Updated: May 29, 2020
Kyle Trask: No Heisman Hype? No Problem!
When Lindy’s picked its preseason All-SEC team for 2019, the top three quarterbacks in the league were Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), Jake Fromm (Georgia) and Kelly Bryant (Missouri). Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence was the first team All-America QB with Tua making the second team. Over at Athlon, the top four were Tua, Fromm, Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) and Feleipe Franks (Florida). The Athlon preseason All-America team had Tua on the first team with Lawrence the second teamer and Sam Ehlinger (Texas) on third team. Joe Burrow was nowhere to be found, not on preseason All-SEC, preseason All-America or preseason Heisman Trophy candidate lists. Yet when the season ended, Burrow was acclaimed as the best player in the country and had elbowed his way onto many lists as one of the all-time best quarterbacks in the history of college football.
In one respect, Burrow’s rise from lightly regarded Ohio State transfer to a record setting Heisman Trophy quarterback who led LSU to a 15-0 national championship season shouldn’t be that much of a shock. The previous two Heisman winners were also transfers (2017 winner Baker Mayfield from Texas Tech to Oklahoma; 2018 winner Kyler Murray from Texas A&M to Oklahoma) who believed the grass was greener somewhere else. Mayfield walked on at Texas Tech where he became a freshman starter and after he transferred had to pay his way for a year at Oklahoma before he got a scholarship. Murray was thought to be a far superior baseball prospect (drafted in the first round by the Oakland Athletics after spending 2017 as Mayfield’s backup QB at Oklahoma). Nobody ever thought he would one day be the number one pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, but then again nobody thought Mayfield would be the first player chosen when the NFL drafted in 2018. Burrow made it three straight transfer quarterbacks to win the Heisman and then be selected first in the NFL Draft.
Nobody ever dreamed Burrow would win the Heisman although he had a fairly decent transfer year in 2018. The Heisman was supposed to go to either Lawrence or Tagovailoa. Both of them had exceptional seasons and in any other year, one of them might have won the trophy but Burrow was off the charts good. He threw for an incredible 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns while leading LSU to an unbeaten season. The Heisman vote was a Burrow tsunami. Mayfield wasn’t supposed to win in 2017, either. Lamar Jackson was the incumbent Heisman winner and far more attention was paid to Washington’s Jake Browning than Mayfield. When the 2018 season began, Fromm, Tua, UCF’s McKenzie Milton and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor were thought to be the preseason front-runners for the Heisman but Murray went into a QB coma in November and did everything right to surge to a trip to New York where he took home the big trophy.
The experiences of Mayfield, Murray and Burrow remind us that it’s rare when a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite hears his name called as the winner in New York the Saturday night after the conferences play their championship games. If you go back to 2005, the only preseason favorite to win the Heisman was Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in 2014. Most of the winners were longshots if you went by preseason hype. Florida’s Tim Tebow won it as a sophomore in 2007 when he threw for 32 touchdowns and ran for 23, but 2006 Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden of Arkansas was thought to be the odds-on favorite when the season began. Tebow made the Heisman podium in 2008 when he finished third in the voting (Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford won) and in 2009 (Alabama’s Mark Ingram won) when he finished fifth. Statistically, Tebow was at his best in 2007 but he was a far better QB in both 2008 and 2009 and yet he didn’t win.
Why past preseason expectations are relevant is because the football magazines and websites are making their Heiman favorites lists and checking them twice. On most lists you will have to search long and hard to find the name Kyle Trask even though the Florida redshirt senior quarterback is the top returning passer in the Southeastern Conference (2,941 passing yards, 25 TDPs) and the Gators are not only a lock to make everybody’s top 10 but considered a dark horse to make the College Football Playoff.
The William Hill Sports Book out of Las Vegas gives Trask 50-1 odds to win the Heisman. Justin Fields of Ohio State gets 7-2 odds and Lawrence gets 4-1. Now get this. The William Hill Sports Book lists Georgia’s Jamie Newman as the preseason third best bet to win at 10-1 odds. Newman, who is a grad transfer from Wake Forest, looked great against ACC bottom feeders and non-conference likes of Rice and Elon. He threw for all of 41 yards against Clemson, the only decent defense he saw all year. Newman didn’t get spring football at Georgia, will be learning a new offense from a new offensive coordinator and Georgia will be breaking in three new offensive linemen. Among the others who are more highly regarded by the Hill Book than Trask are Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler (redshirted last year, 25-1 odds), LSU’s Myles Brennan (two TDPs in three years, also 25-1) and Auburn’s Bo Nix (lost to Trask head-to-head, 30-1).
Forget the odds. Just count the players listed ahead of Trask, 18 in all.
And the William Hill Book isn’t the only one giving Trask the Rodney Dangerfield (no respect!) treatment. Someone named Chance Linton of 247Sports lists 16 players ahead of Trask including Alabama freshman Bryce Young (15th), who has never thrown a collegiate pass and didn’t get a spring football practice; Adrian Martinez (tie 11th), who has piloted Nebraska to consecutive losing seasons; Nix (7th), Brennan (6th), Rattler (5th) and Newman (3rd). Linton even gives odds. I’m sure they’re warming up a seat for him in Vegas right now. He’s got Trask at 40-1.
Sports Illustrated says the odds are 30-1 Trask will win it. Newman (10-1), Rattler (12-1) and Brennan (28-1) are among those who rank higher than Trask.
Perhaps the folks making these “astute” calculations are dwelling on the fact Trask was nobody’s 5-star recruit, didn’t start a football game at any level past the ninth grade and was Feleipe Franks’ caddy until Franks went down with a broken ankle in the Kentucky game last year. Trask was a fourth-year guy and career backup before he got a chance to show what he could do. In that Kentucky game, Trask got the football equivalent of a save by leading the Gators to 19 straight points in the fourth quarter to stun the raucous sellout crowd in Lexington. As a starter Trask went 8-2 while facing five Southeastern Conference defenses that ranked among the nation’s top 31.
It also seems a bit strange that no one seems to be considering this is Trask’s third year in Dan Mullen’s quarterback-friendly offense. Trask is somewhat of a film junkie anyway so he already knows what he’s supposed to do and where the ball is supposed to go in an offense that is going to be absolutely loaded in 2020. Trask will also be operating behind an experienced offensive line (four returning starters plus a grad transfer that started 34 games at Mississippi State) that should allow Florida to run the ball with some consistency as opposed to a season ago when UF had four new starters and often struggled to mount a rushing attack.
Trask will benefit from television exposure. More folks tune in to that 3:30 CBS game than any other and the 7 p.m. SEC matchup is usually at the top if not ahead in the ratings. Realistically, Trask’s chances to make the Heisman podium will come down to two basic factors: (1) Putting up consistent numbers all season but particularly against Tennessee (in Knoxville), LSU (in Gainesville) and Georgia (in Jacksonville); and (2) getting the Gators to Atlanta as SEC East Champs. If the Gators live up to their preseason billing and go 3-0 in those games with Trask throwing for 300 yards or more, then they should make the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Now, if he gets the Gators to Atlanta and then leads Florida to its first SEC title since 2008, Trask just might defy all those preseason Heisman odds.
While you would think Trask would be held in higher regard heading into the 2020 season, the guy who made the Heisman Trophy acceptance speech 14 of the past 15 years was quite often someone who wasn’t much more than a blip on the radar prior to game one. If anything, the pressure is on the guys with all the preseason hype who will have far more media attention and higher expectations. So, flying off the radar isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you don’t believe that’s true, then just think back a year ago when Tua and Lawrence were all the rage and Joe Burrow was an afterthought.
How did that turn out?