The 2020 Heisman Trophy race is one of the most-unique campaigns of all time given the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
One candidate missed two games after testing positive for COVID-19. One team has three candidates that could finish in the top five. Another player might have several FBS passing records with a few more games.
The race likely will come down to Alabama’s trio of Mac Jones, DaVonta Smith and Najee Harris, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Florida’s Kyle Trask.
Sporting News sizes up the case for each candidate (in alphabetical order by last name):
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Pros: Harris rushed for 1,262 yards and 24 TDs this season, and he added 32 catches for 316 yards and three TDs. He is coming off an incredible performance in the SEC championship game with 178 rushing yards, 67 receiving yards and five total TDs. He is the Crimson Tide’s all-time rushing leader with 3,639 yards and could follow in the footsteps of the last two Heisman winners at Alabama. That’s running backs Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015).
Cons: Iowa State’s Breece Hall led the FBS in yards from scrimmage (1,606), and Harris likely will split the vote with Jones and Smith on his own team. Heisman voters tend to zero in on 100-yard games, and Harris had five games with less than 100 yards rushing this season.
One stat: Harris scored multiple TDs in eight of Alabama’s 11 games this season.
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Pros: Jones finished with 3,739 passing yards, 32 TDs and four interceptions with a FBS-best 76.5 completion percentage as a full-time starter for the Crimson Tide. He mastered Alabama’s offense with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian by averaging an incredible 11.4 yards per attempt. Jones was at his best in the big games. In four games against ranked opponents, Jones averaged 393 passing yards per game with 18 TDs and three interceptions. He would be the first Alabama quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy.
Cons: Smith and Harris are equally deserving candidates in the same offense, and some voters might shy away from Jones in favor or either Lawrence or Trask. It is a quarterback award, but voters might drift toward a positional player given the talent in Alabama’s offense.
One stat: Jones led the FBS with a 202.3 passer rating. LSU’s Joe Burrow – last year’s Heisman Trophy winner – had a 202.0 passer rating.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Pros: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney gave an impassioned speech after the ACC championship game that puts Heisman voters in a bind. Is Lawrence the best player in college football? Lawrence won all nine of his starts this season and finished with 2,753 yards, 22 TDs and four interceptions. He added seven rushing TDs and continued to live up to the billing as a future No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence totaled 322 passing yards, 90 rushing yards and three total TDs in the ACC championship victory against Notre Dame.
Cons: Lawrence missed two starts after testing positive for COVID-19 this season and given the statistical nature of the Heisman Trophy he is behind the other candidates. He finished 10th in the FBS with a 172.7 passer rating, which is a touch behind Ohio State’s Justin Fields (174.5). Lawrence might get enough votes to a finalist for the first time, but the other four candidates played in 11 games.
One stat: Lawrence is 34-1 as Clemson’s starter. The Heisman Trophy isn’t a lifetime achievement award (ask Peyton Manning), but it could be enough to persuade voters to keep Lawrence in their top three.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Pros: Smith led the FBS in catches (98) and receiving yards (1,511) and he finished second with 17 TDs. The big-play receiver accounted for 38.8 percent of Alabama’s receiving yards. He also averaged 24.9 yards per punt return with a TD. Smith closed the season with 15 catches for 184 yards and two TDs in the SEC championship game victory against Florida. That big-play ability and consistent production make a strong argument that he is the best player in the country regardless of position.
Cons: A receiver has not won the Heisman Trophy since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. Jones might receive more votes because he’s the quarterback, and Harris will slice into those votes as well. Smith has the best odds to win the award, but voters tend to lean toward quarterbacks. Alabama’s Amari Cooper finished third in the Heisman voting in 2014 – the last receiver to finish in the top three.
One stat: Smith had a four-game stretch this season where he put up 749 receiving yards and 11 TDs.
Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
Pros: Trask led the FBS with 4,125 yards and 43 TDs this season – incredible numbers considering those game in just 11 games. Trask had at least three TD passes in every game but one this season, and he helped lead Florida to the SEC East championship. Trask put up 408 yards and three TDs in a 52-46 loss to the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game. If you’re going by the stats, Trask has the advantage over the other quarterbacks.
Cons: For those who want to argue that Trask didn’t have enough help, tight end Kyle Pitts should get some of those votes. The Heisman often comes down to the best player on the best team, and Florida lost three games this season. Trask had a chance to put his stamp on the award, and he was upstaged by three Alabama candidates.
One stat: Trask averaged 375 passing yards and 3.9 TD passes per game. Burrow averaged 378.1 passing yads and 4 TD passes per game last season. It’s close.