Tua Tagovailoa is a heavy favorite to return to New York City for the Heisman ceremony
For all the wildly successful campaigns that the SEC has had in the modern era of our game, including 13 national titles since 1990, the same kind of dominance can’t be said for this monster southern conference in winning the Heisman trophy. In fact, there have been only six Heisman winners for the SEC in that same span of time. Only Derrick Henry has won the stiff-armed statue in the last six seasons of play.
But one thing the SEC does have going for itself this season is that there is an odds-on favorite sporting one of their uniforms in Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. The Tide operator looked like he had the Heisman sewed up last season but some late stumbles and a fast finish by Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray left Billy Sims yelling “Boomer!” at the Heisman ceremony instead.
But Tua should rebound and make another run at the trophy this year, no doubt. If he should unexpectedly fall short again due to bad luck or an earthquake that suddenly sucks down the entire Heart of Dixie state, here are some of the other candidates that could throw their helmets into the ring to win the 13-inch high, 45-pound bronze award this December.
10. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
It is universally agreed that the Tiger QB stepped into his starting role last year and was one of the bigger surprises in the first month of 2018. The former Ohio State Buckeye ended up having a few bumps in the road but still led LSU to a 10-3 season and threw for 307, 270 and 394 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception in his last three games. He should be steadier this season as he’ll have his top five targets back for his use.
9. Kelly Bryant, QB, Missouri
Bryant could be considered a wild-card pick in the SEC Heisman ranks, after seeing the writing on the wall with super-frosh Trevor Lawrence at Clemson and transferring to Mizzou for his senior year. Unlike Drew Lock before him, Bryant adds a running threat to the offense (665 rushing yards in 2017) to bring more versatility to the position. He’ll also have four of the top five receiving targets back at his disposal this year.
8. Jake Bentley, QB, South Carolina
This will be the fourth season in which the tough-minded Bentley will be at the controls of the South Carolina offense. Though he was a little banged-up at times, and also booed at times, Bentley has a strong, accurate arm. As a hint to his potential as a dark horse Heisman candidate, Bentley threw for 510 yards and three touchdowns against Clemson last November. However, with a schedule rated as one of the top-10 toughest in FBS, he’ll have to pull off some upsets to get on the Heisman radar.
7. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Normally wide receivers barely get a sniff at the Heisman, unless they return kickoffs and punts and maybe even fill in as a nickel back on defense from time to time. But the Belitnikoff Award-winning Jeudy is such a difference-maker, his highlight-reel catches and precision routes make him a go-to guy. But it’s his yards gained after catches that makes him especially worthy of some Heisman notice.
6. Feleipe Franks, QB, Florida
Going into year two of Dan Mullen’s system, this campaign should finally be a little smoother for the strapping 6-foot-6 junior. Franks has had a history of getting booed and being pulled from his starting slot, but he put together a solid 24:6 TD-to-interception ratio a year ago, while throwing for 2,547 yards. Nearly every receiver/running back that caught a pass last year is back for 2019. But if there is a questionable spot, it’s that Franks will be flinging it behind a nearly new offensive line as center Nick Buchanan is the lone returnee.
5. D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
There is a very good chance that this spot might put Swift a bit too low on this SEC Heisman watch list. He had a few nagging injuries early on last season yet was still able to rush for 1,068 yards and 10 touchdowns. Now, with no more Elijah Holyfield to split carries with, expect Swift to be the feature back and hit another 1,000-yard season, maybe significantly more. Oh, but also expect him to head to the NFL after this season as well.
4. Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
Mond earned eight starts behind center as a freshman and then threw for 3,107 with 24 TDs in a solid sophomore season. This time he’ll have his entire wide receiver corps at his behest as he looks to take another big step up in leading the Aggies. One thing Mond has going for him is the schedule. Sure, it’s a crusher, but can you imagine if he can engineer a road upset or two at Clemson, at Georgia or at LSU? That would put him on the Heisman map for sure.
3. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Obviously with Tua Tagovailoa at the controls, Harris’ production won’t be as vital to the success of this team as it might be at another program. But make no mistake, this former five-star high school product is worth his salt. Harris sat second string behind Damien Harris last season and still picked up 783 rushing yards, averaging a staggering 6.7 yards per carry. Look for him to take on more of a “feature back” role this season and stack up the stats.
2. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
Fromm will be leaned on heavily in 2019. His three top targets from last year’s 11-3 team have moved on and there is nothing but inexperienced youngsters behind him. Also, James Coley sheds his “co” label and is the offensive coordinator, and he likes to toss the pill a bit more than his predecessors, so look for Fromm to be a little more unabated in the Bulldog offense this year. We’ll see if Fromm can play all season like he did in that Alabama game, where he had his best outing: 301 yards and a 28-14 second-half lead.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
This is essentially the working definition of a no-brainer. Tua came in second in the Heisman voting last season after posting an insane 43:6 TD-to-INT ratio. With his entire uber-talented receiving corps of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle all returning, he’ll have all his big-time targets back to vex opposing defenses. The only question mark to Tua’s Heisman run will be that there are only two offensive line starters back this year - granted they are All-American candidates in tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Alex Leatherwood.
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.