Heisman Trophy

Joe Burrow LSU
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Joe Burrow and the history of Heisman Trophy winners in the College Football Playoff

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On Mondy night against Clemson, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow will have a chance to make a little bit more history in what has already been a historic season. When Burrow leads LSU in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night in New Orleans, he will attempt to become the first Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to end the season holding up the national championship trophy.

This is the sixth year of the College Football Playoff and, for just the second time, a Heisman Trophy quarterback will play in the national championship game. Burrow is the first quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy and play in the title game since Marcus Mariota of Oregon played in the inaugural national championship game of the playoff era after winning the most prestigious award in college sports. Mariota passed for 333 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 39 yards against Ohio State, but the Ducks came up short in a lopsided 42-20 victory by the Buckeyes. Until last season’s rout by Clemson over Alabama, that was the widest margin of victory in the national championship game. Having a Heisman Trophy winner certainly didn’t help Oregon’s chances against a storybook ending to the Ohio State season that year.

The year after Mariota, Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy and helped power Alabama to a national championship. Henry currently holds the distinction of being the only Heisman Trophy winner to ever win a College Football Playoff national championship, and he did it in the same season.

Mariota and Oregon lost in the inaugural national championship game to Ohio State. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson did not play in the playoff in 2016. Oklahoma’s back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners (and No. 1 NFL draft picks) Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray did play in the playoff, but neither managed to get past the semifinal — Mayfield and Oklahoma lost a thriller to Georgia in the 2017 season and Murray and the Sooners were taken out by Alabama last season.

Prior to this season, players winning the Heisman Trophy were a combined 3-3 in College Football Playoff games. Burrow and LSU winning their semifinal matchup with Oklahoma pushed the Heisman winners one game over .500 all-time in the playoff. A victory by LSU would improve that record to 5-3.

Going further, players that had won a Heisman Trophy in any season are a combined 5-5 in the College Football Playoff era. Florida State and Jameis Winston were knocked out in the first College Football Playoff game (by Mariota and Oregon) and Henry and Alabama were knocked out the same day (by Ohio State).

So as far as the playoff goes for Heisman Trophy players, it’s been quite hit or miss in the previous five seasons.

Marcus Mariota remains Heisman favorite, others trying to keep pace


Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the runaway favorite to win this year’s Heisman Trophy.

Mariota is considered a 1/10 favorite to win the award, according to odds makers in Las Vegas. And he should be.

The junior signal-caller leads college football with a 190.2 quarterback rating and an average of 10.4 yards per passing attempt. His 36-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio is by far the best of any starting quarterback at the FBS level. As the country’s best dual-threat quarterback, Mariota also ran for 636 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Over his career, Mariota is the NCAA’s leader is average yards gained per play at 8.70. And he surpassed USC’s Matt Barkley as the Pac-12’s all-time leader in touchdowns responsible for with 126.

Mariota’s resume is as good as any top-level quarterback that college football has seen over the last 25 years:

Of the Top 10 on that list, eight of them are former Heisman Trophy winners. Peyton Manning is the lone exception (excluding Mariota), and there are college football fans and analysts that will still argue to this day that the former Volunteer should have won the Heisman Trophy in 1997 over Michigan’s Charles Woodson.

The bottom line: Mariota is nearly a lock to win college football’s most coveted award.

However, the Oregon quarterback won’t be the only player invited to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation. There are three other players likely to be invited, and they still have an outside chance of taking home the hardware:

Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin

With 2,260 rushing yards, the junior running back is in the midst of a very special season. Gordon has the best chance to dethrone Mariota, but he may have to do something extraordinary to become the Heisman favorite.

Gordon’s rise as a candidate truly began when he broke LaDanian Tomlinson‘s record for most rushing yards in a single game with 408 yards against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Unfortunately, that special feat was minimized when Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine broke Gordon’s record a week later.

But the Wisconsin running back still has an outside chance to break Barry Sanders‘ single-season rushing mark. Gordon needs to amass 591 yards in the Big Ten Championship game and whatever bowl game Wisconsin eventually plays in to surpass Sanders.

It’s a daunting task and time isn’t on Gordon’s side.

The Heisman Trophy presentation will be held on Dec. 15. Wisconsin’s bowl game will be played at a later date. Thus, Gordon better be within striking distance of Sanders to make a legitimate case for the Heisman Trophy.

Amari Cooper, WR Alabama

Cooper’s case is similar to a few previous Heisman Trophy resumes. He’s the best player on the best team in the country.

Alabama’s talented wide receiver presents strong statistics across the board. Cooper is second in the nation in receptions (103), receiving yardage (1,573) and tied for second with 14 touchdown receptions. All three of those statistics are new records for Alabama football.

Cooper made sure to save his best for his last Iron Bowl with 224 receiving yards and three touchdowns against the Auburn Tigers to leave a lasting impression with Heisman voters.

The last wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy was Desmond Howard in 1991. Over the following 23 years, Cooper made as good of a case as any other player at his position to win the award.

J.T. Barrett, QB Ohio State

Injuries aside, Barrett proved to be the best quarterback in the Big Ten Conference this season, and the redshirt junior was a revelation for the Buckeyes.

While Barrett wasn’t nearly as efficient as Mariota, he was almost as productive with 45 total touchdowns, which was a new Big Ten Conference record. The underclassman also accounted for 3,772 total yards.

Unfortunately, a devastating ankle injury may cost Barrett a legitimate shot to win the Heisman and the Buckeyes’ inclusion into the College Football Playoff.

But Barrett still has three more years of eligibility. Time is on his side to become the seventh Buckeye to win a Heisman Trophy.

And the winner is…

While each of the names listed are very talented and deserve Heisman-caliber recognition, Mariota would have to completely bottom out in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game to close the gap between the potential invitees.

It’s possible, too.

Mariota’s worst game of the season came against the Arizona Wildcats during the Ducks only loss of the season. If Mariota repeats his two-turnover effort in the rematch, this conversation becomes much more interesting.

Until then, this is Mariota’s race to lose. After all, the Ducks quarterback struck the pose and everything: