If the three quarterbacks who arrived in New York as finalists for the Heisman Trophy — Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma, Justin Fields of Ohio State and Joe Burrow of Louisiana State — harbored this dream when they set off for college, the reality came in a different hue.
Hurts figured he’d be representing Alabama, Fields envisioned coming from Georgia, and Burrow pictured arriving from Ohio State.
“You just never know what life brings,” Hurts said in a nod toward his journey, which began with his starting two national title games at Alabama before he was supplanted by Tua Tagovailoa.
Burrow, who won the award decisively, is the third consecutive transfer quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, following Oklahoma quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, who began his career at Texas Tech, and Kyler Murray, who started at Texas A&M.
Until 2017, only one other transfer quarterback had won the Heisman: Cam Newton of Auburn in 2010.
Newton, who left Florida rather than sit behind Tim Tebow, and the others have made clear that the bromide about sticking it out and waiting your turn is not — and should not be — for everyone. And there is little reason to anticipate a reversal of the trend with the college game increasingly being put in the hands of quarterbacks because of the prevalence of run-pass option offenses and the N.C.A.A. loosening restrictions on transfers.
“You know if you just go to the right place with the right fit what you can do on the field with that,” said Fields, a sophomore who left Georgia after last season, when he could not beat out Jake Fromm.
Still, as impactful as Hurts and Fields were in their first seasons at their new schools — and as dynamic as Young was, leading the nation with 16½ sacks — Burrow was a clear choice. He is the second L.S.U. player to win the award, joining Billy Cannon who won in 1959.
Burrow passed for 4,715 yards, second in the nation; completed 77.9 percent of his passes, which would be a N.C.A.A. record; and threw a Southeastern Conference-record 48 touchdown passes against six interceptions. And he did so for the unbeaten Tigers, who are ranked No. 1 in the nation and are 13-point favorites against Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal.
Burrow’s ascent, though, was not instant. He left Ohio State as a graduate transfer after the 2017 season when he saw his hopes of supplanting Dwayne Haskins as the starter come to an end. And his first season at L.S.U. was very good, as he led the Tigers to a 10-3 record.
This season, though, he has been a revelation.
Being surrounded for a second season by an elite receiving corps, which included the Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase and a darting, determined running back in Clyde Edwards-Helaire, made a significant difference.
“Honestly, just having an off-season with all the receivers and building that trust,” Burrow said on Friday at a round table interview session with the finalists. “I know exactly when they’re going to break their routes off. I know exactly where they’re going to be, when they’re going to be there, and they know exactly when the ball is going to be there and when to get their eyes around. That’s the biggest factor.”
As gaudy as Burrow’s numbers are, his case was buttressed by his role in L.S.U.’s offensive renaissance. For much of the last 20 seasons, the Tigers’ place as national championship contenders — they shared the 2003 title with Southern California and won it outright in 2007 — has been built on a fierce defense and a complementary offense that revolved around a bruising running game.
A parade of offensive coordinators with strong pedigrees — Jimbo Fisher, Cam Cameron, Gary Crowton, Steve Kragthorpe and Matt Canada among them — were supposed to bring L.S.U.’s offense out of the dark ages, but none did until this season.
Joe Brady, a 30-year-old receivers coach plucked from the New Orleans Saints staff, worked with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger to build a scheme that allows Burrow to walk up to the line of scrimmage and, with a vast array of offensive weapons, hunt defensive formations for mismatches.
And when the Tigers found themselves in a shootout at Texas in September, L.S.U. Coach Ed Orgeron resisted the urge to grind out first downs and run out the clock.
Instead, it was left to Burrow to keep attacking — and he sealed the game with a late touchdown pass.
It was the same a few weeks later against another top-10 team, Florida.
“I told them to look around — this is what we’re here for,” Orgeron said after the Florida game, referring to a moment late in the game when he gathered his offense during a timeout. “We’re built for this. A championship team is going to go down there and score. I challenged them.”
By this point, Burrow had emerged as a Heisman contender, along with Hurts and Tagovailoa. A win in late October against rugged Auburn — in which Burrow popped up from a crushing hit — kept him in the conversation, and set up the defining moment in his campaign: a trip to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9.
Alabama had beaten L.S.U. eight consecutive times — including last year when the Tigers were blanked 29-0 with Burrow at quarterback. This time would be different.
In front of a capacity crowd of 101,821 that included President Trump, Burrow was nearly perfect. He completed 31 of 39 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns, along with 64 yards rushing on 14 carries — including a late third-down conversion that all but sealed a 46-41 victory.
Burrow was carried off the field on his teammates’ shoulders.
The next three weeks, the Tigers put up 58, 56 and 50 points in routs of Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas A&M — and dissected the best defense in the conference with a 37-10 victory over Georgia in the SEC championship game.
All that took any suspense out of Saturday’s ceremony, which felt like a coronation.