A few weeks ago, we ran a feature where we talked to two Heisman Trophy voters and one former voter to discuss where the race stood.
At that time, things were looking extremely good for Kyle Trask’s chances. ESPN had just moved him to No. 1 on its Heisman Watch following his 356-yard, six-touchdown performance, without Kyle Pitts, versus Arkansas.
With Heisman votes due on Monday, where does the race now stand? Unlike most years, there’s even more uncertainty now about who’s going to win the Heisman than there was a month ago. Usually, you have a pretty good idea of who’s going to win the award heading into conference championship week, if not before then. That is far from the case this season. While ESPN dropped Trask to third on the Heisman Watch this week following his three turnovers in the shocking home loss to LSU last week, the experts think the race is still wide open.
“I think that’s kind of refreshing, frankly, in that a lot of people are going into the last weekend to really kind of see how this thing shakes out, and they really don’t have their mind made up,” said First Coast News’ Brent Beaird, a current Heisman voter. “Some people will always vote before the last weekend, and that’s their prerogative, but I really think that’s unfair, frankly, to the players that you’ve got to give it a chance to play out. Now, when the final votes are tallied, it may not be that close, but I think that it’s got to be causing much more excitement than it normally would. We’re so uncertain right now going into the last week.”
Mr. College Football, Tony Barnhart, a longtime writer and on-air personality and a former Heisman voter, believes Trask, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith are the top-4 contenders.
Beaird also thinks Ohio State’s Justin Fields is still in the mix.
Barnhart thinks Smith’s emergence is the most fascinating thing to watch in the final days of the race. Only two wide receivers have ever won the Heisman and none since Desmond Howard in 1991. However, Smith has been on an incredible run of late. He didn’t contribute much in the regular-season finale against Arkansas, but, in the four games prior to that, he caught 35 passes for 749 yards and 11 touchdowns. He leads the country in receiving yards and is second in touchdowns.
“He’s done it on some of the biggest stages,” Barnhart said. “He did it against Auburn. He did it against LSU. Mac Jones got him the ball but just one great catch after another. That one-handed catch against LSU was just absolutely incredible. Then he runs a punt return back for a touchdown against Arkansas. His versatility has been on display, and, while receivers don’t normally win the Heisman Trophy, the versatility that he has, sort of like a Charles Woodson from Michigan who won it in ’97, I think that catches a lot of people’s attention.
“I think a lot of people who have votes have taken a second look at that guy. How that impacts the race, to me, is going to be interesting because now maybe somebody who was going to vote for Mac Jones from Alabama may end up voting for DeVonta Smith and maybe those votes get split. What has changed in the past few weeks is DeVonta Smith is a legitimate contender now.”
Barnhart thinks Lawrence is someone to watch for this weekend. He was among the preseason favorites to win the award but missed over a month due to a positive COVID-19 test and a postponement. If he has a monster game against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game and leads his team to a big win, he could sneak back into the conversation.
Beaird said the case for Trask to win the award is to look at what he’s done consistently throughout the season. He leads the country in passing yards and touchdowns and is in the top-10 in completion percentage and yards per attempt. He’s broken the school record for passing touchdowns in a season and thrown for more than 400 yards four times. If the award were based purely on statistics, Trask would be the undisputed winner.
His three turnovers against LSU likely won’t be a deal-breaker.
“It hurt him, but I don’t think that’s going to, contrary to what some people believe, keep him from being in the race,” Beaird said. “I think you’ve got to look at the whole body of work. Anybody who broke Danny Wuerffel’s single-season record of 39 touchdowns is deserving of still being in contention, and that’s what he has done. So, did it lower him in the view of some voters? Yeah, I’m sure it did, but again, I think when you look at what he did, I mean, my goodness, even in the LSU game, he’s got over 400 yards passing.”
However, there’s more to it than just stats. Jones has been at the controls of the best offense in the country, throws a beautiful deep ball and will likely have an SEC Championship and undefeated record to his credit.
Barnhart believes Trask is in a similar position as he was in a few weeks ago – needing to beat Alabama.
“At this point, I think it’s going to be tough for him to win it,” he said. “[I] could be wrong, but since you’ve got three of those quarterbacks all playing on Saturday, I think the numbers favor them, and people remember the last thing that you do. I think Kyle Trask, if Florida were to beat Alabama, I think he’d have a great chance to win. Without beating Alabama, I don’t know.”
Beaird, however, still doesn’t view winning the Alabama game as a must for Trask’s chances. The Heisman is an individual award, and Trask can’t control how the defense plays.
“I think he just [needs] to play well, and I think No. 1 is not have any turnovers,” he said. “No. 2 is to just be consistent and to get into a rhythm. That’s why I think Florida, contrary to several people, is going to be able to take this game into the fourth quarter. I can see Trask getting hot with those receivers, especially with Kyle Pitts coming back, and just playing very well. So, I think even in a losing effort that a guy like Trask could help himself considerably by having a good game. ’Bama’s improved on defense, but they still can be susceptible to a guy who’s on target because a lot of that secondary are underclassmen.”
Anything can happen with only one week left.