There’s a chance the biggest question left in the 2019 Heisman Trophy race isn’t who will win the award but rather by how many votes the winner will win it.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is the heavy favorite to win the award after Week 12 and short of an unthinkable performance against Georgia in the SEC Championship — hypothetically, a terrible stat line like 12-of-30 passing for 157 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions — it’s hard to imagine him getting upstaged from his Heisman frontrunner position.
A week after leading LSU to its first win over Alabama since 2011, Burrow threw for his most passing yards in a game this season — 489 yards and five touchdowns in a road win against Ole Miss.
As of Monday afternoon, BetOnline set Burrow’s odds to win the Heisman at -2000 (meaning you’d have to bet $2000 to win $100) with Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts with the second-best odds at +900 (you’d win $900 if you successfully bet $100 on Hurts to win the Heisman) and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with the third-lowest odds at +1000.
Amazingly, in the last three weeks, two of the top five Heisman Trophy candidates through Week 9 have completely fallen out of the race.
There’s a saying that the best ability is availability and that’s true in regards to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young’s Heisman hopes.
Tagovailoa, who was among the Heisman favorites for the first two months of the season, missed the Crimson Tide’s game against Arkansas due to an ankle injury, then he suffered a season-ending hip injury last weekend against Mississippi State.
A Heisman Trophy winner hasn’t missed a regular season game since 1993 and Tagovailoa will finish the season having played just nine games.
It wouldn’t necessarily be surprising if Tagovailoa gets a couple second- or third-place votes from Heisman voters in the South under the logic that he was one of the three best players they saw this season when healthy, but Tagovailoa’s Heisman hopes are over. Assuming he declares for the NFL Draft after this season, we can file him in the category of “Greatest college players to never win the Heisman.”
After Young stormed into the Heisman conversation after having the best game of his career against Wisconsin, he was ruled ineligible with a two-game suspension after receiving a loan from a family friend. The two games he missed were against Maryland and Rutgers — the two worst teams in Ohio State’s division — so while the Buckeyes didn’t need Young to win handily, he missed the opportunity to put up some potentially massive statistics and make a run at the NCAA’s single-season sack record.
So, assuming Burrow maintains his current trajectory of hoisting the Heisman Trophy in New York in December, it’ll be interesting to see if Tagovailoa and Young’s shortened seasons diminish the gap between Burrow and Hurts/Fields, or close the gap between Hurts/Fields and other fringe Heisman contenders, whether it’s Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard or Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins.
Since 1970, the average margin between the Heisman Trophy winner and the runner-up is roughly 650 votes. But if Heisman voters follow the line of thinking of sportsbooks like BetOnline, which only lists Heisman odds for three players, and the majority of Heisman ballots list Burrow, Hurts and Fields in the three spots available on Heisman ballots, then the separation between Burrow and Hurts or Fields could be fairly close.
The smallest margin between a Heisman winner and the runner-up since 1970 was 28 votes in 2009, when Alabama’s Mark Ingram barely beat Stanford’s Toby Gerhart.
Or Tagovailoa’s injury and Young’s suspension could open the door for the second and third tier of Heisman candidates to receive more votes than they otherwise would have if Tagovailoa stayed healthy and Young hadn’t been forced to miss time.
Maybe that’s how Burrow could potentially win the Heisman by more than 1,000 votes — something that’s happened four times this decade (2010, 2013, 2014 and 2017).