Heisman Trophy Race 2019: Tua Tagovailoa’s Injury Changes the Forecast

The now-former 2019 Heisman Trophy frontrunner, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, left the Crimson Tide’s 35-13 win over Tennessee on Saturday with a high-ankle sprain in the second quarter, shortly after being sacked by Tennessee’s Greg Emerson, leaving backup Mac Jones to finish the game under center for the No. 1 team in the country.

Tagovailoa’s injury now casts a shadow of doubt over his short-term future, which therefore affects Alabama’s season, the SEC West and SEC Championship pictures, the College Football Playoff landscape and, yes, the Heisman Trophy race.

Westgate has since made LSU quarterback Joe Burrow the favorite to win the Heisman at +120, followed by Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts at +140, then Tagovailoa at +350.

Tagovailoa has already undergone surgery and Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban addressed Tagovailoa’s recovery in a Monday afternoon press conference.

Saban revealed that Tagovailoa’s surgery was successful, but said there’s no timetable for his return, according to AL.com. Saban hopes his star quarterback will be able to do active rehab within 10 days, “but these things are pretty unpredictable at this point.”

So Tua Tagovailoa will miss Alabama’s Week 9 game against Arkansas, which is a scheduling blessing for the Crimson Tide since the Razorbacks haven’t won a conference game under Chad Morris.

Tua’s younger brother, Taulia, will be Mac Jones’ backup against Arkansas.

Then comes a bye week, followed by a home game against No. 2 LSU in a showdown that could potentially determine who wins the SEC West, the SEC Championship, the College Football Playoff and the Heisman.

It’s fair to say that if Tagovailoa returns to the field healthy for Week 11, resumes his elite passing statistics and Alabama wins out, finishing the regular season 12-0 and winning the SEC Championship, he could still win the Heisman.

However, history says it’s rare for a player to win the award after not playing in all of his team’s games prior to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Based on our research from Sports Reference’s game logs, former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward was the last Heisman Trophy winner who missed at least one regular season game in the season in which he won the award.

Former Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden elected to rest Ward in an early November road trip to Maryland one week before a “Game of the Century” matchup at Notre Dame — a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2.

So backup quarterback Danny Kanell got the start for Florida State, and he threw five touchdowns in a 49-20 win over Maryland with Ward on the sideline.

That means that since Ward, the last 25 Heisman Trophy winners have not missed any games during their Heisman campaigns.

Ward played in 11 of the Seminoles’ 12 regular season games in 1993, but he was still the runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy, getting 2,310 votes (744 first-place votes) to runner-up Heath Shuler’s 688 (10 first-place votes).

Given the number of prominent quarterbacks this season whose teams are in contention to win conference championships and vie for spots in the College Football Playoff, this year’s Heisman Trophy race is unlikely to have a runaway winner in the way that the 1993 voting played out with Ward winning in a landslide.

So even though a healthy Tagovailoa theoretically playing in a blowout win over Arkansas wouldn’t necessarily help his Heisman campaign, him missing the game could hurt his Heisman chances.

In fact, it already has.

He has fallen from the Heisman frontrunner to the player with the third-best odds of winning the award and if nothing else, that alone could create a perception issue among Heisman voters as he now not only needs to get healthy, play well and help his team win games, but he’ll have to also outperform LSU’s Joe Burrow and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts down the stretch to make up for the gap set by Vegas oddsmakers.

That leaves Burrow as the Heisman favorite and in case you don’t believe it, there’s a reason an LSU fan’s sportsbook is trying to buy out his $50, 200-to-1 bet on Burrow winning the Heisman for almost $4,000.

There’s a reason the saying “The best ability is availability” exists, and until Tagovailoa returns to the field healthy and shows he can still perform at an All-American level, Burrow and Hurts will be Heisman Trophy favorites 1) and 1a).

If the two-horse race that is reflected in the latest Vegas odds continues through December, that either leads to an outcome where an offensively inept program in LSU produces a Heisman-winning quarterback thanks to Ohio State choosing to start J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins over Burrow, or a third quarterback who transferred to Oklahoma will win the Heisman for the third year in a row in Lincoln Riley’s first three seasons as a head coach.

Either one could be fitting of a Hollywood script about facing adversity, resiliency and finding the right fit.

Or, a healthy Tagovailoa will return to the field in two weeks, outduel Burrow in Tuscaloosa and prove that a Heisman Trophy winner can sustain not just a poor performance but also a week spent on the sideline.

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