Heisman Watch: Can Chase Young really win? History is not on his side

Each week for the rest of the season, we will highlight the five players we think are the top Heisman Trophy contenders. The list could change weekly as new players emerge and the true candidates separate themselves from the pack.

Previously: Preseason, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8

Only one defensive player has ever won the Heisman Trophy — Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997. That is unlikely to change in 2019, but Ohio State defensive end Chase Young has barreled his way into the conversation.

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Young put forth an absolutely dominant display in Ohio State’s 38-7 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday, compiling a ridiculous six tackles, five tackles for loss and four sacks on a rainy afternoon in Columbus. Young was by far the most dominant player on a field full of future pros — Wisconsin churns out NFL linemen on a yearly basis — and upped his sack total to an FBS-leading 13.5 in eight games.

Young is entering a stratosphere of defensive line dominance occupied by players like Ndamukong Suh and Jadeveon Clowney and it’s hard to argue that anybody other than Young is the best player in college football.

But the Heisman has historically been an award slanted toward offense. Aside from Woodson’s historic win, only two defensive players — Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o (2012) and Pittsburgh defensive lineman Hugh Green (1980) — have finished as the runner-up for the award.

Plenty of defensive players have received votes, but they typically appear toward the end of voters’ ballots. In the last 50 years, only six defensive linemen (13 defensive players overall including Woodson) have finished in the top five of voting — with Suh being the most recent in 2009 when he finished fourth. That season, Suh compiled ridiculous statistics from his defensive tackle spot: 85 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Those stats don’t adequately summarize the totality of Suh’s dominance. And the same can be said for Young.

“He’s a man amongst boys out there,” a veteran NFL scout told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel. “He’s getting close to Ndamukong Suh territory. Chase Young makes it look easy.”

From a historical standpoint, Young’s chances don’t look good. But other than LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, there hasn’t been an offensive player that has really separated himself from the pack of Heisman contenders.

Young will need to continue producing at a high level as the season progresses, especially in Ohio State’s biggest games. He should not be discounted from this race.

(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)
(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

1. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

Against the toughest defense he may face all season, Burrow thrived once again. In LSU’s 23-20 win over Auburn — a win that was not as close as the final score may indicate — Burrow completed 32-of-42 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown. He also had 31 yards and a score on the ground in the victory, which improved LSU’s record to 8-0 and set up a much-anticipated showdown with No. 1 Alabama in two weeks.

Burrow was hit early and often by Auburn’s star-studded defense, but he managed to play better as the game progressed. There were a few slip-ups, though. Burrow tried a back-shoulder throw toward the goal line but had his pass picked off by Auburn’s Roger McCreary. LSU also failed to score inside the 5-yard line on another possession, but Burrow was only given a chance to throw a quick receiver screen on fourth-and-goal after three straight runs.

Still, the performance marked Burrow’s sixth game with 300-plus passing yards on the season, keeping him at second in the nation with 2,805 yards and 30 touchdowns. Burrow’s 78.8 completion percentage not only leads the nation, but it would mark an FBS record if the season ended today. After a bye week, Burrow has the chance to lead the Tigers to a win in Tuscaloosa — something LSU hasn’t done since 2011.

(Last week: 1)

2. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State

It’s not like Young is a new name to those who pay attention to the sport. Young was often overshadowed by Nick Bosa during the early part of 2018, but Bosa’s injury and subsequent departure from Ohio State allowed Young to move into a premier role on the Buckeyes defense.

He ended up racking up 34 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks for the season. He notably had three tackles for loss and two sacks in a big road win over Penn State and three sacks in the Big Ten Championship Game. But Young’s performance on Saturday was his best yet — and he did it against a stellar Wisconsin offensive line, paving the way for a potentially historic run onto Heisman ballots.

(Last week: Unranked)

3. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Oklahoma was a surprising upset victim on Saturday at the hands of Kansas State, but you can’t pin the loss on Hurts.

Hurts finished the afternoon 19-of-26 through the air for 395 yards, led all participants with 110 rushing yards and scored four combined touchdowns (one passing, three rushing). Those totals bring his season-long efforts to 2,469 yards and 21 touchdowns passing with 801 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing.

But perhaps Hurts can shoulder a bit of the blame as Kansas State opened up a huge lead in the third quarter. Oklahoma’s offense only had the ball twice in that quarter, and both of those possessions resulted in three-and-outs. From there, though, Hurts led a near-miraculous comeback in the fourth that was spoiled when an onside kick recovered by the Sooners was taken off the board by an illegal touching penalty.

Should Hurts lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title and back into the College Football Playoff mix, he will certainly remain in Heisman contention.

(Last week: 2)

4. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

Chase Young wasn’t the only Ohio State player with a monstrous performance against Wisconsin. Running back J.K. Dobbins had another outstanding outing, this time going for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries — outplaying Wisconsin star Jonathan Taylor in a big way.

While Young and the OSU defense kept the game close early on, Dobbins — along with the passing connection between Justin Fields and Chris Olave — spurred on the Buckeyes in the second half. Dobbins’ two touchdowns both came in the second half and pretty much erased whatever slim hopes Wisconsin had for a comeback.

Dobbins is up to 1,110 rushing yards on the season — second-best in the nation — on 7.21 yards per attempt. Dobbins has rushed for at least 120 yards in four straight games and has six efforts of 100-plus yards on the season.

(Last week: Unranked)

5. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

With the LSU game coming up, we’re going to keep Tua Tagovailoa — currently on the mend after having surgery for a high-ankle sprain on Oct. 20 — in a somewhat prominent position among Heisman candidates.

While Tagovailoa was sidelined, backup Mac Jones performed well in Saturday’s blowout win over Arkansas. Now in a bye week, Alabama’s Wednesday practice will be an important barometer for Tagovailoa’s progress. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban told reporters Monday that he expects to see his star quarterback at practice on Wednesday, but he was not ready to give a definitive answer as to whether Tagovailoa will be ready to play against No. 2 LSU.

"We'll have to see what he can do and evaluate his mobility and performance," Saban said per ESPN. "You can't really predict any of those things. You just have to let it happen and see how it goes."

(Last week: 3)

Tua Tagovailoa wore a walking boot on the sideline during Alabama's game vs. Arkansas. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Tua Tagovailoa wore a walking boot on the sideline during Alabama's game vs. Arkansas. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Also considered

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State: Hubbard, the nation’s leading rusher with 1,381 yards, helped his team upset No. 23 Iowa State in Ames on Saturday. Hubbard rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown in the 34-27 victory.

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State: Fields looked a little confused early against a really good Wisconsin defense, but got things straightened out toward the end of the first half when he led OSU on a scoring drive. Fields ended up finishing the game with 167 yards passing, 28 yards rushing and three total touchdowns.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: From a rushing average perspective, Jonathan Taylor had his worst college game against Ohio State. The junior mustered only 52 yards on 20 carries, a 2.6-yard average. Taylor dropped to fifth nationally in rushing yards (1,009).

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