Why Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley couldn’t crack the Heisman Trophy finalists

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) on the sideline after a first half Oregon touchdown as Utah faces Oregon in the Pac-12 football championship game in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday Dec. 6, 2019.

The approximately 900 media members with Heisman Trophy votes were sent their ballots on Dec. 2.

At the time, Utah senior quarterback Tyler Huntley was completing 75.5 percent of his passes, had 16 touchdowns against just two interceptions, and had a firm case as the best quarterback in the Pac-12, not to mention one of the best in the country.

By the time votes were due on Sunday, Utah had lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. Huntley emerged from the 37-15 loss with a still-gaudy completion percentage of 73.7 percent. Through 13 games, Huntley threw for 2,966 yards, 18 touchdowns, and four interceptions.

With the Heisman Trophy ceremony set for Saturday night in New York City, four finalists were announced. Huntley was not one of them. Three quarterbacks, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, and prohibitive Heisman favorite Joe Burrow, will join Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young in New York City.

Should Huntley, with stout numbers for an 11-win, Power Five division winner have gotten more Heisman consideration than he did?

“Absolutely,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said early last week during the buildup to the Pac-12 title game. “I think he’s one of the elite quarterbacks in the country. The one thing that probably hurt him was that he wasn’t on the radar coming off his junior year, so I think that may have hurt him a little bit.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) throws the ball, in the Utes 45-15 win over the Colorado Buffaloes, in PAC-12 football action at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

Whitingham makes a good point. As a junior in 2018, Huntley suffered a season-ending broken collarbone on Nov. 3 at Arizona State. He missed the final four regular-season games, plus the Pac-12 title game against Washington and the Holiday Bowl against Northwestern.

In turn, Heisman buzz for Huntley was nonexistent going into this season. The athletic department’s ‘Huntley For Heisman’ campaign midseason was well-timed as Huntley was rolling, but by then, it was going to be hard to make any significant headway.

For a comparison, the last Pac-12 player to win the Heisman was Marcus Marriotta in 2014. In 2013, Mariota threw for almost 3,700 yards, to go along with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions for the 11-2 Ducks. Mariota went into 2014 as a legitimate Heisman contender, then played like it before garnering 88.4 percent of first-place votes.

The last Heisman finalist from the Pac-12, Stanford running Bryce Love in 2017, did not have the big preseason buzz after his 2016 season, but rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns in 12 games before votes were due was hard to ignore. Love finished a distant second to Baker Mayfield.

“I guess exposure could be part of it,” Whittingham said. “The time slots that we play in, and maybe the lack of East Coast people willing to stay up late? I don’t know, but that would be my best guess.”


Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley’s regular season statistics, compared with the four Heisman Trophy finalists:

Joe Burrow LSU: 342-for-439, 4,715 yards, 77.9 completion percentage, 48 touchdowns, six interceptions

Justin Fields, Ohio State: 208-for-308, 2.953 yards, 67.5 completion percentage, 40 touchdowns, one interception.

Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma: 222-for-309 yards, 3,634 yards, 71.8 completion percentage, 32 touchdowns, seven interceptions; 219 carries, 1,255 yards, 18 touchdowns

Chase Young, Ohio State: 16.5 sacks, 44 tackles (31 solo, 21 for a loss), six forced fumbles,

Tyler Huntley, Utah: 205-for-278, 2,966 yards, 73.7 completion percentage, 18 touchdowns, four interceptions

The East Coast bias when it comes to Heisman voting is well-documented, much of it rooted in kickoff times for voters on that side of the country. This season, Utah kicked off at 10 p.m. ET or later five times.

“He’s done everything he’s supposed to be doing for us,” said senior running back Zack Moss, who was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year on Tuesday. “Field study, on and off the field. As the games get bigger, everything is a little more magnified, so he’s done a great job fine tuning everything as much as it can be.”

Full disclosure: this reporter has a Heisman vote. While there are strict rules against voters releasing their ballots until after the announcement on Saturday, I will say Huntley did not crack my top three. For all the reasons stated above, it was going to be tough for Huntley to make my ballot, and I’m sure a lot of others around the country.

Although, I do expect Huntley to hit some ballots once voting results are released on Saturday. His tremendous season has not gone unnoticed nationally, and there are always voters that either vote before conference championship games, or look to go outside the box a little with their vote. Yes, I expect Huntley to grab some third-place votes, especially in the Mountain and Pacific time zones where Utah games aired earlier, and voters may have been paying a little more attention to him.



When • Dec. 31, 5:30 p.m. MST