Will race come down to statistics vs W/L record

Dec 24, 2020 | 0 comments

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Votes for the 82nd Heisman Trophy were due on Monday, with the finalists being announced on Christmas Eve, and the virtual award ceremony from ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut, studios scheduled for Jan. 5.

Unlike most years, there is no obvious winner this season. There are still five players who could realistically win the award, and the conference championship games last weekend only further muddied the waters. Florida’s Kyle Trask played phenomenally well against Alabama, accounting for four touchdowns and throwing for 408 yards, the second-most in SEC Championship Game history. The only problem is that the only person to throw for more yards in the SEC title game is Alabama’s Mac Jones, who threw for 418 yards and five touchdowns.

Of course, Jones wasn’t the only Alabama player to shine in the game. Receiver DeVonta Smith caught 15 passes for 184 yards and two scores, while running back Najee Harris accounted for 245 all-purpose yards and a game-record five touchdowns.

Then there’s Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 90 yards and a score in leading the Tigers to a drubbing of Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game. He seemed to gain some Heisman momentum on social media after the game.

The strong resume each candidate possesses, along with the uneven playing field created by conference-only schedules of varying length, made this one of the most difficult Heisman races for the voters to sort out in recent years. Heisman voter Joe Girvan, a Fort Myers-based sportscaster, said this is the most wide-open race during his 20 years as a voter.

“I think it was extremely difficult this year because this was an abbreviated and completely unprecedented season during a pandemic,” Girvan said. “It’s not clear-cut at all. In fact, I believe there are no less than five players who are worthy of the top spot. I think that my vote is going to be in [agreement] with some people but very different than others.

“All of these guys, plusses, minuses, reasons to vote them No. 1, reasons to vote them four or five. Definitely wide open, and I wouldn’t argue if people had a completely different top-3 or top-5 than I do.”

Tony Barnhart, the longtime college football writer, and on-air personality, and former Heisman voter, said it will be fascinating to see how the votes shake out for the three Crimson Tide players. Prior to the SEC Championship Game, only Jones and Smith were considered candidates. However, Harris is now a legitimate contender for the award following his Most Valuable Player performance against Florida. While Barnhart thinks Harris will finish third among the Alabama contingent, he thinks vote-splitting is a legitimate concern for their chances.

“If you’ve got a vote and you’re going to vote for an Alabama player, who do you vote for?” he said. “Because Trask played so well Saturday night, I’m wondering if the Alabama vote is going to be split three ways, and, as a result, Kyle Trask sneaks in there. DeVonta Smith has been playing lights out for them for three weeks now, and I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘You know what? As great as Mac Jones has been, I’m voting for Smith.’ So, I think there’s a chance for Trask because, if you’re inclined to vote for a Florida player, it’s going to be him.”

About a month ago, Barnhart was a bit pessimistic about Trask’s chances to win the Heisman without beating Alabama. However, his tone changed after watching the game.

“I think he played so well,” he said. “Yeah, it would’ve been nice to win it, but 52-46, a six-point game when Alabama was favored as heavily as they were and for the kind of game he played, I don’t think he had to win. What he had to do was play great, and it had to be a very, very competitive game. Well, he played great, and it was an incredibly competitive game.”

Each contender has his pros and cons. Depending on what a voter values, one voter could have a player first on their ballot, while another voter could leave that same player off of their ballot and vice versa.

The Heisman is an individual award, and if the voters decide to heavily rely on the statistics when casting their ballots, Trask should win easily. He broke the school record with 43 touchdown passes this season, which also leads the country by 11. He leads the nation with 375 passing yards per game. He’s third on the SEC’s single-season passing list with 4,125 yards. He’s the only SEC player since at least 1996 to compile five 400-yard games in a season.

“I think this is unbelievable,” Girvan said. “So, the Heisman’s going to be won by a player from an undefeated or a one-loss team. You pretty much know that for certain. So that Kyle Trask is even in the conversation on a three-loss team, it really speaks to the kind of season he had.”

Heisman voters are not permitted to share how they voted until after the ceremony, but First Coast News’ Brent Beaird noted that a player’s value to his team was something that he strongly considered when filling out his ballot. If a majority of the other voters viewed things similarly, that should bode well for Trask, as he’s the only Heisman contender on his team.

“Week after week after week, those passes are placed so perfectly on a team that’s less talented than Alabama,” Girvan said. “There’s still tons of talent but not as talented as Alabama. Florida’s not in the SEC Championship Game without him.”

Unfortunately for Trask, the Heisman isn’t purely an individual award anymore. It tends to go to the best player on a playoff team. Because of this, some voters might feel inclined to vote for an Alabama player.

Jones leads the nation in completion percentage and passer rating. Girvan also believes Jones’ consistency and tendency to play his best against the best opponents work in his favor. He didn’t throw multiple interceptions in any game, and he combined for 18 touchdowns against Texas A&M, Georgia, Auburn, and Florida.

He’s also surpassed preseason projections more than any of the other contenders. Some predicted that freshman Bryce Young would win the starting job prior to the elimination of spring practice.

“Not only does he start, but he had one of the best years statistically for Alabama and be able to spread the ball,” Beaird said. “He really threw very few picks and didn’t make a whole lot of errors.”

Smith leads the nation in catches and receiving yards and is second in touchdown receptions. He’s made some ridiculous catches over the past month, and he displayed his versatility by returning a punt for a touchdown in the regular-season finale against Arkansas.

However, Smith wasn’t even the Crimson Tide’s go-to receiver to start the year. That honor went to Jaylen Waddle, who only played in four games due to injury. How much of Smith’s success is simply a byproduct of increased opportunity and having other elite players around him?

“I think if you combine DeVonta Smith’s receptions plus his punt returns, his kick returns and even a couple rushes, his touches are still significantly less than the other two players in his offense,” Girvan said. “Harris touched the ball more than twice as much. Mac Jones touched the ball every single snap.”

Harris leads the nation with 24 rushing touchdowns and is third in rushing yards.

“When you play Alabama, he’s the guy you just can’t let beat you,” Barnhart said. “He can do it all, those spin moves and the power and the speed and all that.”

Lawrence, meanwhile, was the preseason favorite to win the Heisman and is the likely first overall pick in the NFL Draft. However, Barnhart thinks Lawrence missing two games due to a positive COVID-19 test makes it unlikely for him to win.

For the first time in years, the Heisman Trophy presentation will feature genuine drama and intrigue instead of ESPN trying to make a long-expected coronation seem as suspenseful as possible.

“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had as a voter because you could’ve gone so many different directions,” Beaird said.

Trask is down, but he’s not out.






Tags: Sport

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