CHICAGO — At this rate, we might have to rename it the Scarlet and Gray Football.
For the seventh time in nine years, an Ohio State player has won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football, the 96-year-old award that goes to the Big Ten’s best player as selected by the conference’s head coaches.
And the 2020 winner is no surprise: junior quarterback Justin Fields, who leads the undefeated Buckeyes into Monday night’s national championship game against Alabama.
Fields finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2019 — his first season in Columbus after transferring from Georgia — but was seventh in the Heisman voting announced Tuesday night. That likely was a result of the 7-0 Buckeyes’ shortened schedule and his subpar outings in wins over Indiana and Northwestern (combined 30-of-57 passing, two touchdowns, five interceptions).
But Fields won the Silver Football in a landslide — receiving 12 of a possible 13 first-place votes and one second for 25 points — and validated his selection with a signature performance in Friday’s Sugar Bowl against Clemson, throwing for 385 yards and six touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 49-28 victory in a College Football Playoff semifinal.
Each Big Ten head coach votes for a first- and second-place selection, and coaches cannot vote for their own players.
Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon finished second with five points (one first, three seconds) and Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim was third (three seconds).
Fields’ two favorite targets, wide receivers Garrett Wilson (one first) and Chris Olave (two seconds), each had two points, as did Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (two seconds).
Fields’ selection marked the 22nd time an Ohio State player has won the Silver Football, including two wins apiece for Archie Griffin (1973-74) and Braxton Miller (2012-13). That’s five more than rival Michigan for the most in the conference.
Miller began the recent run of Ohio State dominance of the award, which also has seen Ezekiel Elliott (2015), J.T. Barrett (2016, shared with Penn State’s Saquon Barkley), Dwayne Haskins (2018) and Chase Young (2019) honored. Fields finished third in last year’s voting behind Young and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.
A native of Kennesaw, Ga., about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta, Fields signed with the home-state Bulldogs out of high school in 2018 and spent his freshman season backing up Jake Fromm, throwing for 328 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 266 yards and four scores.
Seeing a clearer path to the starting job in Columbus, Fields transferred after the 2018 season and quickly lived up to his billing as the nation’s No. 2 recruit in his class behind fellow northwest Georgia native Trevor Lawrence.
Fields threw for 3,273 yards last season with an astounding 41-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and rushed for 484 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Buckeyes went 13-1, losing to Lawrence and Clemson in a CFP semifinal in the Fiesta Bowl.
Fields and the Buckeyes got their revenge Friday — despite his taking a hard shot to his right side in the second quarter — and he enters the national title game with 1,906 passing yards, 21 touchdown passes, six interceptions, 316 rushing yards and five rushing scores.
In Fields’ two seasons as Ohio State’s starter, the Buckeyes are 20-1 with a pair of Big Ten titles and two trips to the College Football Playoff. He has completed 69.4% of his passes and accounted for 284.7 total yards and 3.7 touchdowns per game.
The Silver Football has been awarded every year since Illinois’ Red Grange won the first one in 1924 — 11 years before the first Heisman Trophy.
2020 Silver Football voting
First-place votes worth two points, second-place votes worth one. Coaches cannot vote for their own players.
1. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State: 12-1—25
2. Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa: 1-3—5
3. Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota: 0-3—3
T4. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State: 1-0—2
T4. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State: 0-2—2
T4. Michael Penix Jr., QB, Indiana: 0-2—2
T7. David Bell, WR, Purdue: 0-1—1
T7. Paddy Fisher, LB, Northwestern: 0-1—1
T7. Ty Fryfogle, WR, Indiana: 0-1—1