If you had asked me about Joe Burrow two years ago, I would have said he’s better than a lot of Ohio State back-up quarterbacks I’ve seen and he would be an OK starter. Not great, but OK.
If you had asked me after 10 p.m. Saturday night once I was allowed to reveal my Heisman Trophy vote, I would have told you that, yes, Burrow was No. 1 on my ballot.
In the 20 years I’ve had a Heisman Trophy vote, this was one of the easiest to predict. Probably the last time in those 20 years there was less uncertainty about who would win was in 2006 when Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was a runaway winner.
Smith’s 86.7 percent of the first-place votes was a Heisman record until Burrow got 90.7 percent of the first-place votes this year.
Before the season began not many people would have expected that. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas had Burrow as a 200-1 longshot to win the Heisman with 28 players ahead of him back in August.
But throwing for 4,715 yards and 48 touchdowns and completing 77 percent of his passes for an undefeated team on its way to the College Football Playoff drastically revised the perception of Burrow.
Perception is a key word when it comes to Heisman Trophy voting. A year ago Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, whose selection as OSU’s starting quarterback after spring practice in 2018 led to Burrow transferring to LSU, had similar numbers to his former teammate’s, and didn’t come close to winning.
After 13 games, the same number as Burrow has played this season, Haskins had thrown for 4,581 yards and 47 touchdowns and had completed 70 percent of his passes. But he finished a distant third behind Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
The toughest choice for me was deciding which Ohio State player to rank highest on my ballot.
Should it be quarterback Justin Fields? Or defensive end Chase Young? Or maybe running back J.K. Dobbins.
You couldn’t go wrong with any of them but in the end I put Fields second on my ballot for the simple reason that he made the biggest difference in Ohio State’s season.
If he had stayed at Georgia or transferred to a different school, Ohio State with Tate Martell or Matthew Baldwin or Chris Chugunov at quarterback was an 8-4 team going to a second-tier bowl. And did I mention 40 touchdown passes and one interception in his first year as a starter?
Fields finished third in the voting behind Burrow and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts. Young was fourth and Dobbins finished sixth.
My third-place vote, which was for Tagovailoa, might seem a bit odd to some people. But after putting a former Ohio State player No. 1 and a current Buckeye No. 2, I went in a different direction with my final vote.
And it was a bit of a protest vote because some Heisman voters are too quick to jump on and off the bandwagons of players.
Ezekiel Elliott had one bad game in 2015 and showed up on only 40 Heisman ballots. Tagovailoa, who finished tenth this year, was dropped from consideration by many voters because he played only nine regular-season games. But Young was a finalist and he played only one more regular-season game than Tagovailoa.
James Naveau covers Ohio State football for the Lima News and Aim Media Midwest