Ranking the Heisman Finalists Heading into Bowl Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2020

Ranking the Heisman Finalists Heading into Bowl Season

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    DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones
    DeVonta Smith and Mac JonesChris Graythen, Getty Images

    For the third time in 12 seasons, an Alabama player will bring a Heisman Trophy back to Tuscaloosa.

    However, will it be quarterback Mac Jones or wide receiver DeVonta Smith who joins Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015)? Jones has stood atop our Heisman tracker since the beginning of November, but Smith has narrowed the gap.

    Jones and Smith have some company, though.

    Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Florida quarterback Kyle Trask are the other finalists for college football's most prestigious award. 

    The winner will be revealed Jan. 5. Jones, Smith and Lawrence will play another game before then, but Heisman ballots will have been submitted and officially tabulated.

    While the following order is not a personal ballot, this—unlike past updates—is finally the Heisman voting projection. Ranking factors include total production and Heisman trends.

4. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    One foggy evening likely eliminated Kyle Trask's chance to lift the Heisman Trophy, but he put together a spectacular year.

    Trask led the FBS in passing yards (4,125) and passing touchdowns (43), tossing only five interceptions in 409 attempts. He posted a 69.7 completion rate and 10.1 yards per attempt while also running in three scores for SEC runner-up Florida.

    The mountain-sized obstacle in Trask's way is that Lawrence has never lost as a starter and Alabama is undefeated.

    Yes, former Florida star Tim Tebow won the 2007 Heisman in a three-loss year. But the Heisman winner tends to play for a championship-contending team. The QB exceptions in recent years (Lamar Jackson, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, even Tebow) all provided a mobile element that Trask does not.

    Trask's ceiling is probably at No. 3 above Lawrence.

3. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Trevor Lawrence is an interesting case study in exactly how much a traditional-minded voter will value a star quarterback.

    On the field, Lawrence played up to a massively high billing. In his nine appearances, Clemson went 9-0 and posted a margin of victory at 18-plus points every single time. Lawrence threw for 2,753 yards and 22 touchdowns with only four interceptions, adding 211 rushing yards and seven scores.

    He did everything you'd expect from the preseason favorite.

    But.

    Lawrence missed two games because of a positive COVID-19 test. Relative to the Heisman, what is the significance of that lost production? Trask has nearly 1,400 passing yards and 17 more touchdowns than Lawrence in two more games; in 11 games, Jones has almost 1,000 more yards.

    That's a major difference, and many voters will not overlook it despite a pandemic-related absence. Exactly how many is a question that has no precedent to help provide an answer.

2. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    There is a definite swell of support for Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith, including from B/R's Adam Kramer. At this point, Smith taking home the hardware is a legitimate possibility.

    As mentioned for several weeks, however, it would defy a three-decade trend of receivers topping out at No. 3 in voting. Larry Fitzgerald (2003) is the only wideout to even finish second since Desmond Howard won the Heisman in 1991.

    But if Smith snaps the 23-year streak of a quarterback or running back winning the Heisman, he absolutely deserves it.

    The senior paced the FBS in receptions (98) and yards (1,511) and should finish second in touchdowns (17). Most impressively, his production soared after star teammate Jaylen Waddle endured a season-ending ankle injury in late October. Smith also notched one rushing score and returned a punt for a touchdown.

    History says Jones is the front-runner. In a unique season, though, it could be fitting to have a unique Heisman winner.

1. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Consistent excellence, lethal efficiency, elite production and Alabama's undefeated record all work in Mac Jones' favor.

    While guiding the Tide to 11-0, an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff, the junior posted 3,739 yards and 32 touchdowns to four interceptions. He led the FBS in completion percentage (76.5), rating (202.3) and yards per attempt (11.4).

    More than anything, remember the comparison of Jones and Smith is both/and, not either/or.

    Jones has an undisputed edge in being able to throw to incredible skill-position talent, but he's still thrived in every way imaginable. Smith is a rare talent who transcends a quarterback, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have a top-tier quarterback like Jones.

    The eventual Heisman winner will heap praise on his teammate and fellow finalist. I believe the voters will put Jones at the microphone.