Heisman Trophy watch: Looking ahead to 2020
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Heisman Trophy watch: Looking ahead to 2020

After a season of electrifying plays and record-breaking numbers, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was named the Heisman Trophy winner, establishing himself as the most valuable college player in the entire country. The Ohio native needed to be the most accurate passer in the country and share the lead for most touchdowns responsible for to secure the award.

Like every Heisman winner before him, Burrow had to be exemplary in his performances throughout the entire season. Next year, other college players will have to embark on that same strenuous journey if they want to be among the elite few chosen to hoist the trophy. Everyone from freshmen to seniors will be fighting for position next year, but some will already have an advantage thanks to their performances this season.

Chase Young most likely will return for his senior season, and Tua Tagovailoa might spend a year rehabbing at Alabama, so this list may look different come Week 1 of the regular season. For now, this watchlist includes players who are certain to be playing next year, players people should be on the lookout for next year to be in the early mix for the Heisman.

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

The long-haired Lawrence has led Clemson to two straight Playoff berths and has generally dazzled NFL scouts with his arm talent. Still, that hasn’t translated to the Heisman Trophy or even an invite to New York in December. 2020 could be his year to change that.

Lawrence literally hit a sophomore slump this year at times, doubling his interception total from the previous year. Fortunately, he still kept it under double digits, at eight, and he managed to throw 34 touchdowns heading into bowl season — four more than he threw last season in two fewer games. He also finished top five in the nation in most touchdowns responsible for.

The ACC is the only Power Five conference to finish outside of the top five in overall strength of schedule, and only Miami has a top-15 recruiting class in 2020. With Lawrence coming back for potentially his last year at Clemson, he’s in a perfect position to torture a soft conference again, put up ridiculous numbers and win the Heisman.

Justin Fields, Ohio State

Fields will be the only remaining Heisman finalist from 2019 to return to college football, and that means another year of watching him lead Ohio State to victory after victory. With his success this year, he will be at the top of most people’s Heisman watchlists in 2020.

Fields earned a finalist nod this year after finishing fourth in the country in passing efficiency rating, third in touchdowns responsible for and sixth in total yards per play. He also guided the Buckeyes to a Big 10 title and a perfect record in the toughest conference in the nation, according to overall strength of schedule.

The conference isn’t expected to let up anytime soon in terms of quality, and Fields has all the tools needed to repeat his overall performance this season — and he won’t have a historic season from Joe Burrow to compete with. He has as good a chance as anyone to win the Heisman next season.

Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis

The Memphis Tigers nearly finished the year perfect before the bowl season and a lot of their success can be attributed to their workhorse running back, Kenneth Gainwell. He made the most of his year and is looking like the running back to break into the Heisman conversation in 2020.

The redshirt freshman lived up to his name and found lots of openings playing in Memphis’ run-heavy attack. He gained 1,425 yards on the ground, which ranked eighth in the country. He also added 532 yards receiving, finishing the prebowl season with 1,957 yards — good for fourth in the nation in total yards from scrimmage.

With stud runners like Jonathan Taylor, Chuba Hubbard, Travis Etienne and J.K. Dobbins all potentially leaving college football, there is plenty of space for Gainwell to get the national attention he deserves.

Kedon Slovis, USC

USC’s season was chaotic at times, but at least the Trojans found their quarterback of the future in Kedon Slovis. The true freshman took the starting reins from an injured J.T. Daniels and outperformed Matt Fink, and USC hasn’t looked back.

While he operated in relative anonymity in the Pac-12 with Justin Herbert and Anthony Gordon taking all of the headlines, Slovis was still putting up great numbers as a freshman, finishing the prebowl season with 28 touchdowns, including a 12-1 touchdown-interception ratio in the final three games of the regular season. He also was the fifth-most accurate quarterback in the nation, completing 71.8 percent of his passes.

USC hasn’t had a lot of success in recent years, but Slovis’ arrival gives the Trojans a lot to look forward to. He has weapons at the skills positions he needs to put up some Heisman numbers in 2020.

Sam Howell, North Carolina

While Trevor Lawrence and Clemson were hogging all of the attention in the ACC, Sam Howell quietly had a historic season in Mack Brown’s first year returning to North Carolina. The freshman has a chance to be the best quarterback in UNC history since Mitch Trubisky, and that could mean Heisman votes.

Howell set the ACC freshman record for passing yards and touchdowns in 2019. He was fourth in the nation overall in passing touchdowns and helped the Tar Heels reach their first bowl since 2016.

Lawrence might be the more recognizable quarterback for good reason, but Howell is a star in his own right. If North Carolina can compete with Clemson in 2020, expect Howell to be at the center of it, making some noise in the Heisman race.

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