Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence open as Heisman favorites
Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence fell just shy of a national title in 2019, but both are positioned to lead their teams back to the College Football Playoff.
The 2019 Heisman Trophy finalists opened as the No. 1 and No. 2 choices to earn college football’s highest individual award in 2020. Miami’s new quarterback, a former five-star prospect, and Jake Fromm’s replacement round out the top five of the Heisman odds.
Let’s break down each of these Heisman candidates as we head into the college football offseason.
There’s not much Fields could have done better in his first season with the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Georgia transfer assumed starting duties in Columbus and tallied 3,273 yards passing, 484 rushing, 51 total touchdowns, and threw just one interception in the regular season.
The dual-threat quarterback suffered a knee injury against Michigan in the final week of the season but played through pain in Ohio State’s Big Ten Championship Game win over Wisconsin.
Against Clemson in the College Football Playoff, Fields racked up 320 passing yards and one touchdown, but he was intercepted twice, with his last on a missed route by his receiver during the Buckeyes’ final play of the game. Clemson sent then-undefeated Ohio State packing in a 29-23 decision, and that loss should have Fields hungry for more in 2020.
The rising junior won’t have star running back J.K. Dobbins in the backfield with him next season, but sophomore Master Teague should fill in nicely to balance the offense. Leading receiver Chris Olave (849 yards, 12 TDs) is also back in the fold, as is sophomore Garrett Wilson (432 yards, five TDs), plus five-star receivers Julian Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Ohio State should continue to dominate the Big Ten, and if Fields can build on last season, he will find himself striking the Heisman pose in December.
Lawrence opened as the Heisman favorite in 2019, until a mini-sophomore slump bumped him out of the running. He threw five interceptions in his first three games and eight on the season, but by late October he found his rhythm.
Lawrence ended the year with 3,665 yards through the air, 563 rushing, and 45 total touchdowns. He completed 65.8% of his passes, nearly the same as his percentage from 2018, but his touchdown-to-interception ratio took a hit.
He’ll need to focus on his decision making ahead of his junior season and build trust with his offensive line, which experienced major turnover. Lawrence will enter the season without two first-team All-ACC teammates—left guard John Simpson and right tackle Tremayne Anchrum—plus right guard Gage Cervenka and center Sean Pollard. The only returning lineman is left tackle Jackson Carman.
As for his receiving corps, Justyn Ross (865 yards, eight TDs) will return, along with Amari Rodgers (426 yards, 14.2 yards per catch). On top of that, Clemson's all-time leading rusher, Travis Etienne, opted to stay for his senior season.
Clemson will usher in a top-three recruiting class in 2020, so Dabo Swinney’s dynasty shouldn’t disappear anytime soon, especially with Lawrence behind center.
Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman isn’t guaranteed the starting job at Georgia, but he’s still an early contender to win the Heisman.
I have been watching Jamie Newman all season with the ACC network. Georgia just landed a great one! I predict he will be the best quarterback in the SEC! Go Dawgs!— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) January 11, 2020
Newman started 12 games for the 8-5 Demon Deacons in 2019 and put up 2,868 passing yards and 574 rushing. He’ll need to improve his accuracy, as he completed 60.9% of his passes and threw 11 interceptions last season, but he’ll have plenty of gifted pieces on offense to help boost his production.
Several young, talented receivers are back in Athens, including George Pickens (727 yards, eight TDs). Georgia is also projected to sign the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, including a handful of four-star wideouts.
The Bulldogs should once again own one of the best defenses in the country, and an offense to match could send them back into the limelight of the College Football Playoff.
In late January the former Houston quarterback announced his transfer to the Miami Hurricanes for his final year of eligibility. During the 2019 season, King took advantage of the NCAA’s four-game redshirt rule after Houston started off 1-3.
King totaled 2,982 passing yards, 674 on the ground, and 50 total TDs in 2018, his only full season as a starter. In the four games he played in 2019, he threw for 663 yards and six scores and rushed for another 312 and six TDs.
The fifth-year senior will join new offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, in Miami. Lashlee served as SMU's offensive coordinator in 2019, when the Mustangs ranked seventh in scoring offense in the nation.
Rattler has big shoes to fill as the presumed starting quarterback of Oklahoma in 2020. Rattler, a former five-star recruit out of Arizona, will replace Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts, who led the 2019 Sooners to a 12-2 record and College Football Playoff appearance.
The Sooners got embarrassed by eventual champion LSU in the semifinal and need to elevate their defense, while maintaining excellence on offense, to get over the hump.
Oklahoma has made the College Football Playoff in all three years of Lincoln Riley’s tenure as head coach. Riley also had to groom a new starting quarterback in each of those seasons, and two of those (Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray) went on to win the Heisman. Hurts earned the second-most votes, behind Heisman winner Joe Burrow, in 2019. That should bode well for Rattler’s Heisman chances in 2020.