Aside from the result of the National Championship game, the result every College Football fan is most interested in at the end of every season is to see who gets named the Heisman Trophy winner.
Every year before kick-off the Heisman watch list gets released and we see the names that many project could be in contention for college football’s most illustrious award.
However, year in and year out the media ends up paying close attention to a few names, this year for example, it’s impossible to read Heisman predictions without seeing the names Trevor Lawrence or Tua Tagovailoa. While these guys deserve the praise and votes, they’re plenty of other players that deserve consideration.
That being said, here are five dark horse candidates for the 2019 Heisman Trophy you’ll want to keep and eye on during the season.
5) Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is the preseason odds on favorite to win the 2019 Heisman Trophy, so why not put his likely #1 target on a list of dark horse candidates?
The 6’4 receiver is entering his sophomore season after a modest freshman year where he led the team with 1,000 yards and was second in touchdowns with nine.
Now while those might sound like pretty good numbers for a freshman campaign, those numbers were produced during an inconsistent freshman year.
The 2018 season saw Ross unable to consistently assert himself as the bonafide #1 option. During the regular season, Ross would follow up great games with games where he would only record a single catch, albeit that single catch was usually a 45+ yard play.
Overall consistency was an issue for Ross when it came to the regular season, then the playoffs came around. In Clemson’s two playoff games against then ranked #3 Notre Dame and then ranked #1 Alabama, he totaled 12 catches, for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
The playoffs showed signs of the first-round potential that will have pro scouts salivating for the 2021 NFL draft when he can declare, but for now, what we will get to see is what time of numbers he could put up this season as Trevor Lawrence’s #1 target.
4) Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona
Two of the last three Heisman Trophy winners were quarterbacks who could not only put up numbers in the air but on the ground too.
Now that’s not to say Khalil Tate will be this year’s Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray, it’s pointing out that he has their skillset and has already shown us that he plays this style.
In 2017 Tate rushed for 1,411 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was unable to do the same last season because he sustained an injured ankle early in the season that forced him to not run as much.
However, despite losing that aspect of his game last season Tate showed that he can throw the ball if need be. He finished with just over 2,500 passing yards and he threw for 26 touchdowns, and he only had eight interceptions.
A full healthy Tate, plus another year improved as a passer means Tate could put up big numbers in 2019.
The main thing that many will hold against him is the fact that Arizona will be nowhere near the championship picture, which is a fair argument.
However, the Heisman Trophy is awarded to the “Most Outstanding Player” during the season. So if Tate potentially puts up 5,000 total yards like Jackson and Murray did, it’d be hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve at least some consideration to be a finalist.
3) Kelly Bryant, QB, Missouri
Before ultimately transferring from Clemson to Missouri, Bryant was the starting quarterback for the Clemson Tigers.
He was the backup when the Tigers defeated Alabama in the 2017 National Championship game, and a year later he led Clemson to a 12-2 record and another appearance in the College Football playoffs before losing to Alabama.
Bryant even helped lead the Tigers to a 4-0 start in 2018 before being replaced by Lawrence and ultimately being redshirted and transferring.
Despite facing a postseason ban this season, Missouri gives Bryant a chance to start and run a team.
Similar to Tate, Bryant can make plays with both his arm and his feet. Despite not being as electrifying as Tate, Bryant can be effective when he runs.
Again the biggest key will be the fact that Bryant will get the reigns on offense, and Missouri has capable pass-catchers like Jonathan Johnson, Jalen Knox, and Albert Okwuegbunam, who are all reliable.
If things fall into place, Bryant will experience a pretty good season, and if he can lead Missouri to top three in the SEC East, he might garner some consideration.
Plus how great of a story would it be if Bryant went from former starter forced to transfer to a Heisman Trophy candidate. That sounds like one incredible story.
In fact, the only player that could match Bryant with that kind of story is…
2) Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
The transfer portal prior to the 2019 season was entertaining, wasn’t it?
Similar to Kelly Bryant, Jalen Hurts ended up transferring from Alabama after the performance of a Freshmen quarterback. For Hurts, it stemmed back to the 2018 National Championship game where Tua Tagovailoa, who was a freshman at the time, replaced Hurts at halftime of the game and won Alabama the National Title.
Fast forward to last season where Tagovailoa was officially named the started early in the season, and Hurts saw significantly less playing time.
However, Hurts didn’t redshirt the season like he could have due to the NCAA’s new rules, in fact, he wasn’t done playing an important role for Alabama yet.
During the 2018 SEC Championship game, Tagovailoa got hurt and Hurts had to come in during the fourth quarter and play. With Alabama trailing 28-21 when Hurts came in, he led two drives that resulted in two touchdowns that helped Bama survive and win the game 35-28.
After the season ended, Hurts announced he would transfer due to finishing his degree at Alabama, with leaving as a graduate transfer, Hurts was immediately eligible to play, and he ended up choosing Oklahoma.
Hurts ended his career at Alabama with 48 passing touchdowns and 23 rushing touchdowns. To add to that Alabama went 27-2 during his first two years when he started and Hurts won SEC Offensive Player of the year during his freshman Year award in 2016.
This amounts to one of the most interesting stories going into the season, as we will see Hurts, an efficiency-minded quarterback, be paired with Lincoln Riley, one of if not the best quarterback whisperer in college football.
Riley has head coached the last two Heisman Trophy winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, so he has the track record of helping unlock guys potential.
Add in the help Hurts will get from having running backs Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks, as well as receiver CeeDee Lamb, Hurts has the supporting cast to help him and Oklahoma do well this season.
If Riley can unlock a new level to Hurts passing game and he shows off his dual-threat ability (again, 23 career rushing touchdowns), then it’s not out of the question Hurts could be one of the top five candidates for the Heisman come the end of 2019.
1) Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Of the five players on this list, the one with the highest chance of being named one of the final candidates for the Heisman Trophy is Grant Delpit.
There is a high probability that Delpit will likely end the season as one of the final five candidates for the trophy, so that begs the question, what makes him a dark horse candidate?
Simply put, history. The last time a defensive back won the Heisman Trophy was 1997 when Charles Woodson won the award. In fact, in the over 80-year history of the award, Woodson is the only defensive player to win it.
Recent history shows that it takes a noteworthy season by both a defensive player and their team in order to even be considered.
2011 and 2012 were the most recent years where a defensive player was in serious consideration for the Heisman. 2011 was the year Tyrann Mathieu emerged as arguably the best safety in college football at the time.
That year Mathieu helped lead the LSU Tigers to get chosen to play in the BCS National Championship game before they lost to Alabama.
2012 saw Manti Te’o have a phenomenal senior year, he led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in tackles and interceptions, he also led all linebackers in college football in interceptions that season with seven.
The Te’o led defense helped Notre Dame go 12-0 during the regular season and they ended up being chosen to play in the 2013 BCS National Championship game, where they lost to Alabama.
It’s easy to tell that the deck is stacked against a defensive player getting a legitimate chance at winning the Heisman, but if there was one player that could defy the odds and get it done, it’s Delpit.
He’s coming off a strong sophomore season where he was named a unanimous All-American in 2018 after totaling 74 total tackles, 5 sacks, and 5 interceptions.
Plus with seven returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Joe Burrow and leading receiver Justin Jefferson, the LSU offense has a chance to be one of the better offenses in the country.
A combination of a high-level offense plus great defense, led by Delpit himself, could be enough to not only make Delpit a serious candidate but help him make history.