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SEC Football Preview: Top Heisman Trophy Candidates

(Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)

For the next few weeks leading up until the start of the College Football season, I will be previewing different teams, players, and more from the SEC. This week I preview the players who will be the top Heisman Trophy candidates from the conference this season.

5. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Harris is my “wildcard” pick on this list. I spent a long time choosing between him and Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix, but I just didn’t have it in me to pick someone who hasn’t even won the starting job yet.

Harris, on the other hand, has a firm grip on the starting running back job at Alabama, and that’s a position which has had great success in recent Heisman Trophy voting. Last year Harris got stuck between two guys who were trying to be high NFL Draft picks despite the fact that Harris had a better rushing average (6.7). Heck, he didn’t even get the most carries on the team in 2018 as Nick Saban decided to force feed Damien Harris the football on 150 occasions.

Both Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs are now gone, leaving Najee Harris as the bell cow of the offense. Yes, the Crimson Tide will pass the ball a ton with Tua leading the aerial attack. However, if Tagovailoa keeps coming up short in big games, Najee Harris could come in and steal the show. I can see a very reasonable path to where Harris can run for around 1,800 yards which includes some great performances in their biggest games. Plus, don’t forget that Alabama has what is considerably the easiest schedule in the SEC this season (more on that later). This season is Harris’ coming out party, and I think he will be chosen in the first few rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.

4. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

This could be a bit controversial as Burrow did not put up huge stats last season, nor did he play very well in a few games (cough, Florida, cough). However, he totally won over the team as the LSU’s leader in his very first year in Baton Rouge. He is a tough, fierce competitor who isn’t going to stop playing hard no matter what the score is. He led the surprising Tigers to a 10-3 record last season, and they only lose three starters on offense for 2019.

Of course, I’m still talking about a player that threw for less than 3,000 yards and who only completed 57.8% of his passes last season. Even if LSU went undefeated those stats would not have given Burrow a chance at the Heisman Trophy. The good news is that there is a serious lack of Heisman contenders in the SEC in 2019, and LSU could have a huge season.

Ideally, Burrow’s Heisman path would look like this: Beat Alabama, make the SEC Title Game, throw for over 3,500 yards, and have a dominant TD-INT ratio. How hard would this be for him to accomplish? Well, he would have to pass for 600 more yards then he did in 2018, he already had a really good TD-INT ratio, and LSU gets Alabama on the road with the Crimson Tide coming off a bye week. Ouch. This all depends on how much Burrow has improved. If he makes a substantial jump, I think he could end up in New York for the ceremony. If he is the same guy as last year, he doesn’t stand a chance.

3. Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M

This is where things get a bit more interesting. Mond had a very impressive sophomore season: 3,581 total yards, 31 total touchdowns, and just nine interceptions. Jimbo Fisher obviously has had an incredibly positive impact on Mond and the rest of the team. In just his first year in College Station, the Aggies won nine games for the first time since 2013.

The opportunity is certainly there for Mond in 2019. It is true that Texas A&M has one of the toughest schedules in the country, and the Aggies only return four starters on defense. It is also true that this is the second season with Fisher at the helm, and I believe the national media is seriously underrating that fact. The continued influence he will have on Mond will be huge.

For Mond, Texas A&M does not necessarily need to make the SEC Title Game. His Heisman path looks like this: lead the team to over 10 regular season wins, have over 4,000 yards of total offense, and around 40 total touchdowns. This would easily net him the Heisman, and it only asks a relatively normal improvement from Mond. The catch will be winning two more regular season games with that brutal schedule. But who knows, all it takes is a couple of Heisman moments.

2. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia

The guys at No. 2 and No. 1 on this list are going to be painfully obvious. First up is Fromm. His Heisman path is actually relatively easy: Win the SEC East and throw for around 800 more yards in the regular season compared to his last. Look, we all know that like Burrow, Fromm is not wowing anyone with his passing yard numbers (just 2,761 yards in 14 games). He is the definition of a top-tier game manager, and yes that is a compliment.

Everyone also knows that Georgia is going to walk into the SEC Title game out of the East. All I’m asking for is a slight bump in his stats. Yes, he threw for 30 touchdowns and just six interceptions, but the passing yardage has to improve in order for him to win the Heisman compared to the top guy on this list. This will be incredibly tough as the Bulldogs are losing their top three receivers from 2018.

If Fromm can overcome those losses, accumulate better stats, and yes, beat Alabama in the SEC Title game then I would give the Heisman to Fromm. That just isn’t a bet that I would be too willing to make.

1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

This was a bit of a no-brainer here, but Tagovailoa is of course the top Heisman Trophy candidate in the league entering 2019. He narrowly lost the trophy in one of the closest races ever after passing for almost 4,000 yards and over 40 TD’s (despite not playing in the majority of 4th quarters).

Believe it or not, there is still room for improvement. Against the three toughest defenses he faced last season, Tagovailoa had a 4-5 TD/INT ratio, only passed for an average of 207 yards per game, and a 57.5% completion percentage. If Alabama wants to get back to winning national titles then their quarterback must play better when it matters the most.

The Crimson Tide’s schedule this year is surprisingly (and disappointingly) easy so I expect possibly even better numbers from him. Remember, Tagovailoa was still just a true sophomore last year. I expect the Heisman race between him and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence to be very, very close. We all know his stats will be other-worldly this season. The question facing him is that he needs to be better in the biggest games. Now that is actually a bet I would easily make. This guy will be the best candidate for the Heisman Trophy from the SEC this year. Sometimes, the most obvious choice is the right one.

Article written by John Reecer