Even though it's my second year on the Gophers football beat, this season has provided many firsts.
It is 2020, after all.
The Zoom news conferences and the fact I've only seen two games in person this season notwithstanding, one of the new parts of my coverage this year is quickly approaching: awards season.
I'll admit, I generally try to avoid voting for awards. In the same way that doing rankings and predictions each week makes me uncomfortable, being a part of deciding which hardworking player deserves what leaves me falling back on my standard life philosophy of "who's to say?" Am I really qualified to judge which player was better? Yes, I am a sportswriter and thus have a deeper understanding of the game. And, of course, the stats don't lie.
But if anyone has ever read any of my stories, it's pretty clear that I'm much more privy to the human aspect of these players. And that's why awards voting is my nightmare. Because I don't know all of the 15,000 or so Division I football players across the country personally. I don't know their stories. And I've never been one to be able to separate the player on the field from the person off it. It's one in the same to me.
Also, as someone who has lost many an award, I would rather not be the cause of that disappointment and low-key rage in anyone else.
All of that is for not, though, since this year I find myself voting for two sets of awards. I'll spare the exhaustion of having to go through my Associated Press All-Big Ten first and second teams, since this insider can only be so long. But humor me as I work through my thoughts on the Heisman Trophy.
We all went into this season assuming Trevor Lawrence was the uncrowned champion. The Clemson quarterback led his team to the national championship game last season, but the preseason front-runner has fallen to fourth in the latest odds. That's mostly because he missed two games because of COVID-19 and had another postponed, taking him out of the spotlight for more than a month.
Even without those games, though, Lawrence's performance still has been impressive. He's 173-for-250, completing more than 69% of his passes, while accumulating 2,431 yards and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He could make a late play for the Heisman, with votes due after this week's conference championship games, if he can make a statement in the ACC title game against undefeated Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish's quarterback is also in the mix for the honor. Ian Book is 181-for-286 for 2,382 yards, 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also amassed 465 yards on the ground, along with eight scores. He's considered a bit of a dark horse for the Heisman, even with North Carolina coach Mack Brown advocating for Book.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields finished third in last season's Heisman voting, but his chances aren't currently great since he's also missed three games because of COVID-19 cancellations. He'll play his sixth game this weekend in the Big Ten championship against Northwestern, but that's still far fewer games than his fellow contenders, and that's bound to make a difference to voters despite his 1,407 passing yards and 15-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The two favorites are also quarterbacks (surprise!): Mac Jones of Alabama and Kyle Trask of Florida. Jones has completed more than 76% of his passes for 3,321 yards, 27 touchdowns and three interceptions. Trask is at 70% with 3,717 yards, 40 touchdowns and five interceptions. Jones has the edge, though, as his Alabama team is 10-0 while Florida is 8-2. The two will go head-to-head Saturday in the SEC championship, which is sure to interest many Heisman voters.
But my vote might have to go to the one non-QB in the mix, Alabama receiver Devonta Smith. He's been scintillating this year, making 83 grabs for 1,327 yards and 15 touchdowns. He holds the SEC record for career receiving touchdowns. And it's the quality along with the quantity, as displayed with his one-handed snag against LSU and a 84-yard punt return score against Arkansas this season.
Plus, a receiver hasn't won the award since Desmond Howard in 1991. And I always enjoy going against the grain.
Though, I am only voting this year in the place of the late, great Sid Hartman. That's a big hole to fill. So maybe I ought to vote how Sid would have preferred.
Mo Ibrahim for Heisman 2020 it is.