John Bazemore/Associated Press
LSU’s Joe Burrow is your 2019 Heisman winner, and it wasn’t even close.
In fact, with 93.8 percent of possible votes, per ESPN’s broadcast, it was the most lopsided “race” in Heisman history. The previous record belonged to Ohio State’s Troy Smith, who got 91.6 percent of the vote in 2006.
Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Ohio State’s Justin Fields had spectacular seasons. The former put up numbers virtually indistinguishable from what Kyler Murray accomplished en route to last year’s Heisman Trophy. The latter merely scored 50 touchdowns (40 passing, 10 rushing) while throwing just one interception.
In virtually any other season, either one of those quarterbacks would have been the runaway favorite for the sport’s most prestigious honor.
But Burrow was just too impressive from start to finish.
In the season opener against Georgia Southern, Burrow had more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four). The only thing more impressive than the way he surgically decimated the Eagles is that the performance barely stands out as an outlier on his game log. Heck, it was actually his worst game in terms of yardage (278), though that’s because he took his last snap with around 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Burrow completed at least 71 percent of his pass attempts in all 13 games. He accounted for at least three touchdowns in all but one game. He will enter the College Football Playoff with a TD-INT ratio of 8.0.
And while Hurts and Fields did their thing as quarterbacks for programs that also produced top-three finishers in last year’s Heisman race, Burrow worked his magic in LSU of all places.
Burrow didn’t just break LSU single-season passing records.
He annihilated them.
Rohan Davey was the previous program leader in single-season passing yards with 3,347 in 2001. Burrow is at 4,715 and counting. Likewise, the previous touchdown record of 28—held by both Matt Mauck (2003) and JaMarcus Russell (2006)—was left in Burrow’s dust long ago. He had 29 after just seven games and is currently at 48.
Not only did he destroy LSU records, but he’s also already No. 1 in SEC history in both passing yards and touchdowns for a single season—and he has at least one more game to pad his lead. The previous records were 4,275 yards by Kentucky’s Tim Couch in 1998 and 44 touchdowns by Missouri’s Drew Lock in 2017.
The most absurd number of all, though, is his passer efficiency rating.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Prior to this season, there had only been seven instances of a quarterback posting a single-season PER of 185 or better, none of which reached the 200 plateau. But Burrow was above 185 in 12 of 13 games, went over 200 eight times and finished at 201.5—which would have been the new record if not for Tua Tagovailoa’s mark of 206.9 in nine games played.
Not bad for a guy who spent three years in Columbus without playing a single meaningful down.
When Burrow first committed to Ohio State in May 2014, he was neither a top-250 recruit nor the guy whom Buckeyes fans wanted.
Plan A was 5-star dual-threat QB Torrance Gibson, who ultimately chose the Buckeyes that November, switched to wide receiver, got suspended and never played a snap of FBS college football. Plan B was Brandon Wimbush, who verbally committed to Penn State less than two weeks before Burrow’s decision, later flipped to Notre Dame and eventually transferred to UCF.
Fittingly, Burrow ended up being Plan C for the next three years at Ohio State.
He redshirted in 2015 while JT Barrett and Cardale Jones battled for the starting job. Burrow backed up Barrett the following season, but he never saw the field in a game decided by fewer than 45 points. If Barrett had suffered a serious injury, Urban Meyer likely would have thought long and hard about burning Dwayne Haskins’ redshirt rather than handing the keys to Burrow. And in 2017, Burrow sat behind both Barrett and Haskins, again only receiving snaps in blowouts.
Nati Harnik/Associated Press
When it became clear the following spring that Haskins was going to be the starter in 2018, Burrow opted to explore his options in the transfer portal.
Ten days and 15 pounds of crawfish later, Burrow committed to LSU and began his 19-month journey to the Heisman Trophy.
It’s a tale of patience, persistence and perseverance, and recently it seems that type of backstory has become a prerequisite for winning the Heisman.
2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield was a walk-on at Texas Tech before thriving at Oklahoma for three years.
2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray spent one tumultuous season with Texas A&M before transferring to Oklahoma and sitting out the 2016 season. When he chose the Sooners in April 2016, he thought he would inherit the starting job in 2017. However, in June 2016, Mayfield was granted an additional year of eligibility, forcing Murray to wait even longer for his time to shine.
Burrow makes it three stiff-armed transfers in a row.
Prior to this run, there had only been two former FBS transfers who won the Heisman: Cam Newton in 2010 (started with Florida; won with Auburn) and Felix “Doc” Blanchard in 1945 (started with North Carolina; won with Army). And even those weren’t “greener pastures” moves like the recent transfers. Blanchard went to Army because he enlisted during World War II, and Newton left Florida after getting arrested for stealing a laptop.
This idea of a quarterback going elsewhere for more playing time and being wildly successful is a new trend that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. (We aren’t suggesting that it should go away, nor that it’s a bad thing for the sport, just to be clear.)
In addition to the recent winners, the top challengers for the Heisman these days are often former residents of the transfer portal, too.
Last year’s fourth-place finisher (Will Grier) and fifth-place finisher (Gardner Minshew) both began their college careers elsewhere. This year’s runner-up (Jalen Hurts; Alabama to Oklahoma) and third-place finisher (Justin Fields; Georgia to Ohio State) weren’t even on their respective new rosters until January.
Will that continue next year?
Fields will probably open the 2020 season as the favorite to win the Heisman, and you can already put new transfers like Jake Bentley (Utah), Feleipe Franks, Anthony Brown and Justin Rogers (all TBD new schools) on the list of candidates, too. If Lincoln Riley snags another graduate transfer, feel free to cement that guy at No. 3 in the preseason odds behind Fields and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, given Oklahoma’s run with Heisman-worthy transfers.
Of course, before we can start worrying about next year, there’s still a College Football Playoff to be decided.
As incredible as this season has been for Burrow, we all know the made-for-Hollywood storybook ending would be a national championship pitting the Heisman winner against the program that never deemed him good enough to be a starter. We came into this season expecting to see Episode V of Alabama vs. Clemson, but Joe Burrow vs. Ohio State might be even greater theater.
Recruiting rankings via 247Sports‘ composite.
Kerry Miller covers college football and men’s college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.