Matt Leinart: 15/24, 164 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
    • Aaron Rodgers: 29/34, 267 yards, 1 TD
  • 2003: Oklahoma def. Texas Tech 56-25
    • Jason White: 22/32, 394 yards, 4 TD
    • B.J. Symons: 31/53, 230 yards, 1 TD, 5 INT
  • 2002: Washington State def. USC 30-27
    • Jason Gesser: 23/44, 315 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
    • Carson Palmer: 32/50, 381 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT


Those records tell us that in spite of the potential narrative that some might craft this week that the winning team’s quarterback will have also essentially clinched the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, history tells us that’s not necessarily true.

In each of the three losses listed above – Lamar Jackson and Louisville losing to Clemson, Sam Bradford and Oklahoma losing to Texas, and Carson Palmer and USC losing to Washington State – the eventual Heisman Trophy winner’s team lost a competitive game (by six, 10 and three points, respectively), and he played the winning team’s quarterback to a draw, if not outplayed him.

Look, projecting the Heisman Trophy winner is more of an art than a science.

There aren’t cut and dried rules or principles in determining the Heisman Trophy winner – a non-zero percent of the award is about the narrative of his campaign and the nebulous but know-it-when-you-see-it “Heisman moment” – but it’s not unreasonable to think that Burrow or Tagovailoa’s team could lose a close game while outplaying his quarterback counterpart, keeping him in the thick of the Heisman race.

Maybe the losing team then goes 11-1 and maintains a playoff trajectory. Who knows, maybe the winning team goes on to lose to Georgia in the SEC Championship, damaging the winning team’s quarterback’s Heisman campaign in front of a national TV audience in his final game before Heisman voters finalize their ballots.

Remember a banged-up Tagovailoa completed just 10-of-25 passes for 164 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions against Georgia in the SEC Championship, and he failed to run for a touchdown like he had in three of the previous four games. The Heisman Trophy can potentially be won or lost in early December.

Look, if Burrow or Tagovailoa clearly outplays the other and his team wins on Saturday, then I’ll like his chances of winning the Heisman. But let’s not cast aside the losing team’s quarterback’s Heisman hopes, especially if it’s a close game and his stats in Week 11 are just as good, if not better than the quarterback on the other sideline.

Here are the games in which the Heisman Trophy winner and another top-10 Heisman finisher have played each other since the 2000 season:

2018: Oklahoma (QB Kyler Murray) def. WVU (QB Will Grier)

2016: Clemson (Deshaun Watson) def. Louisville (Lamar Jackson); Louisville (Jackson) def. Florida State (RB Dalvin Cook)

2015: Alabama (RB Derrick Henry) def. LSU (RB Leonard Fournette)

2014: Arizona (LB Scooby Wright) def. Oregon (QB Marcus Mariota)

2013: Florida State (QB Jameis Winston) def. Boston College (RB Andre Williams)

2010: Auburn (QB Cam Newton) def. Arkansas (QB Ryan Mallett)

2009: Alabama (RB Mark Ingram) def. Florida (QB Tim Tebow)

2008: Texas (QB Colt McCoy) def. Oklahoma (QB Sam Bradford); Oklahoma (Bradford) def. Texas Tech (QB Graham Harrell, WR Michael Crabtree)

2007: LSU (DL Glenn Dorsey) def. Florida (QB Tim Tebow)

2006: Ohio State (QB Troy Smith) def. Michigan (RB Michael Hart)

2005: USC (RB Reggie Bush) def. Notre Dame (QB Brady Quinn); USC (Bush) def. UCLA (QB Drew Olson); USC (Bush) def. Washington State (RB Jerome Harrison)

2004: USC (QB Matt Leinart) def. California (RB J.J. Arrington, QB Aaron Rodgers)

2003: Kansas State (RB Darren Sproles) def. Oklahoma (QB Jason White); Oklahoma (White) def. Texas Tech (QB B.J. Symons)

2002: USC (QB Carson Palmer) def. Colorado (RB Chris Brown); Washington State (QB Jason Gesser) def. USC (Palmer)

2001: Nebraska (QB Eric Crouch) def. Oklahoma (S Roy Williams)

2000: Miami (FL) (WR Santana Moss) def. Florida State (QB Chris Weinke)

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