Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s impressive performance in the 2015 national championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide immediately made him the Heisman front-runner for the 2016 season. Finishing third in the final voting for the 2015 Heisman trophy, Watson’s decorative blend of efficient passing and effortless running capabilities make him the perfect package for the heralded award, and his big-game prowess confirms his legitimacy, as he rushed and threw for 810 total yards and six touchdowns (both of which are NCAA records) in the 2016 college football playoffs.
Even more impressively, Watson piled up a whopping 5,209 total yards last season, just fifteen less than Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota did the year previous. Not too bad for a guy in his first full season as the starting quarterback. But if there’s anyone besides Deshaun Watson who will win the Heisman trophy in 2016, it will be Ohio State‘s J.T. Barrett.
Much like Watson, Barrett was also a Heisman finalist in his first year as a full-time starter (and second year in his respective system). As a redshirt freshman, Barrett finished fifth in the final Heisman voting in 2014, despite having suffered a season-ending right ankle fracture in the 12th game of the season and not competing in the 2014 Big Ten Championship game vs. Wisconsin.
Barrett was operating under an inexperienced offensive line in 2014, before it emerged later on in the season as running back Ezekiel Elliott‘s number was called more, due to Barrett’s absence. Still, Barrett showed that he could excel while being surrounded by so many new faces as he consistently passed and rushed the ball for a combined 300-plus yards per game, and he averaged 7.8 yards per touch. To make a comparison, Watson averaged roughly 7.5 yards per touch last season.
This takes me back to 2010-11 season when Ohio State started off the year as the No. 1 ranked team in the country and Terrelle Pryor was the leading Heisman candidate going into the season. Like Watson will be doing, Pryor was coming off of an impressive sophomore bowl game performance himself as he stole the show and piled up 338 yards against Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl game as a sophomore.
Then, when Pryor and Ohio State lost to Wisconsin the following season, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton rode his dark horse straight to the top of the college football world by winning the Heisman and the national title that year. Although the 2016 season hasn’t even kicked off yet, there are many similarities between Newton in 2010 and Barrett in 2016. Newton wasn’t the front-runner heading into his junior season, but just kept taking care of business week after week. Barrett’s not the front-runner, either, but has the opportunity to follow in Newton’s footsteps. Like Newton, Barrett is on a team that should very well compete for the national title this coming season.
So whether Barrett will win the Heisman and national title in 2016 is yet to be seen. Having said that, doing these things will certainly be within his grasp. Nevertheless, the 2016 Heisman trophy is Watson’s to lose and Barrett’s to take.