There are typically two paths to the Heisman Trophy. The first requires a player (a quarterback, probably) to lead his team to a conference championship and College Football Playoff spot while posting excellent statistics along the way and pulling off a dramatic moment or two that captures the national spotlight. Oklahoma quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray are recent examples from the Big 12.
Secondly, a player (a quarterback, probably) may rack up eye-popping numbers so significant he overcomes the blemishes of his team's won-loss record. Adding a new and exciting style of play that produces viral highlights certainly helps. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III took this path to the honor in 2011, while Johnny Manziel and Lamar Jackson followed later in the decade.
Many players across college football are capable of making a run at the Heisman in 2020. Preseason favorites like Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields have a head start on the most traditional path, but as we know from winners like Joe Burrow, Jameis Winston, and Cam Newton, a Heisman winner can emerge from relative obscurity.
The Big 12 has produced its fair share of Heisman winners, and there are candidates capable of taking both paths. Here we count top the conference's 10 candidates to watch in 2020.
10. Alan Bowman, QB, Texas Tech
If Patrick Mahomes couldn't crack the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting when he threw for 5,052 yards and accounted for 53 total touchdowns in 2016, it seems highly unlikely that Bowman, the current Texas Tech quarterback, makes the cut. But Bowman has been great when healthy. In 11 career games over the last two seasons, Bowman has completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 3,658 yards and 23 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. A surprise Red Raiders turnaround and a statistical explosion to Mahomes-like numbers could be enough to generate a little Heisman buzz for Bowman in Lubbock.
9. Max Duggan, QB, TCU
TCU turned to Duggan as a true freshman early last season, and though the Horned Frogs finished a disappointing 5-7 and missed the postseason for the first time since 2013, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of the team and its quarterback. Duggan started 10 games and finished with 2,077 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, and he added 555 rushing yards and six scores on the ground. Duggan won't have playmaking receiver Jalen Reagor in 2020, and TCU must replace its top two running backs. However, if the Frogs can bounce back like the 2014 team that revamped its offense and finished 12-1 (when Trevone Boykin finished fourth in Heisman voting), Duggan likely will have led the way.
8. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
The Heisman Trophy has been dominated by quarterbacks over the last two decades. No full-time receiver has earned the honor since Desmond Howard in 1991, and the last to break into the top 10 of the voting was Oklahoma's Dede Westbrook in 2016. And though he could be overshadowed by teammates Chuba Hubbard and Spencer Sanders, if one Big 12 wideout is capable of breaking through in 2020, it's Wallace. Despite only playing eight games, Wallace led the Cowboys with 53 receptions, 903 yards, and eight touchdowns last season. The nation's leading receiver when he suffered a torn ACL last year, Wallace could make a strong case if he returns healthy and emerges as the focal point of the offense for the Pokes.
7. Charlie Brewer, QB, Baylor
The Big 12's best chance to follow the path less traveled to the Heisman could be Brewer. The 2017 Freshman of the Year in the league, Brewer also led the Bears to 11 wins and a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game last season. In three years as a starter, Brewer has amassed 7,742 passing yards, 51 touchdowns through the air, and 18 on the ground. With new head coach Dave Aranda bringing Jorge Munoz with him from LSU to be his Passing Game Coordinator (the role Joe Brady famously played in the Tigers historic offense in 2019), and former North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora calling the plays, Brewer could find himself in a system that highlights his strengths. It might also help that the Bears must completely rebuild on defense, which could force Brewer into quite a few shootouts.
6. Spencer Sanders, QB, Oklahoma State
Chuba Hubbard and Wallace may be better overall players, but if Oklahoma State challenges for a Big 12 championship, Sanders is sure to get a lot of credit. Plus, Sanders is already pretty good and should be even better after making 10 starts as a redshirt freshman last season: He threw for 2,065 yards and 16 touchdowns and accounted for 628 rushing yards and two scores. Sanders must protect the football better (he tossed 10 interceptions and lost five of his seven fumbles), and he'll need to find the end zone more. But based on recent history, 4,000 passing yards and 40 total touchdowns is well within reach for a QB in Stillwater.
5. Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma
Because of the position he plays, and the Lincoln Riley offense in which he operates, Brooks is a longshot Heisman Trophy candidate in 2020. Nevertheless, he could find his own path to college football's highest individual honor. After all, Brooks is already a two-time 1,000-yard rusher. He also won't have to share carries with Trey Sermon or Jalen Hurts (whose 20 rushing touchdowns from last season could be up for grabs). Brooks hasn't contributed much as a receiver (20 catches for 136 yards without a touchdown combined over his first two seasons), but that could change. And, if projected starting quarterback Spencer Rattler plays like a typical redshirt freshman first-year starter (unlikely, but possible), Brooks could carry a much heavier role all-around. So far, Brooks has turned 274 career carries into 2,067 yards and 18 touchdowns. If he can post those numbers in a single year, he could become the third Sooner to win the award in four seasons.
4. Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State
If we were to include another running back on this list, Iowa State's Breece Hall would get the nod. However, in a world in which the Cyclones produce a Heisman finalist, it's difficult to imagine anyone surpassing Purdy. The junior has a wealth of experience with 22 career starts already to his credit. Purdy threw for 3,982 yards and 27 touchdowns while averaging 8.4 yards per pass attempt in 2019 and added 249 rushing yards and eight TDs on the ground. Numbers like that coupled with a run to the Big 12 title game — a possibility given four of Iowa State's six losses came in one-possession games last year — could get Purdy to New York.
3. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
No experience, no problem. Rattler appeared in only three games as a true freshman in 2019, in which he was 7-for-11 for 81 yards and one touchdown as a passer and added 23 rushing yards on three carries. But the quarterback track record has been incredible under Riley, who has called plays for three consecutive Heisman finalists, including the 2017 and 2018 winners.
Since Mayfield took over in 2015, Oklahoma QBs have averaged 4,100.8 passing yards and 38.6 touchdowns per season — numbers well within the reach of Rattler, who arrived in Norman as a five-star prospect with a reputation for elite command. Sooners signal-callers have also averaged 638.4 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground during that span. While Rattler may not be a 1,000-yard rusher like Murray or Hurts, he is quick enough to hurt defenses on the ground. If Rattler approaches the Oklahoma quarterback average of the last half-decade and leads the Sooners to another Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff appearance, he should continue Riley's streak.
2. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
No running back has won the Heisman Trophy since Derrick Henry in 2015, and only three have taken home the hardware in the last 20 years. Nevertheless, Hubbard is the leading returning vote-getter both at the position and within the conference, making him a worthy contender. He surprised many when he opted to return to Stillwater in 2020 instead of entering the NFL Draft, and though we should expect a lighter workload, Hubbard's game-breaking ability should keep him competitive statistically.
Hubbard unleashed his sprinter's speed to lead the nation with 2,094 rushing yards, and he scored 21 touchdowns on an FBS-high 328 carries as a redshirt sophomore. He led the nation with 10 carries of 40 yards or more and added 198 receiving yards on 23 catches. Anything close to those numbers should help Hubbard improve upon his eighth-place finish from last year, and if the Pokes are in the playoff hunt, it may be enough to win.
1. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Ehlinger needs 4,384 passing yards and 45 touchdowns to break Colt McCoy's career records at Texas. That's a jump from the 3,663 passing yards and 32 TDs Ehlinger accounted for as a passer in 2019, but it wouldn't be a shocking rise. Ehlinger is also 15 rushing touchdowns behind Earl Campbell for the No. 2 spot on the Longhorns all-time list. Given the fact he scored 16 times on the ground in 2018, that mark is well within reach as well.
If Ehlinger were to challenge each of those records, his statistical resume would compare favorably to some of the greatest Heisman winners in college football history. If he were to carry the Longhorns to their first Big 12 since 2009, and into the College Football Playoff for the first time since its exception, he'd likely get a huge boost as well. Those are some notable ifs, but throw in the potential for "lifetime achievement" votes he could garner as a four-year starter, and Ehlinger's path to the Heisman gets a little bit easier. Combine all factors, and it's easy to see why Ehlinger ranks among the preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy in 2020 and why he offers the best chance of any Big 12 player to earn the honor.