Prior to the “Game of the Century” between No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Alabama, we cautioned dismissing the losing team’s quarterback from this season’s Heisman Trophy race.
Recent history said that would’ve been unwise.
And after LSU’s 46-41 win, we’re now cautioning ourselves from handing the Heisman Trophy to the winning team’s quarterback a month before it’s actually awarded.
At risk of putting the cart before the horse, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who was the Heisman frontrunner when he arrived in Tuscaloosa, left Alabama with an even tighter grasp on the trophy.
Burrow was 31-of-39, passing for 393 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions with an adjusted QBR of 97.3 — his second-highest of the season. He was downright surgical, starting the game 13-of-13 for 208 yards, two touchdowns and six first downs.
Burrow also ran for a season-high 64 yards, including an 18-yard run to Alabama’s 7-yard line on 3rd & 2 that set up the Tigers’ final touchdown that all but sealed the win.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, he took a designed quarterback draw for 15 yards to the Alabama 5-yard line on 3rd & 5, so get ready for a flurry of commentary in the next month that Burrow is “sneaky athletic” and “faster than you’d think.”
His Alabama counterpart, Tua Tagovailoa, who we warned before the game to not rule out his Heisman chances after a loss, used a big second half to finish with 418 passing yards and four touchdowns, but he completed just 21-of-40 passes, by far his lowest completion percentage of the season, and he had two costly turnovers.
But Saturday was about Burrow and LSU, which ended an eight-game losing streak to Alabama and scored more points in the win (46) than it had against the Crimson Tide in the previous 22 quarters combined (42).
That — the win against Alabama and what it means in terms of both LSU’s historical context and for the rest of this season — is Burrow’s Heisman moment, if he indeed raises the trophy in New York on Dec. 14.
A quarterback who not just raised, but reconstructed, the offensive ceiling for a program that left three of the previous eight rivalry games against Alabama with as many points on the scoreboard at the end of the game as it had when the game started: zero.
The win over Alabama, combined with LSU’s playoff-bound trajectory, is a Heisman narrative strong enough to match Burrow’s stats this season: a 78.9 completion percentage (1st nationally), 3,198 passing yards (2nd), 10.7 yards per attempt (5th), 33 passing touchdowns (2nd) and a 202.5 passing efficiency rating (3rd).
Don’t expect those national rankings to get any worse in the coming weeks with upcoming games against Ole Miss (4-6), Arkansas (2-8) and Texas A&M (6-3).
In its last SEC game, Ole Miss allowed Auburn true freshman quarterback Bo Nix to throw for a season-high 340 passing yards. Arkansas hasn’t won an SEC game since 2017, and Chad Morris was fired on Sunday.
Tua Tagovailoa threw for 293 yards and four touchdowns against Texas A&M, while Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence completed more than two-thirds of his passes for 268 yards against the Aggies.
Even with conservative projections, Burrow should be on pace to easily throw for more than 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in the regular season, while leading a potential undefeated No. 1 team in the country.
At this point, it’s hard to make a stronger Heisman case for anyone else.
Tagovailoa, who was the Heisman favorite in Vegas earlier in the season, and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, who’s arguably the best player in college football, have both missed a regular season game, something a Heisman Trophy winner hasn’t done since Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward in 1993.
Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts is putting up Kyler Murray-esque passing stats through nine games with superior rushing numbers (Hurts: 2,742 yards, 24 TD, 4 INT, 869 rushing yards, 15 TD | Murray through nine games in 2018: 2,689 passing yards, 31 passing TD, 5 INT, 574 rushing yards, 7 rushing TD), but you have to wonder, right or wrong, how much the Sooners’ No. 9 ranking in the first CFP rankings or potential Oklahoma quarterback fatigue among Heisman voters could limit Hurts’ hopes.
Four of the five Heisman Trophy winners during the playoff era have played for a team that made the playoff, so given the tie between the award and the sport’s postseason, Hurts is probably among the second tier of Heisman contenders as long as Oklahoma is among the second tier of playoff contenders.
Ohio State’s Justin Fields probably has the most opportunities to sway voters with the Buckeyes’ upcoming games against Rutgers (Ohio State opened as a 50.5-point favorite, so he’ll likely put up monster numbers) before high-profile games against ranked opponents in Penn State, Michigan and potentially an undefeated Minnesota team in the Big Ten Championship.
You could make the case that Fields (68.2% passing, 1,859 yards, 27 TD, 1 INT, 347 rushing yards, 10 rushing TD) is being undervalued in the Heisman Trophy race like his predecessor, Heisman finalist Dwayne Haskins, arguably was, but Ohio State’s sheer dominance has led to efficient but limited weekly performances from Fields.
He has attempted between 21 and 25 passes in every game this season with eight of his nine games resulting in a passing yards total between 194 and 234 yards. Fields has also thrown for two-thirds of the yards that Burrow has, and unfortunately for Fields’ Heisman campaign, two of Ohio State’s better opponents — Cincinnati and Indiana — are perceived as much better entering Week 12 than they were entering Weeks 2 and 3, respectively.
The Heisman Trophy is Burrow’s to lose and given LSU’s remaining regular season schedule, neither the Tigers nor Burrow are on pace to lose much of anything in the next three weeks.