Another high stakes tilt between LSU and Alabama could once again prove pivotal in Heisman Trophy voting.
While the winner of the game will have an inside track to the College Football Playoff, the matchup also features top Heisman hopefuls at the same position for the second time in five seasons.
In 2015, the focus was on star tailbacks Derrick Henry for Alabama, who won the award, and LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Now it’ll be on the quarterbacks — the Tide’s Tua Tagovailoa and Tigers’ Joe Burrow.
“The one that plays the best and wins the game should have a shot to win it,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.
Orgeron has been an assistant coach on four teams that have produced Heisman winners, and he has touted Burrow’s candidacy much of this season.
The LSU coach has seen how big games carry weight with Heisman voters.
“I remember (USC QB) Carson Palmer beat Notre Dame in a big game in the end and won the Heisman,” Orgeron said. “It puts you on a national stage and I think it helps you.”
Burrow has completed 205 of 260 passes (78.9 this season for 2,805 yards (350.6 yards per game) and an LSU single-season record 30 touchdowns. Tagovailoa, who has played about a game-and-a-half less than Burrow because of an ankle injury, is 145 for 194 (74.7%) for 2,166 yards (309.43 per game), and 27 TDs. Burrow has been intercepted four times and Tagovailoa twice.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has yet to officially list Tagovailoa as ready to return from his injury, but said he has practiced this week and is doing well.
When Orgeron was asked if he expects Tagovailoa to play, he smiled and said, “Sure!”
Burrow said he hears the Heisman hype he’s generated and cares about the award, but won’t sacrifice team goals for it.
“It was a goal when I was little. Not so much a goal now. I’d rather have a big fat ring on my hand.
“But, I mean, it does cross your mind,” Burrow said earlier this season, adding that winning big games “are the kind of games you need to get there and get to where we want to get to as a team.”
Orgeron asserted Burrow “has all the makings of an outstanding pro,” adding, “I do believe he’s as good for sure, or better, than the quarterback we’re playing. But the only way to answer that is on the field.”
LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who’s from Baton Rouge, remembers how the 2015 game hindered Fournette’s Heisman candidacy. He has mixed feelings on how much influence one game should really have.
Edwards-Helaire said, “Right now, he’s playing like the best player in college football. I don’t think it should be dictated by a game.”
Even if one game doesn’t determine the Heisman, Saturday’s showdown is bound to have a huge impact.