NEW YORK (AP) — The 2020 Heisman Trophy race will start with a couple of clear front-runners and plenty of room for other stars to emerge, the way LSU's Joe Burrow did this year.
Six contenders for 2020, ranked from most likely to least.
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The only Heisman finalist likely to be back in college next season. Unless Fields' teammate, Chase Young, shocks the college football world and decides to come back for his senior year. Fields is not likely to have teammates like Young and running back J.K. Dobbins cluttering up the Heisman field. He will be the clear top Buckeye. Expectations will be sky high after he threw 40 touchdown passes and just one interception in his first season at Ohio State.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Fields and Lawrence both played their high school ball in Georgia and were in the same recruiting class. They were Nos. 1 and 1a among quarterback prospects in 2018, so it seems appropriate they would battle it out for the Heisman — and then maybe to be the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Lawrence's 2019 Heisman campaign never gained traction after he played less than his best over the first month of the season. He played great over the final two months, but Clemson was so overwhelming that Lawrence and the Tigers were sort of forgotten. Glancing ahead to the Clemson's 2020 schedule, there is a chance that could happen again.
Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
Fromm did not play very well for much of this season, with a 139.67 efficiency rating that ranked 55th in the nation. But remember, last year Burrow finished with a 133.21 rating that ranked 65th in the country. If Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart can go the route LSU coach Ed Orgeron did and find someone to revamp Georgia's offense, maybe Fromm takes off next season like Burrow this year.
Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
A Sooners quarterback has been a Heisman finalist the last four years. The next one up should be a little different from the last three in that he likely won't be a transfer. Rattler was a huge recruit in the 2019 class and the front-runner to slide into coach Lincoln Riley's Heisman machine.
Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina and Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State
The Heisman almost always goes to a player on a playoff contender. An exception is occasionally made for a player who lifts his team above its usual standards. Think Robert Griffin III at Baylor in 2011 or Lamar Jackson at Louisville in 2016. Howell was the most productive freshman quarterback in the country this season, with 3,347 yards passing and 35 touchdown passes. Purdy is fifth in the nation in yards passing at 313 yards per game. If either could push his school into nine- or 10-victory territory, maybe Heisman buzz will follow.
A running back
The Heisman is a quarterback's award now. Seventeen QBs have won the award since 2000. Running backs have a hard time even breaking into the group of finalists. This season featured some wildly productive runners such as Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin (fifth in the Heisman voting), Dobbins (sixth), Chuba Hubbard of Oklahoma State (eighth) and Travis Etienne of Clemson (ninth). None made it to New York and there is a good chance all will be off to the NFL next year. You could slot Alabama's Najee Harris or Georgia's D'Andre Swift into this spot if they come back for their senior seasons. But what are the chances of that?
Javian Hawkins of Louisville is likely to enter next season as the leading returning rusher among Power Five conference players after going for more than 1,400 as a freshman. But realistically, if a guy with the resume of Taylor can't get an invitation to New York, what running back can?
Three more names to keep in mind: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU; Kedon Slovis, QB, Southern California; and Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/