LSU’s Joe Burrow is the Heisman favorite no one saw coming

Neither decision was easy. Neither was simple. Basketball was Joe Burrow’s first love. Ohio State was his hometown school.

In both instances, he had to make a tough choice. In both situations, he chose right.

Burrow pursued football in college. He left Ohio State after three seasons. The result is this season ripped out of a Hollywood movie script, with Burrow emerging as arguably the nation’s best player, morphing from just another guy to the leader of the top seed in the College Football Playoff.

“You grow up watching the Heisman Trophy and March Madness and hoping you can be on that stage at some point,” the LSU quarterback said on Friday at the Marriott Marquis in Midtown, roughly 30 hours before he was expected to become the school’s second Heisman Trophy winner. “I’ve just tried to work really hard my whole life and to get recognized like this is really incredible.”

One of four finalists, along with Ohio State defensive end Chase Young and quarterback Justin Fields and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, Burrow is the heavy favorite. During Friday’s media session, the winner of the Associated Press Player of the Year, the Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback) and the Maxwell Award (best player) was followed by the majority of the media. The big question Saturday won’t necessarily be who will win, but whether Burrow will set a record for largest margin of victory.

Joe Burrow
Joe BurrowGetty Images

“If my name is lucky enough to be called, I hope I don’t get emotional,” he said with a smile.

Back in August, Burrow wasn’t on any Heisman lists. His first season at LSU had been underwhelming. He completed 57.8 percent of his passes, with 16 touchdowns. But he blossomed upon the arrival of new passing game coordinator Joe Brady, the former Saints offensive assistant. Burrow consistently put up eye-popping numbers, throwing for more than 300 yards and at least three touchdowns each of his past five games.

Burrow should make LSU history Saturday night, joining running back Billy Cannon (1959) as a Heisman winner for the school. Burrow led the nation in touchdown passes (48) and completion percentage (77.9), an NCAA record, and was second in passing yards with 4,715. He slayed the Tigers’ Alabama demons, throwing for 393 yards and three touchdowns in a victory that snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide. He decimated Georgia in the SEC championship game with four TDs.

“We always watch Joe, because we still feel like he’s a part of us. We weren’t surprised,” Young, Ohio State’s stud defensive end finalist, said. “The way Joe works, the way Joe plays, we knew wherever he went he was going to take over.

“Joe is one of the hardest-working guys in any locker room. He’s just like that perfect student athlete.”

Growing up, Burrow dreamed of being a college basketball star. It was his sport of preference. But by the junior year of high school, it was obvious his future was in football, rated as a four-star recruit. He ended up trading in his high tops for a helmet. Burrow committed to Ohio State over West Virginia, Boston College and Iowa State. He redshirted as a freshman and was a backup his next two years before making the call to move on, transferring to LSU.

“It was a really tough decision for me, because I have so much love for that place, and so much love for those players and coaches that I stay in contact with,” he said. “So that was a gut-wrenching decision for me, and one that I’m glad that I made. But really tough for me and my family.”

It was obviously the right call, just like focusing on football was. If there was any doubt, Saturday night will provide all the evidence that is needed.

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