Getty Images

A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2018 Heisman Trophy Contenders

9 Comments

We don’t really know much when it comes to the chase for the 2018 Heisman Trophy, but we do know with utter and absolute certainty that Archie Griffin‘s claim as the only back-to-back winner will hold true for yet another year.

That’s because fifth-year senior Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma claimed the 2017 version of the stiff-armed trophy and is off to the NFL.  As a matter of fact, of the Top 10 vote-getters in this year’s voting, seven of them are headed to the show — Mayfield, San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny (5th in voting) and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph (7th) because of expired eligibility, with Louisville quarterback and 2016 winner Lamar Jackson (3rd), Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (4th), Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson (9th) and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith (10th) opting for early entry into the draft.  And an eighth, junior Stanford running back Bryce Love (runner-up to Mayfield), is widely expected to declare for the NFL draft ahead of the Jan. 15 deadline.

That leaves just two of the Top 10 Heisman finishers who will return for the 2018 season — UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton (8th) and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (6th).

That would seem to bode well for Milton as, since 1986, 21 Heisman winners played quarterback.  Since 2000, it’s 15 of 18 at the position.  Working against Milton?  The fact that there hasn’t been a winner from a non-Power Five program since BYU quarterback Ty Detmer won the Heisman in 1990.

With that as a backdrop, here’s a look at a handful of players who should be contenders for the 2018 version of the trophy, listed in order from the favorite on down — we had Mayfield No. 2, behind USC quarterback Sam Darnold, last year at this time.  And Jackson No. 4.  Just saying, is all.

(Writer’s note: class designation is based on what the player will be for the 2018 season.)

(Writer’s note, the sequel: If Love doesn’t declare, put him at the very top of the list of favorites.)

J.K. Dobbins, OHIO STATE, RUNNING BACK, SOPHOMORE
Going against Dobbins is, one, he doesn’t play quarterback and, two, true sophomores winning the Heisman are a relative rarity — only Lamar Jackson (2016), Mark Ingram (2009) and Tim Tebow (2007) have done it.  Outweighing those disadvantages is the fact that, with J.T. Barrett gone, the Buckeyes will lean even more heavily on a player who ran for 1,403 yards (7.2 ypc) as a true freshman as they break in a new starter under center.  And, the fact that the Buckeyes will take part in a handful of high-profile games, starting with TCU in Arlington Week 3, and should be in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt throughout won’t hurt the Texas native either.

KHALIL TATE, ARIZONA, QUARTERBACK, JUNIOR
The dual-threat extraordinaire ran for 1,411 yards, passed for another 1,591 and accounted for 26 touchdowns (14 passing, 12 rushing) — and he wasn’t named the starter until the first week of October.  He set the single-game FBS record for a quarterback with 327 yards rushing vs. Colorado, and ran for 200-plus yards on two other occasions.  While the abrupt firing of Rich Rodriguez would give some pause as to Tate’s future, if Kevin Sumlin, he of Johnny Football Heisman fame, is hired as the replacement, all bets are off and Tate will be in the thick of the stiff-armed discussion throughout the season — provided voters on the East Coast can stay up to witness his greatness, that is.

JONATHAN TAYLOR, WISCONSIN, RUNNING BACK, SOPHOMORE
Breaking the great Adrian Peterson‘s all-time FBS freshman rushing record and finishing sixth in the Heisman voting your first year out of the box earns you a lofty spot on any way-too-early list of this type; hell, it arguably earns you the top spot.  As long as Bryce Love doesn’t return to Stanford, Taylor will be the highest-returning vote-getter in 2018.  Add that to the Badgers being a run-first, run-in-the-middle, run-last offense, and Taylor being the bell-cow of that offense, expect the rising sophomore to be a part of the Heisman talk throughout.

NICK BOSA, OHIO STATE, DEFENSIVE END, JUNIOR
Surprise!  Yes, this is likely way, way too high for any defensive player, but there is a confluence of events that could play out that would at least allow Bosa to earn a mid-December trip to the Big Apple.  One, he already had and still has name recognition thanks in part to big brother Joey Bosa, an OSU All-American taken third overall in the 2016 NFL draft, and is decidedly on the media’s radar.  Two, he’s highly disruptive and productive in his own right — 16 tackles for loss, 8½ sacks s a true sophomore this past season.  Three, the Buckeyes are one of the highest-profile programs in the country.  If any defense-only player is to finally claim the Heisman, Bosa could have the best shot of anyone given his situation — especially if he has big games in marquee matchups.

KELLY BRYANT, CLEMSON, QUARTERBACK, SENIOR
Fun fact: in the 83-year history of the Heisman Trophy, no player from Clemson has ever taken home the award.  If Deshaun Watson, the most decorated Tiger of all, couldn’t win one, what chance does Bryant have to be the first?  That’s a damn good question, one that doesn’t have a ready answer.  In his first year as a starter, Bryant put up solid numbers, passing for just over 2,800 yards and rushing for another 665.  He added 24 total touchdowns for good measure — 13 passing, 11 rushing.  Maybe because he was still playing in Watson’s immense shadow, there was just never that “wow!” moment, even in a season that ended with another playoff appearance.  Perhaps another year removed from Watson will allow Bryant to blossom in what is his last year at this level.

MCKENZIE MILTON, UCF, QUARTERBACK, JUNIOR
Subject A: 296.9 yards per game passing, 51.3 yards per game rushing, 3.9 touchdowns per game
Subject B: 310.5 yards per game passing, 47.2 yards per game rushing, 3.5 touchdowns per game

Subject B is Milton in 13 games this past season.  Subject A is Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in 15 games, along with the stats he put up in winning the 2014 Heisman Trophy.  And Milton’s team won the national championship while Mariota’s squad fell short.  So there’s that, too.

WILL GRIER, WEST VIRGINIA, QUARTERBACK, FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR
With Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph off to the NFL, Grier is the top returning quarterback in the pass-happy Big 12.  Despite missing nearly three full games because of injury, and in his first full season as the Mountaineers starter, Grier’s 3,490 yards passing were fourth in the conference and 20th nationally; in passing yards per game, he was eighth (317.3).  His 34 passing touchdowns were eighth in the country as well, again, despite missing nearly a quarter of the season.  With his top target in the passing game returning as well, Grier is poised to put up big numbers yet again for Dana Holgorsen and WVU

JARRETT STIDHAM, AUBURN, QUARTERBACK, REDSHIRT JUNIOR
To the surprise of almost no one, Stidham announced last week that he’s pushing off the NFL draft and would be returning to The Plains for at least one more season.  Like Grier in his first year as the starter at the school to which he transferred, Stidham put up solid numbers — 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions and completed nearly 66 percent of his passes in finishing 20th nationally in efficiency rankings.  With two of the Tigers’ most productive running backs the past two seasons leaving early for the draft, Stidham should see his numbers rise as he shoulders more of the offensive load.  As is the case with the vast majority of the players listed, though, how well his team performs will very likely determine how deep into the Heisman discussion Stidham gets.

NICK FITZGERALD, MISSISSIPPI STATE, QUARTERBACK, FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR
This is my darkhorse(ish) Heisman selection.  Fitzgerald is a lot like Hurts, although he will have an offensive system in which he’ll be able to do more through the air now that new head coach Joe Moorehead, who turned Trace McSorley into a borderline Heisman threat at Penn State, is in Starkville.  Prior to injuring his leg in the Egg Bowl, Fitzgerald was well on his way to back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.  With Moorehead around, Fitzgerald is a near-lock to improve on the 4,205 yards passing and 36 touchdowns he’s put up the past two seasons as the Bulldogs’ starter under center.

JUST MISSED THE CUT
Houston DT Ed Oliver: There’s one defensive player listed above, which is already one too many based on Heisman precedent.
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa — A late entrant, the strong-armed Hawaiin could challenge the notion that a Nick Saban-coached QB can’t win the Heisman.
Missouri QB Drew Lock: The Tigers’ offensive coordinator was replaced by Derek Dooley.  Enough said.
Penn State QB Trace McSorley: Saquon Barkley‘s presence in the backfield will be McSorely missed by the entire Nittany Lions offense.
Georgia QB Jake Fromm: With the Bulldogs’ two top running backs leaving, I almost pulled the trigger on Jake from State Fromm.
Oregon QB Justin Hebert: If Willie Taggart would’ve stayed instead of bolting for Florida State, he likely would’ve nudged his way in.
Florida State RB Cam Akers: The fact that Taggart is now at FSU almost led me to opt for the rising sophomore as the darkhorse pick.
Clemson RB Travis Etienne: He averaged 7.2 ypc as a true freshman on a playoff team, but there was just no room at the Heisman Inn.
West Virginia WR David Sills: The former quarterback tied for the FBS lead with 18 touchdown receptions and gets Will Grier back.
NC State QB Ryan Finley: Out of all of the ones that just missed the cut, I have a sneaking suspicion this one I might regret the most.

Texas QB Shane Buechele undergoes hip surgery, expected back for spring practice

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A postseason injury has forced Shane Buechele to undergo an offseason medical procedure.

Buechele suffered a torn abductor muscle in his hip/abdomen in the first half of Texas’ Texas Bowl win over Missouri and didn’t return in the second half.  Nearly a month later, the football program has announced that the quarterback will undergo surgery on Thursday to repair the damage.

If rehab goes as planned, Buechele is expected to be on the field when the Longhorns kick off spring practice March 5.

As a true freshman in 2016, Buechele started all 12 games for the Longhorns.  This past season was one marred by various injuries.

Buechele started the season opener for Texas, but ceded the job to Sam Ehlinger the next two games because of a bruised throwing shoulder.  Returning to the starting lineup in Week 5, Buechele suffered an ankle injury in the win over Iowa State that allowed Ehlinger to start the next three games.  In the last of those three games, Ehlinger suffered a head injury that left him in concussion protocol and opened the door for Buechele to start five of the last six games of the season.

Buechele and Ehlinger will be the two veterans battling for the starting job once spring practice kicks off in March.

NCAA tables discussions on limiting staff size

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
1 Comment

It is going to take some more time to dive deep into the pros and cons of limiting the size of a football staff before the NCAA Division 1 Council decides what to do. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Division 1 Council has decided to table a legislative proposal focusing on setting parameters on the size of a football staff, meaning this topic should pop up again a year from now.

The proposal aims to cap the size of any football staff at 30 people and determine who may be eligible to participate in on-campus recruiting efforts. Those assigned recruiting duties, including head and assistant coaches, would then be required to pass an annual test on recruiting practices. At this time, however, there appears to be too much confusion and uncertainty about how the proposal would impact programs now. With so many questions about the proposal, it was best to put this one on the table and spend the next year examining how it could impact college football programs.

“I went to the American Football Coaches Association meeting, and there were a lot of questions about how this was going to work,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the chair of the oversight committee, said in a release shared by the NCAA. “The coaches wanted to know who was going to be included, how they would be certified and who was exempted.”

This topic has already been floating out there since last spring, and with recent adjustments from the NCAA to allow for a 10th full-time assistant coach, it appears this will be the next step in the evolution of ruling how large a football staff can be.

Miami’s home winning streak is officially over after Orange Bowl loss

Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images
4 Comments

The Miami Hurricanes opened the new year with a loss in the Orange Bowl in their home stadium, but the Hurricanes marked the bowl game down in their records as a neutral site game. Not so fast, says the NCAA. That loss to the Badgers will go down as a home loss for the Hurricanes.

Because the NCAA officially records the Orange Bowl as a home game for Miami any time the Hurricanes happen to play in the bowl game hosted in their home stadium, the wins and losses are reflected on Miami’s home record. This is true for any team playing a bowl game in their home stadium, including any time UCLA appears in the Rose Bowl or San Diego State in the Holiday Bowl or Poinsettia Bowl.

Prior to losing to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl this past season, Miami was riding nine-game winning streak in Hard Rock Stadium dating back to November 5, 2016. Miami will get a chance to hit the reset button on their home winning streak on September 8 with a home game against Savannah State.

Report: LSU to add former RB Kevin Faulk to staff if SEC gives the green light

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
1 Comment

Former LSU running back Kevin Faulk could be set to return to the Tigers program in a new role if the SEC will allow it. According to a report from The Advocate, Faulk is being lined up to join the LSU football support staff, but his addition must be thoroughly vetted first.

Because Faulk is a high school coach, LSU and the SEC must be certain he has no direct ties to any LSU football players on the roster. This is to ensure the staff change complies with a new NCAA rule prohibiting schools from hiring high school coaches for a two-year period when any player from that associated high school enrolls at the university. As long as there are no players on LSU’s roster with any ties to Faulk’s high school coaching within the past two years, the staff change should become official.

Having Faulk associated with the program would be good to see considering how much Faulk meant to LSU during his college career. Faulk rushed for a school-record 4,557 yards and 46 rushing touchdowns. Both are records that stand today despite some extremely talented running backs over the years. Since Faulk’s final season at LSU in 1998, Leonard Fournette has come the closest to Faulk’s career rushing total with 3,830 yards in three years. Fournette is also the closest to Faulk since Faulk played to the school record for career rushing touchdowns, with 40.

Supposing the staff addition does go through, Faulk will not be involved with any off-campus recruiting efforts or on-field coaching assignments, but he will assist with player development.