How Hutch voted for the 2019 Heisman Trophy
For the second straight year, I had the honor of being part of the Heisman Trophy electorate. It’s a privilege that I take seriously, as I consider it one of the most prestigious awards in sports.
Last season, a strong finish by Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray gave him the edge over Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on my ballot, with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins receiving my third-place vote. Click here for the reasoning behind my 2018 selections.
There wasn’t quite as much drama for the No. 1 spot this year, but I agonized over which two players should receive my other votes. So without further ado, here is my second Heisman Trophy ballot…
1. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow
This was an easy selection. Like many people, I always thought LSU could be an extremely dangerous team if it got solid quarterback play and what Burrow has done for the Tigers’ offense this season is nothing short of incredible.
He has completed an incredible 77.9 percent of his passes this season, which would break Colt McCoy’s single-season record by more than one percentage point, plus leads the nation with an SEC-record 48 touchdown passes while throwing only six interceptions. On top of that, Burrow’s 362.7 passing yards per game rank second nationally behind only the latest Mike Leach quarterback (Anthony Gordon at Washington State), while his 4,715 total passing yards broke an SEC record - set by Tim Couch during Kentucky’s Air Raid era with Leach as offensive coordinator.
Although not known as a runner, Burrow averaged 6.9 yards on 68 non-sack carries and added three more scores on the ground. His arm is what makes him special, though. At 201.5, he’s on pace to break the NCAA record for passing efficiency rating, which was set by Tagovailoa (199.4) and Murray (199.2) last season. (Tagovailoa had a 206.9 rating through nine games, when he got injured.)
Burrow also delivered on the big stage. Early in the season, he threw for 471 yards - including a 61-yard touchdown on third-and-17 - in a road win at Texas. Against the three teams that beat LSU last season - Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M - Burrow completed 78.9 percent of his passes for 346 yards per game and nine total touchdowns with no interceptions.
I will always wait to vote on the Heisman until after championship weekend, but I had his name written in the top spot in Sharpie even before he took care of a very good Georgia team in the SEC Championship Game.
2. Ohio State defensive end Chase Young
Things got tricky behind Burrow. However, the more I watched Ohio State, the more I realized Young was deserving of Heisman talk. He doesn’t play quarterback, running back or any of the flashy offensive positions, but he definitely makes his presence known in a game at his defensive end spot.
Despite missing games against Maryland and Rutgers - arguably the two worst teams in the Big Ten, against which he likely would have been able to pad his stats - because of a suspension, Young still led the country in sacks with 16.5. That also broke the Ohio State single-season record, a place that has produced some really good pass-rushers.
In a big matchup with No. 11 Wisconsin, Young was dominant, racking up four sacks, five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. In his first game back from the aforementioned two-game suspension, he was dominant again, with three sacks, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble against No. 13 Penn State.
According to Pro Football Focus, he finished the season with 51 total pressures, giving him a 96.8 pass-rush grade. For a comparison, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett earned a 90.8 pass-rush grade in 2016. Young’s overall grade of 96.7 is a full 2.7 points higher than the next defensive player, regardless of position.
3. Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard
I considered several different players for the third spot on my ballot.
Considering how he handled his situation at Alabama, I’m a big Jalen Hurts fan and he had a tremendous season. His passer rating of 200.3 would be on pace to break the NCAA record if it wasn’t for Burrow and he’s added 1,255 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Ultimately, I didn’t go with him because of some struggles and costly turnovers in recent weeks, plus it seems like the Oklahoma quarterback position is set up for dual-threat quarterbacks to put up big numbers.
Similarly, Ohio State quarterbacks are set up to succeed in their system, but Justin Fields’ 40-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is incredible and he’s rushed for another 10 scores. Tagovailoa deserves some love because he was arguably better this year than last season, but he unfortunately suffered an injury that caused him to miss the final three games of the season.
Ultimately, it came down to a pair of running backs for me: Hubbard and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. Their numbers are very similar - 1,936 and 1,909 rushing yards, respectively, plus 21 touchdowns and four 200-yard games apiece. Taylor racked up his yards on 10 fewer carries, giving him the edge in yards per attempt (6.38 vs. 6.27), while Hubbard racked up his yards in one fewer game, giving him the edge in yards per game (161.3 vs. 146.8).
Taylor had more production in the passing game (209 yards and 5 TD vs. 183 yards and 0 TD), but what pushed Hubbard over the edge is just how consistent he was. The only time he failed to hit the century mark was in a blowout win over FCS McNeese State and he had only eight carries for 44 yards. Against Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State - the three Big 12 teams who held their opponents under four yards per carry - Hubbard averaged nearly five yards per carry. On the flip side, Taylor was held under 100 yards three times, including in critical games against Ohio State and Minnesota.
That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel bad for Taylor, who will likely enter the NFL Draft this year having not been a Heisman Trophy finalist a single time despite rushing for 6,080 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons at Wisconsin. That is by far the most rushing yards by a player during a three-year career - shattering Herschel Walker’s total of 5,259 - and it ranks sixth all-time. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t go back and forth between the two running backs even after submitting my ballot.