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Darkhorse Contenders for the 2020 Heisman Trophy

Most years there are clear frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy, but they don’t always win the award. Last season, Joe Burrow came out of nowhere to take home the trophy. It may just happen again in 2020. Here are the darkhorse contenders for the 2020 Heisman Trophy.

Note: Odds found here. All players have 20/1 odds or higher.

1. Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (20/1)

Ian Book has helped the Fighting Irish make the College Football Playoff (CFP), but hasn’t quite put up the numbers to win or be in contention for the Heisman Trophy in his career. In 2019, he passed for 3,034 yards and 34 touchdowns. He has improved every year as a starter and will need to up those numbers a little bit more to be in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy. Notre Dame will also have to make it back to the CFP to help his case.

Notre Dame only plays 12 games because they aren’t in a conference, so Book will have to make a big impression to win the award. He’ll also need to have big games when the lights are on, which has been a problem in the past. Against Michigan, Wisconsin and Clemson, Book will need to have Heisman moments. If he can, he is fully capable of winning the Heisman.

Darkhorse Contenders for the 2020 Heisman Trophy

Sam Howell (Photo by

2. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina Tar Heels (30/1)

Last year for the Tar Heels, Howell had a great freshman season. He passed for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns, as North Carolina won seven games. Howell will need to progress to win the award, but it looks like he will be able to do so. If Mack Brown can help the team improve as well, they could contend in the ACC. They’ll need to for Howell to have a realistic shot at the award.

The big obstacle for Howell will be getting through Clemson in the ACC. He may have to have a big game against Auburn earlier in the season, but a big game against Clemson in the ACC Championship may be the only way to swing voters to give him the nod for Heisman. He’ll have nine other returning starters back to help him, but that’s a lot to ask of a sophomore quarterback.

3. Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State Nittany Lions (60/1)

In his first season as the starting quarterback at Penn State, Clifford led the team to an 11-win season. He passed for 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns. He’ll need to improve his numbers to be seriously considered for the Heisman, but with seven other returning starters back on offense, he should be able to boost his numbers. The good news for Clifford, is the team should do well enough for him to win the award.

Clifford is a longshot to win the Heisman, because he needs to boost his stats so much. He’ll need to throw for at least 1,000 more yards, which is a big step. Even if he gets that far, he needs to outplay a lot of quarterbacks, including Justin Fields, who he will match up with head to head. Clifford needs to have some big moments against Ohio State or Michigan to give himself a shot.

Darkhorse Contenders for the 2020 Heisman Trophy
Kedon Slovis (Photo by

4. Kedon Slovis, QB, USC Trojans (50/1)

Another great freshman quarterback from last season is Kedon Slovis of USC. He passed for 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 71.9 percent completion. With a talented receiving core back in Los Angeles and a spread-out offense, Slovis can improve his numbers. USC can also compete in the Pac-12 and doing so will help him compete for the award.

It is always hard for west coast players to win the Heisman, because of the later start times of their games. With that, and the few quality games the Trojans will play in the Pac-12, Slovis will have a hard time winning the Heisman. He’ll need to have big games against Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon to have a shot.

5. K.J. Costello, QB, Mississippi State Bulldogs (100/1)

K.J. Costello spent the first three years of his career at Stanford, where he passed for 3,540 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2019. He battled injuries last year and then decided to transfer to Mississippi State. Now that Mike Leach is the head coach of the Bulldogs, Costellos should be expected to put up big numbers in the Air Raid system. The numbers will be there, but the will need to win some big games as well.

To win the award, Mississippi State needs to win a lot of games this year. That will be tough with Alabama, LSU, Auburn and more tough games on the schedule. Leach has a knack for winning games that he shouldn’t so they could get a few big wins. He’ll have his shot for big moments, but he is still a very longshot to win the award at the moment.

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