Heisman watch Week 12: A new front-runner emerges

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Photo Credit: Rocky Higine | Daily Texan Staff

Week 11 wasn’t the craziest week of college football this season, but it still provided quality entertainment as two playoff-ranked teams squared off in Tuscaloosa.

The then-No. 2 LSU Tigers downed the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide in a battle for the ages as the two Heisman candidates — LSU senior quarterback Joe Burrow and Alabama junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — squared off in a late-season matchup.

But while the newly-crowned No. 1 LSU Tigers and Burrow ultimately prevailed, Tagovailoa’s Heisman hopes haven’t been stomped out yet.

Here’s what to watch for in Week 12:

Joe Burrow — Quarterback, LSU

Burrow’s incredulous season took an elephant-sized leap in last Saturday’s win over the third-ranked Crimson Tide, the Tigers’ fourth victory over a ranked team this season.

Burrow dominated Tagovailoa statistically, throwing for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns while completing almost 80% of his passes. Burrow has now thrown for over 3,000 yards on the season, second only to Anthony Gordon of Washington State.

If Burrow continues this pace against three struggling opponents — Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M — in LSU’s last games of the regular season, he’s a lock to not only break the single-season completion percentage record, but to become LSU’s first Heisman winner since 1959.

Tua Tagovailoa — Quarterback, Alabama

Alabama’s reign of terror over the SEC hit a speed bump against LSU, but Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide remain in the driver’s seat.

While Tua’s 418 passing yards and four touchdowns weren’t enough to overtake Burrow, Tagovailoa hasn’t been eliminated from Heisman consideration yet. With three games left to play — including one against Auburn in the Iron Bowl — the junior quarterback still has time to pad his stats, although losing the head-to-head matchup with Burrow is a blow to his chances.

With likely blowout games against a Mississippi State team playing for bowl eligibility and FCS Western Carolina, the only thing left that could hurt Tua’s hopes is playing time.

Now the question becomes whether Saban will sit Tagovailoa for half the game as he did early this season, or let him play.

Jalen Hurts — Quarterback, Oklahoma

It didn’t take long for the Sooners to return to the big stage.

After surviving a nail-biter against Iowa State that was decided by a late two-point conversion attempt, Hurts and the Sooners head south to Waco for College Gameday and ABC’s prime-time game. But while this year’s team may not be the College Football Playoff-qualifying team from years past, Hurts is hardly to blame. In Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State, the Sooner defense allowed 48 points while Hurts threw for 395 yards and a touchdown. In last week’s narrow escape from Iowa State, Hurts threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and he still holds the highest quarterback rating in college football.

Hurts may be slipping out of Heisman contention, but he shouldn’t be. He’ll have the opportunity Saturday against a stout but untested Baylor defense to thrust himself back into the conversation.

Justin Fields — Quarterback, Ohio State

Unlikely to win the award but still finding his way into the conversation is Fields, Ohio State’s sophomore Georgia transfer.

In his first year as a starter, Fields’ production has been almost immaculate. His touchdown to interception ratio stands at 27:1, and Ohio State is yet to win a game by fewer than 24 points. Although he has not yet had a 300-yard performance in 2019, he leads a Buckeye offense averaging a whopping 51 points per game.

Expect the Buckeye steamroller to chug right along against Rutgers, against whom they stand as comical 53-point favorites.