Column: DeVonta Smith Deserved the Heisman...But Kyle Trask Should Have Been A Close Second

Kyle Trask finished fourth in voting for the 2020 Heisman Trophy. Photo Courtesy: SEC, Credit-Courtney Culbreath

On some level we knew Kyle Trask wasn’t winning the 2020 Heisman Trophy on Tuesday night. One of four finalist, Trask was up against Alabama quarterback Mac Jones and receiver DeVonta Smith, along with Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence. As the season wore on, the Smith for Heisman train picked up speed and finally arrived at its destination in the virtual ceremony early Tuesday evening as Smith became the first receiver since Desmond Howard (1991) to lift the bronze award.

All to often in recent years, the award goes to the player on the best team. There are notable exceptions of course; Lamar Jackson on Louisville, Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Robert Griffin III of Baylor. But the three losses on Florida’s schedule before Heisman votes were due were damning in a year two of the other candidates were on an undefeated team and the third was on a team that had only one loss and it had come with said player sidelined.

Yet there was little doubt he deserved to be a finalist and for that matter, in the thick of the race. Trask was on a historic pace during a year with fewer games and more uncertainty than ever before.

Kyle Trask passes in the win against Georgia. Photo Courtesy: SEC, Credit-Hannah White

This is a small sampling of the eye popping statistics Trask put up in 2020.

46 – Total Touchdowns

  • Four more than any other FBS player in 2020

  • Tied for sixth on the SEC single-season record list

  • Second only to Tim Tebow’s 55 in 2007 on Florida’s single-season record list

43 – Passing Touchdowns

  • Seven more than any other FBS player in 2020

  • Tied for third on the SEC single-season record list, trailing only Missouri’s Drew Lock (44 in 13 games in 2017) and LSU’s Joe Burrow (60 in 15 games in 2019)

  • Broke Danny Wuerffel’s school record of 39 from his 12-game 1996 season (although bowl stats were not counted for records prior to 2002, Trask also eclipsed Wuerffel’s bowl-adjusted season total of 42)

4,283 – Passing Yards

  • Led all FBS players by 247 yards

  • Ranks second on the SEC single-season record list, only trailing LSU’s Joe Burrow (5,671 in 15 games in 2019)

  • Marks the fifth 4,000-yard passing season in SEC history

  • Broke Rex Grossman’s school record of 3,896 from his 11-game 2001 season (although bowl stats were not included, Trask also eclipsed Grossman’s bowl-adjusted total of 4,144)

356.9 – Passing Yards Per Game

  • Ranked second nationally and led the third-ranked passer by 20 yards per game

  • Third-highest single-season average in SEC history, only behind Kentucky’s Tim Couch (388.6 in 1998) and LSU’s Joe Burrow (378.1 in 2019)

  • Broke the school record established by Rex Grossman (354.2 in 2001)

180.02 – Passing Efficiency

  • Ranks sixth on the FBS single-season record list (minimum of 30 attempts per game)

  • Ranked seventh in the FBS this season, but first among players averaging at least 30 attempts per game

  • Broke Danny Wuerffel’s school record of 178.4 from the 1995 season

  • Propelled him to a 168.53 career rating, which ranks eighth in FBS history (minimum 500 completions)

  • His career figure also ranks second in school history, behind Tim Tebow’s 170.8

68.9 – Completion Percentage

  • Ranks fifth on the SEC single-season record list (minimum of 250 completions)

  • Broke Tim Tebow’s single-season school record of 67.8 percent from 2009 (minimum of 200 completions)

  • Propelled him to a career completion percentage of 67.8 percent – which ranks third in SEC history (minimum 500 completions) and breaks Tebow’s school record of 66.4 percent (minimum 400 completions)

7 – Games with Four-Plus Passing Touchdowns

  • One of 10 FBS players since 2000 (and one of two this year) with seven such games in a season

  • Broke the single-season school record previously established by Danny Wuerffel (five in 1995 and 1996)

  • Included two games of six passing touchdowns (at Ole Miss, vs. Arkansas), making him one of five SEC players in history with multiple games of six passing touchdowns in a season

5 – 400-Yard Passing Games

  • Led all FBS players

  • The only SEC player since at least the start of 1996 with five 400-yard passing games in a season

  • Broke the single-season school record jointly held by Rex Grossman (two in 2001) and Danny Wuerffel (two in 1996)

  • Included two outings of 474 passing yards (vs. Georgia and LSU), which are tied for second on Florida’s single-game record list

In most years, and perhaps without those three losses ahead of the vote, Trask would likely have been a shoe-in for the trophy. He was on pace with Joe Burrow, last year’s unquestionable winner. There is an argument that Florida didn’t do enough to promote their candidate, although compared to Alabama and Clemson—who boasted the other three candidates—their promotion was on par and even greater than others.

And as Head Coach Dan Mullen was fond of saying, winning is the best promotion of all. That’s perhaps what hurt Trask in the long run, that his team wasn’t at the top of the records, despite being a Top 10 team all season.

More so, Trask embodies all that the Heisman Memorial Trust ask of their winners, as outlined in their mission.

“The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. The winners of the trophy epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.”

That sounds a lot like Kyle Trask.

Alas, it was DeVonta Smith’s award to lose this season and he earned the right to raise the trophy. We bemoan that the Heisman had become a quarterback award (16 of the last 19 winners were passers) as opposed to simply recognizing the best player overall. And there is something to the argument. Quarterbacks, by nature of their position, are on the field more and a part of nearly every offensive play. Their stats are increased because of the offenses dependency on the player. A skill player—receiver, running back, tight end—must find a way to stand out while fighting for snaps against anywhere from five to 12 other players.

Smith did just that.

As released by Alabama, here were the qualifiers for Smith when it came to voting.

  • Leads the nation in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,641), receiving touchdowns (20) and all-purpose yards (1,912)

  • Holds the Alabama single-season record for receiving scores while ranking second in both receiving yards and receptions

  • Gone over 100 yards receiving in eight of 12 contests in 2020, including a pair of 200-plus yard performances highlighted by his 219-yard effort at LSU

  • Just the third player in SEC history with 1,200 receiving yards in multiple seasons and the fourth Crimson Tide wideout to eclipse the 1,000-yard marker in multiple seasons

  • Has been dominant in the Crimson Tide’s five games against ranked opponents, totaling 46 receptions for 715 yards and nine touchdowns

  • Added nine punt returns for 219 yards and a touchdown to go with three kickoffs totaling 46 yards

Alabama's DeVonta Smith poses with his Heisman Trophy. Photo Courtesy: Heisman Memorial Trust

So while Smith ran away with the trophy with his top-notch speed, the bigger question became, how would voting shake out amongst the remaining candidates. And, well, the numbers for the runner-ups were the most shocking part of the entire event.

Trask appeared on 48.65% of ballots (Smith appeared on 79.94%) and did not finish better than fourth in any of the six regions in which the voting is split (Far West, Southwest, South, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Midwest).

Smith polled 1,856 points to capture the award over Trevor Lawrence of Clemson (1,187 points), Mac Jones (1,130 points) also of Alabama and Kyle Trask (737 points) of Florida. The point total is reached by a system of three points for a first place vote, two for second and one for third.

For Kyle Trask to have been voted the fourth best player in the entire country is respectable and something the most famous back up in the game should be proud of without shame. It’s only the seventh time in history Florida had a top-four finisher in the Heisman voting. The only Gators to previously accomplish the feat are Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1995, 1996), Rex Grossman (2001), and Tim Tebow (2007, 2008).

Here’s the thing:

DeVonta Smith hauls in a pass versus LSU. Photo Courtesy: SEC

Smith winning makes sense. We can make our peace with that.

And we can even understand the class of finalist. Perhaps Alabama running back Najee Harris (5th) and even Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (10th) should have been higher up the finalist list than they were, but that’s somewhat due to region bias.

The rub is the fact that Trask finished fourth. The assumption the entire time has been that DeVonta Smith should win, but if it was going to be a quarterback, it needed to be Kyle Trask. The other two had not done what he did on the field this season.

Kyle Trask leads the nation in passing yards per game and touchdowns. Jones leads the nation in efficiency and rating. Presumably the 927 voters (870 media votes, 56 former Heisman winners, one fan vote submitted through Nissan) can decide which of those categories are more important to them in terms of quarterback success. This writer believes the ability to move the ball downfield and score is more important and therefore Trask performed better than Jones. The Gators also lacked a run game this season, something Jones was able to lean on at Alabama.

Trevor Lawrence is a generational quarterback, at 34-2 as a starter, who is almost assuredly going to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. But this isn’t a career award and it isn’t purely a talent and popularity contest.

Kyle Trask admires the Heisman Trophy before the 2020 virtual ceremony. Photo Courtesy: Gators Instagram

There has been an argument presented by voters that the ballot mentions nothing of the criteria listed in the Heisman mission. It instead it simply ask voters to list their three Heisman finalists knowing the trophy is “awarded to the outstanding college football player in the United States.”

And from that, a caveat is given to vote on the most talented player; the best pro prospect. But that’s not what the Heisman is about. The word “outstanding” should harken back to the original Heisman mission. Someone with great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. Outstanding is more than impressive, it’s more than talented and it’s more than potential.

The Heisman isn’t a bowl game MVP trophy. It isn’t just a quarterback award and it isn’t a career award. It’s an acknowledgment of the most outstanding player in college football that year. In this year, 2020, that was DeVonta Smith…but Kyle Trask was a close second, no matter what the numbers might say.

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