College Football: 5 surprise QBs who’ll contend for 2020 Heisman Trophy

Sam Howell, North Carolina football (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Sam Howell, North Carolina football (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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North Carolina football
Sam Howell, North Carolina football (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

1. Sam Howell, North Carolina

If you’re struggling to get through this mostly sports-less time and are looking for things to watch, I highly recommend giving 2019’s UNC-Clemson game another viewing. As the 2020 season approaches, the implications of that contest will still be felt a year later.

The biggest of those implications is the boosted confidence of Tar Heel quarterback Sam Howell. After going toe-to-toe with the reigning champs for 60 minutes and coming up just a few yards shy, it was clear that Howell realized he could play with the big boys.

In the eight games after that, he averaged 309 yards per contest. Howell threw for at least 350 in three of those games (plus a 348-yard game on the road at Virginia Tech against a Bud Foster defense), and put up 401 on the road at in-state rival NC State.

It’s the touchdown numbers that were especially impressive. In seven of those eight games, Howell threw for three-plus scores. Two of those games saw him throw four, and he had a five touchdown day in that aforementioned road trip to Blacksburg.

Expectations are high in Chapel Hill. Everyone on that campus understands that on their best day, the Tar Heels can hang with the best of the best. In a still-lackluster ACC Coastal division, a date with Clemson in the conference title game is within reach.

Howell will also play on a national stage in Week 2, when UNC will meet Auburn in Atlanta. The week prior, Howell will have a chance to duel with another Heisman sleeper in Dillon Gabriel.

Surpassing Lawrence and Fields is a tall task, but if anyone is poised to do so, it’ll be Howell.