Oregon Ducks

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Bryce Love among Lombardi Award candidates

Leave a comment

The college football season may be in the books for the 2017 season, bu there is still a piece of hardware to present to one of the sport’s top players from the most recent season. On Monday, the Lombardi Foundation unveiled a list of 21 players named as a candidate for the Lombardi Award for the 2017 season. This year, the award is open to players of any position based on performance, leadership, character and resiliency and the list of candidates includes a number of names you should be familiar with.

2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, Bryce Love, Saquon Barkley, Roquan Smith, and J.T. Barrett are all among the players nominated for the award. The list of 21 candidates will be whittled down to seven finalists by a select panel of award voters this week, and four of those finalists will be invited to the Lombardi Honors presentation for the awarding of the Lombardi Award. The seven initial finalists will be announced this coming Monday, January 22.

Saquon Barkley, Penn State (RB)
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State (QB)
Bradley Chubb, N.C. State (DE)
Tyrell Crosby, Oregon (OT)
DeShon Elliott, Texas (S)
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama (S)
Shaquem Griffin, UCF (LB)
Lamar Jackson, Louisville (QB)
Derwin James, Florida State (S)
Joel Lanning, Iowa State (LB/QB)
Bryce Love, Stanford (RB)
Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State (DE)
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (QB)
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame (G)
Ed Oliver, Houston (DT)
Da’Ron Payne, Alabama (DT)
Rashaad Penny, San Diego State (RB)
Roquan Smith, Georgia (LB)
Vita Vea, Washington (DT)
James Washington, Oklahoma State (WR)
Christian Wilkins, Clemson (DT)

Alabama’s Jonathan Allen won the award for the 2016 season.

Three-star 2019 prospect one of five charged with capital murder

Getty Images
10 Comments

One 2019 football prospect with multiple Power Five scholarship offers has much more pressing concerns than how many more he’ll add in the near future.

According to the Gadsden Times, 17-year-old Alabama high school football player Jesse Altman is one of five individuals who have been charged with capital murder in connection to the shooting death of 18-year-old Aaron “A.J.” Huff last week. Altman and two other teenagers, Broderick Lawrence Pearson and Lonterry Orlando Harrison, were booked into the Etowah County (Ala.) Detention Center Wednesday while two others were taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Fugitive Task Force; those teenagers, Kalab Blake Whitworth and Tyler Michael Abbott, have been charged as adults.

From the newspaper’s report:

While detectives have not commented on a motive for the shooting, after Abbott’s arrest they said it was believed that he and Huff knew each other and met in a parking lot about 7:30 p.m. last Thursday. There was what police described as an altercation, and the two left in separate vehicles. The vehicle in which Huff was a passenger stopped at the intersection of Hoke Street and Litchfield Avenue, and a gunman got out of the other vehicle and shot Huff. The driver of that vehicle took Huff to a nearby hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries.

All five of those arrested were in the vehicle from which the shooter allegedly emerged; as of yet, police have not publicly identified the person they believe pulled the trigger

Altman is currently rated as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.com and the No. 20 player at any position in the state of Alabama. According to Rivals.com, the 6-1, 285-pound defensive tackle holds offers from among others, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

Alabama and Florida State are also listed as having shown interest.

Scott Frost questions Nick Saban’s handling of Tua Tagovailoa

Getty Images
22 Comments

This might cause a bit of a stir. Or kerfluffle, if you will.

Prior to Monday night’s College Football Playoff championship game, Tua Tagovailoa had seen as much meaningful action this season as I had — none. Then, with Alabama trailing Georgia 13-0 at halftime, Nick Saban yanked starter Jalen Hurts in favor of Tagovailoa and the rest is history, with the true freshman quarterback leading a second-half comeback that culminated in an overtime win punctuated by Tagovailoa’s walk-off, title-winning touchdown pass.

Tagovailoa’s beyond-his-years play was a stunning revelation for most of the country, already leading to speculation that the job is the freshman’s moving forward and Hurts, 26-2 as the starter, could be headed out of Tuscaloosa as a transfer. One who was not stunned by Tagovailoa’s primetime revelation was Scott Frost; so much so, in fact, that the Nebraska head coach — and former head coach of the “other” 2017 national champions — took a swipe Saban and his coaching staff for failing to realize earlier in the season that Tagovailoa was the better option at quarterback.

“It was a decision I don’t know I would have been courageous enough to make. That’s the answer you want to hear,” Frost told ESPN.com prior to winning the Bear Bryant Award Wednesday night.
“The other answer is that [Tagovailoa] was pretty obviously better and they had 12 games to figure that out and didn’t. Coach Saban is above criticism with everything he’s accomplished, so I don’t mean it that way, but I recruited Tua out of high school and knew what he could do and it doesn’t surprise me that he did what he did. Jalen’s a great player, too. That was a very bold and courageous move and I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier [in the season].”

Damn with faint praise much?

Frost, as he noted, has a connection to Tagovailoa, one that could cause some to question the coach’s own judgment and evaluation skills when it comes to the phenom.

Tagovailoa grew up idolizing fellow Hawaiian Marcus Mariota and desperately wanted to follow in the Heisman Trophy winner’s footsteps at Oregon. During Tagovailoa’s recruitment as a high school a freshman and then sophomore in 2013/2014, Frost, as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, was part of Mark Helfrich‘s staff at Oregon that failed to offer the prospect a scholarship despite said prospect practically begging for one.

“It wasn’t until approximately 18 months later — after Oregon secured and then lost the commitment of four-star quarterback Ryan Kelley and Tagovailoa committed to Alabama — that Frost and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich deemed Tagovailoa worthy of a scholarship,” the Oregonian wrote, adding, “12-game season vs. 18 months? Saban has Frost beat by a full calendar year in the ‘recognizing Tagovailoa’s talent’ game.”

[Insert Kelso burn GIF here]

It should be noted that Frost left UO on Dec. 1 of 2015 to take the head-coaching job at UCF; the Ducks finally offered Tagovailoa on June 11, 2016, one month after he had committed to the Crimson Tide.  Alabama had offered Tagovailoa a scholarship in March of 2016.

And Helfrich?  He was fired a little over five months after offering Tagovailoa and less than a year after Saban won his fifth national championship.  Saban, of course, won his record-tying sixth title earlier this week, thanks in large part to Tagovailoa ‘s heroics.

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

Getty Images
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.

Oregon the new home for Miami transfer DJ Johnson

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was known that DJ Johnson would move on to the Pac-12 after leaving the ACC. Now we know exactly where on the West Coast he’ll continue his collegiate playing career.

Johnson confirmed to 247Sports.com that he has decided to enroll at Oregon and play for the Ducks. He also seemed to take a parting shot at the Miami staff on his way to Eugene.

“Oregon has coaches that actually care about me as a person and want me to grow as a person while also growing as a football player,” Johnson told the site. “That’s rare. They also feel that I can help change the culture of the team and improve the defense that’s already been improving. Lots of love felt already but more than anything I’m looking forward to gaining the trust of the players and coaches on and off the field.”

The recruiting website is also reporting that the defensive lineman is likely to receive a hardship waiver that would allow him to play immediately in 2018. That will leave him with three years of eligibility remaining.

Last week, Miami confirmed that Johnson had decided to transfer from the Hurricanes to be closer to his family in Sacramento. Johnson confirmed via Twitter that he had been given permission to transfer to one of eight Pac-12 schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, USC and Washington.

A four-star member of the Hurricanes’ 2017 recruiting class, Johnson was rated as the No. 9 player at any position in the state of California. Using 247Sports.com‘s rankings, no defensive player in The U’s class last year was rated higher than the weakside defensive end.

As a true freshman, Johnson played in eight games. He was credited with three tackles.