Next up on our Heisman Watchlist feature is a player that has not gotten a lot of hype, but he could very well find himself in the top 10 in voting, if not challenging for a spot in New York should things go well. Kedon Slovis was initially a third string quarterback for USC but after losing quarterbacks to the transfer portal and injury, Slovis took over as starter for the Trojans and put forth an admirable effort. Slovis completed his passes at a 72% clip for 3500 yards and 30 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. Back in May, I ranked him fourth on my top 10 quarterbacks for 2020, and I stand by that; Slovis is going to put up huge numbers this season and have USC in the New Years’ 6 bowl conversation. With Slovis under center, I like the Trojans as an early-season Rose Bowl favorite. Am I overdoing the hype? Maybe, but considering those aforementioned numbers came as a true freshman when he wasn’t supposed to be a starter, I’m really high on what Slovis can do with an offseason of preparation.
Another big reason to be high on Slovis as a darkhorse candidate is how hot he was at the end of the season. The true freshman returned from injury on a mission, nearly leading the Trojans to a stunning upset of Notre Dame in South Bend. Although the Irish were able to stave off USC, Slovis threw for 255 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no picks. He tossed 6 TDs and just one interception to go with 638 yards over his next two games, before he finally stumbled. In a blowout loss to eventual Oregon – the eventual Pac-12 champions – Slovis fired three touchdowns but also was picked off three times, looking like a first-year college starter for the first time since his second career start against BYU – another 3-interception performance.
However, Slovis responded in stunning fashion. Rather than fold, he led the Trojans to a three-game winning streak to end the season. In those three games, Slovis threw for 12 touchdowns and just one interception, while averaging 451 yards per game. Despite falling in their bowl game, Slovis looked extremely impressive against a stingy Iowa defense, going 22-30 for 260 yards and two touchdowns, again avoiding any interceptions. A red-hot finish is a great indicator of a potential Heisman season – just ask any LSU fan. Wild 2019 darkhorse Joe Burrow spent much of his first season in the Bayou putting up solid but not spectacular numbers. However, in an indication of things to come, the future Heisman winner and #1 pick put forth quite possibly his best four performances of the season in LSU’s final four games, throwing ten touchdowns to just one interception, after having just six TDs to four picks in their prior nine contests.
As of now, the Pac-12 will be strictly playing a conference schedule, so how that impacts Heisman campaigns within the conference is unknown. However, if Slovis is considered, he should be looking forward to a November 7 clash in Eugene with the Oregon Ducks. A potential preview of the Pac-12 championship, this game will be a superb “Heisman Moment” opportunity for Slovis. The Ducks should be a top-10, and definitely a top-20, team and winning at Oregon is not an easy task, regardless of if there are no fans. Slovis will be hungry to avoid the embarrassment of USC’s 2019 duel with the Ducks, and I expect that if Slovis becomes a Heisman candidate, this game will be the focal point of his case.
On the flip side, USC must avoid any early season trip-ups and live up to their status as one of the favorites in the conference. A home date with Jayden Daniels and Arizona State seems especially dangerous. Oregon can tell you better than anyone how Daniels and Co. can wrech a promising season, after the Sun Devils stunned the Ducks late last season and ruined their CFP hopes. I figure Utah will be on the downfall, and Arizona State may be USC’s biggest challenger within the division. They’re a trendy underdog pick, and Slovis and the Trojans will have to be careful not to stumble at the starting blocks before getting into the heart of the Pac-12 season.
If USC finally lives up to the potential seen in the talent that loads their roster top to bottom, Slovis could be an instant Heisman contender by virtue of being the starting QB of a national contender. With a year of experience in the USC offense and having ended last season as one of the hottest signal-callers in the nation, there’s no reason to think Slovis’s numbers couldn’t take a huge jump towards Heisman-level numbers in 2020.