Heisman Watch: Joe Burrow is the frontrunner, and there's not a close second

Each week for the rest of the season, we will highlight the five players we think are the top Heisman Trophy contenders. The list could change weekly as new players emerge and the true candidates separate themselves from the pack.

Previously: Preseason, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10

If any part of you was still skeptical about what Joe Burrow is doing at LSU entering Saturday’s game against Alabama, it’s safe to say you’re a skeptic no more.

Is this the best Alabama defense we’ve ever seen? No. But that does not take away from another dazzling performance from Burrow on an enormous stage. Burrow completed 31-of-39 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 64 yards in a 46-41 Tigers triumph.

Every time Alabama looked like it was poised to storm back and potentially take a lead, Burrow — with some help from Clyde Edwards-Helaire and an excellent stable of receivers — had an answer. Alabama, after trailing 33-13 at halftime, twice cut LSU’s lead to just six points.

On the ensuing drives, both in the fourth quarter, LSU converted on four straight third-down plays, all courtesy of Burrow. On the LSU scoring drive after Alabama made it 33-27, Burrow hit Justin Jefferson for 13 yards on third-and-3 from the Bama 49, found Edwards-Helaire in the flat for 11 on third-and-10 from the Bama 36 and then took off for a 15-yard run on third-and-5 from the Bama 20. On LSU’s next drive, Burrow reeled off an 18-yard run on another third down.

All told, Burrow was 8-of-10 for 88 yards with 33 yards rushing in the fourth quarter, and now he is the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy while playing for arguably the nation’s best team.

(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)
(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

1. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

Joe Burrow is inching closer and closer to an FBS record for pass efficiency. Following his effort against Alabama, Burrow’s completion percentage jumped up a tick from 78.8 to 78.9 for the year. That’s a ridiculous 236 completions on 299 attempts for 3,198 yards, 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

Burrow, who has gone beyond the 300-yard mark in seven of LSU’s nine games (he had 278 and 293 yards in the two others) and is averaging 355.3 yards per game, is behind only Washington State’s Anthony Gordon for the national passing yardage lead, but Gordon’s 3,794 has come on 156 more attempts.

It remains to be seen if LSU moves past Ohio State to take hold of the top spot in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday night, but Burrow has the Tigers on the path to the SEC title game. And provided he has no major slip-ups in the coming weeks — games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M remain — Burrow is on track to be just the second Heisman winner in LSU history. The first was the late Billy Cannon, who won it back in 1959.

(Last week: 1)

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is carried off the field by his teammates after defeating Alabama 46-41 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Tuscaloosa , Ala. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is carried off the field by his teammates after defeating Alabama 46-41. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

2. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Against Iowa State on Saturday night, Jalen Hurts put forth another excellent performance. He threw for 273 yards, rushed for 68 and combined for five touchdowns. But a late mistake nearly cost his team the game.

Oklahoma was in control with a 42-21 lead late in the third quarter, but seemed to take its foot off the gas. And when ISU cut the lead down to 42-35 with 3:35 to play, things were tense in Norman. But all Hurts had to do was lead his offense to a few first downs and the Sooners would be able to ice the game. Instead, he threw an inexplicable interception on third-and-7 from his own 28.

Instead of throwing the ball away or going down to keep the clock rolling, Hurts forced the ball into traffic and was intercepted at OU’s 35-yard line with 2:43 to play. Eight plays later, ISU scored and opted to go for the lead with 24 seconds remaining. However, the two-point try was unsuccessful and OU held on for a 42-41 win.

Despite another gaudy statistical output from Hurts, his interception and the missed two-point try will be the plays most remember from this game.

(Last week: 2)

3 Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Tua Tagovailoa clearly wasn’t healthy, but put forth a gutty performance and was a big reason why Alabama made it a game in the second half. Tagovailoa was just three weeks removed from a high-ankle sprain, and his mobility was limited. But he still was able to throw for 418 yards and four touchdowns, albeit on just 21-of-40 passing with a pair of turnovers.

For the season, Tagovailoa is up to 2,584 yards, 31 touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 70.9 percent of his throws. And that’s even after missing the Arkansas game. The Crimson Tide might end up on the outside looking in for the College Football Playoff, but Tagovailoa could end up in New York for the Heisman ceremony for the second straight season. Alabama heads to Mississippi State next weekend, hosts Western Carolina and then has the Iron Bowl left on its schedule.

(Last week: 5)

Tua Tagovailoa (13) was effective for Alabama against LSU despite not being 100 percent. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Tua Tagovailoa (13) was effective for Alabama against LSU despite not being 100 percent. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

4. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State

Chase Young’s Heisman hype came crashing down when it was announced Friday morning that he was dealing with an NCAA eligibility issue and would miss the Maryland game. As more has come out — Young reportedly was loaned money (that he repaid) by a family friend to fly his girlfriend to the Rose Bowl last year — all eyes have shifted on an impending announcement about the length of suspension Young will serve.

OSU was just fine without him in a 73-14 win over Maryland, and probably won’t need to play its starters in the second half to beat Rutgers on Saturday. But the Buckeyes will certainly want Young on the field when they look to close out another Big Ten East title against No. 9 Penn State and No. 14 Michigan. With 13.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss, Young has been the most dominant defensive player in college football in 2019.

(Last week: 2)

5. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

Already the national rushing leader by a significant margin, Oklahoma State sophomore Chuba Hubbard will have the chance to put up huge numbers in the next three weeks. Hubbard, with 1,604 yards in nine games, will go up against Kansas, West Virginia and Oklahoma in the Cowboys’ final three regular season games. Those teams rank No. 126, No. 81 and No. 51 nationally in rush defense.

Hubbard could become just the second running back in Oklahoma State history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. The other was some guy named Barry Sanders, whose ridiculous 2,850 yards in 1988 is still an all-time mark.

(Last week: Unranked)

Also considered

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: Taylor notched the 10th 200-yard rushing performance of his career on Saturday when he went for 250 yards in a win over Iowa. Taylor is third in the country with 1,259 yards, but he’ll need a miraculous finish to the season to reach 2,000 yards again.

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson: Travis Etienne has somehow flown under the radar this season, but his numbers are ridiculous. He is currently fourth in the country with 1,214 rushing yards on just 137 carries. That’s an average of 8.9 yards per carry, which leads the country. The three players with more rushing yards have done so on 236 (Hubbard), 272 (Boston College’s AJ Dillon) and 208 attempts (Taylor).

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State: The quarterback on the No. 1 team in the country always deserves some love. It’s honestly a shame he hasn’t had to put a full game together to this point in the season, and that’s only because of his team’s dominance (average margin of victory: 42.4 points).

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State: After going for 90 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries against Maryland, Dobbins is up to 1,200 yards and 11 TDs on the season. Among rushers with at least 100 attempts, Dobbins’ 7.2 yards per rush ranks second in the country.

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