The last time Jalen Hurts made an appearance in a meaningful football game he was crossing the end zone at the end of a 30-yard run to give Alabama the lead with 2:07 remaining in the national championship game. The quarterback's game-winning touchdown was to be the exclamation point on a stellar season that saw him tear apart Alabama's record book during his first season on campus.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had other plans.
The future NFL first-round pick led the Tigers on an epic drive, culminating on a game-winning touchdown to Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining. Within a moment, both the game and Hurts' hero status were irreversibly switched.
Instead of returning to Tuscaloosa, Ala., hailed an undefeated champion, Hurts' only blemish was dissected from every angle. Some even questioned if Alabama could still win with the quarterback who had previously led the Tide to a 14-0 record.
An encouraging spring paired with an early endorsement from head coach Nick Saban went a long way toward cooling off the heat from an impatient fan base. Hurts put out the rest of the flames, going 16 of 25 for 301 yards and two touchdowns with an interception during the A-Day scrimmage.
Now, riding the momentum of a promising off season, Hurts is in a position to turn that hot seat into a throne. Entering his sophomore season, the Channelview, Texas native is listed at +1800 to win the Heisman Trophy this season by Sportsbook, making him tied for the eighth best odds to come away with the award.
Here is a look at Hurts' chances to take home the hardware in December.
Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold leads the pack of Heisman hopefuls at +400 followed by Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (+800), Ohio State quarterback JT Barrett (+850), reigning Heisman winner and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (+900), Washington quarterback Jake Browning (+1,200), Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (+1,400) and Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois (+1,500). Hurts shares the No. 8 spot with LSU running back Derrius Guice and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.
It comes as no surprise that 8 of the 10 players on that list are quarterbacks. Alabama running backs Derrick Henry (2015) and Mark Ingram (2009) are the only two non-quarterbacks to win the award in the last 11 years. It also helps Hurts' case that he should be playing for a national title contender. Since 2013, 10 of the 14 Heisman Trophy winners have played for the national title.
Hurts earned SEC Offensive Player of the Year last season, completing 63 percent of his passes for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He also added 954 yards and a team high 13 touchdowns. His 36 combined touchdowns set Alabama's single-season record, breaking Blake Sims' mark of 35 set in 2014.
For comparison's sake, Jackson completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns with nine interceptions while rushing for 1,571 yards and 21 more scores on the ground. Hurts will need to take it to a new level as a sophomore to reach those types of numbers.
Potential Heisman moments
Another thing Hurts will have to his advantage is a favorable schedule. Every Heisman hopeful needs his share of Heisman moments, and with Alabama guaranteed to get plenty of national attention, there is sure to be plenty of eyeballs on the sophomore quarterback.
Hurts can set the stage as Alabama squares off against Florida State in its season opener on Sept. 2 inside the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The game should not only be a top-five matchup but will also pit Hurts against a fellow Heisman contender in Francois.
If Alabama can get past the Seminoles, the schedule sets up favorably from there. Hurts won't see another challenging game until the Crimson Tide travels to College Station, Texas to take on Texas A&M on Oct. 7. Hurts' best chance at another Heisman moment will come four weeks later when Alabama hosts LSU on Nov. 4.
Hurts struggled to move the ball through the air against the Tigers last season, completing 10 of 19 passes for 109 yards with an interception. He fared way better on the ground, carrying the ball 20 times for 114 yards including the eventual game-winning touchdown from 21 yards out in the fourth quarter. Hurts will need to have a more dominating performance this year though if he wants to impress Heisman voters.
From there, he should have at least two more marquee games, traveling to Auburn before presumably playing in the SEC Championship Game the following week. Hurts had a solid game against Auburn last season, completing 27 of 36 passes for 286 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He added another 37 yards and a score on the ground. Auburn will be Alabama's biggest road challenge, so a good performance there would go a long way toward padding the resume.
What must improve
The obvious improvement concerning Hurts heading into his sophomore season will be his ability to improve in the intermediate and deep passing game. Due to Alabama's struggles to move the ball late in the season, teams were able to stack the box and force the Tide into third-and-longs which ultimately led to three-and-outs. That ultimately played a heavy role in the national championship game as a tired Alabama defense was not able to get off the field for a sustained amount of time.
Hurts showed improvement in his downfield passing during A-Day, completing six passes of more than 20 yards including a 65-yard touchdown to Robert Foster.
Another thing Hurts must work on is protecting the ball. While his nine interceptions were the same total as Jackson last season, Hurts also lost a team-high five fumbles. That number could have been significantly worse as the dual-threat quarterback had the ball jarred loose 11 times.
Both problems are common among freshman quarterbacks, meaning if Hurts continues to mature he should make significant strides improving both areas of his game.
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