Power Five/Group of Five divide evident in recruiting rankings

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Boise State carried the banner for Group of Five conferences last season, knocking off Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl while Colorado State, Marshall and Northern Illinois all enjoyed solid seasons as well.

But there’s no question the gap between the ACC/Big Ten/Big 12/Pac-12/SEC and the AAC/Conference USA/MAC/Mountain West/Sun Belt is widening. It’s easy to see the difference on Saturdays, with games from Group of Five conferences being played in smaller stadiums and often difficult to find on TV. Autonomy measures will only grow the gap between FBS powers and non-powers.

But perhaps the easiest-to-grasp view of the gap comes from looking at Rivals’ rankings of 2015’s top 250 recruits, only three of whom are committed to schools outside the Power Five.

Those players, all of whom garnered four-star ratings from Rivals: Wide receiver Tristan Payton (No. 142, Jacksonville, Fla.) is committed to UCF, four-star quarterback Chad President (No. 212, Temple, Texas) is committed to Tulsa and quarterback Brett Rypien (No. 232, Spokane, Wash.) is committed to Boise State.

Three uncommitted members of the Rivals250 have “high” interest in Group of Five programs, too: Four-star offensive tackle Toby Weathersby (No. 98, Houston, Texas) is down to Arkansas, LSU and Houston; four-star running back T.J. Simmons (No. 166, Lakeland, Fla.) is down to Marshall and Temple; and four-star receiver Jaylinn Hawkins (No. 233, Buena Park, Calif.) is down to Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, Cal, Oregon and Utah.

With two days until signing day, Rivals’ 60 highest-rated recruiting classes are all Power Five programs — Willie Taggart and South Florida are currently tied with Purdue at No. 61, giving them the most talented crop of incoming freshman of any Group of Five school.

This isn’t exactly new — AAC/Conference USA/MAC/Mountain West/Sun Belt have always struggled to recruit against Power Five programs given the facilities and resources available — but since recruiting rankings do matter, it’s another reason to believe a Group of Five school may never contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Tale of the Heisman Tape: Trevor vs. Tua

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The 2018 season ended with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence emerging as the next big college football star destined for greatness. Despite being a true freshman, Lawrence had his way with Alabama in the national championship game after leading the Tigers past Notre Dame in the semifinal of the College Football Playoff. Lawrence’s glory led to a disappointing ending to the season for Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, who was among the preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy before the 2018 season started. Now, a year later, Tagovailoa is once again being tabbed as one of the Heisman Trophy favorites, with Lawrence riding in the same boat as the top picks to take home the trophy this fall.

Preseason Heisman Trophy favorites can sometimes be a total guessing game, but both Lawrence and Tagovailoa are young and experienced enough at a high level of competition to prove worthy of the preseason hype as college football’s best players. Although Tagovailoa had a rough end to the 2019 season, there is enough reason to believe he will have a solid season in 2019 while leading Alabama right back to the College Football Playoff. Lawrence should do the same with Clemson as they look to defend their national title from a year ago. If all goes according to plan, they will meet in New York City when the most iconic individual award in sports is awarded. And if the oddsmakers are on the ball, one of these two young quarterbacks will be going home with the award.

So how do these two quarterback phenoms stack up against each other in 2019? Let’s see if we can dig in a little bit and determine if there is a clear edge one way or the other.

Who passes for more yards?

As a freshman, Lawrence passed for 3,280 yards in 15 games. Of course, Lawrence didn’t become the full-time starter until after the fourth game of the season, replacing Kelly Bryant at the end of September. Had Lawrence been the full-time starter instead of splitting time, perhaps the freshman would have climbed higher than 22nd in the nation in passing yards. Alabama’s Tagovailoa finished the season with the 5th most passing yards, just shy of joining the 4,000-yard club last season (Tagovailoa finished the season with 3,966 passing yards).

Each of the last two Heisman Trophy winners, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, managed to cross the 4,000-yard mark for the entire season, although it is not necessarily the difference-maker in the Heisman Trophy race. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson had 3,543 passing yards in 2016, although Jackson piled up stats in other offensive categories as well to help his case. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota threw for 4,454 yards in 2014. It should be noted, however, that these passing yard totals also include postseason games played after the Heisman Trophy has been awarded. Last year’s season passing leader, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, was merely a Heisman Trophy finalist and he ended the season with 4,831 passing yards.

Who has more touchdowns?

Aided by being the full-time starter for his team from the start of the season, Tagovailoa easily had more touchdown passes than Lawrence last season. The Crimson Tide QB tossed 43 touchdowns on the year, with 37 coming before the Heisman Trophy ballots were due. Tagovailoa was picked off just four times all season prior to the College Football Playoff, but two of those came in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. As far as timing is concerned, throwing half of your picks in the season in the conference championship game is far from ideal for most Heisman Trophy candidates.

Lawrence connected for 30 touchdowns to just four interceptions all season long. When the Heisman Trophy votes were counted, the freshman had 26 touchdown passes in the books and he had not thrown an interception since Nov. 11 at Boston College. Those stats were not nearly good enough to jump into the Heisman Trophy race for those concerned about the stats over the wins as a newcomer on the scene. Similar numbers in 2019 may not be as much concern unless other quarterbacks are outpacing those stats for playoff contenders.

Murray threw 40 touchdowns before the College Football Playoff. So a race to 40 touchdowns may be worth paying attention to.

Who rushes for more yards?

Does a running quarterback have a leg up in the Heisman Trophy competition? Not necessarily. Kyler Murray was a 1,000-yard rusher last season with 12 rushing touchdowns, but Baker Mayfield had just 311 rushing yards and five touchdowns the year before. But production on the ground can certainly help, as it did for Lamar Jackson in 2016. Jackson rushed for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns to compliment his 3,543 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes for the entire season. Neither Lawrence nor Tagovailoa should be expected to put up that kind of production on the loaded teams they are a part of.

In fact, neither quarterback should be expected to do a ton of damage with their legs. Last season, Lawrence ended the year with 177 rushing yards and one touchdown and Tagovailoa had 190 rushing yards with five touchdowns. As far as these two candidates are concerned, the Heisman Trophy race likely won’t be decided by what they do running the ball. Each team will have solid running backs for these players to hand the ball to when the action stays on the ground.

Who has more Heisman Moment opportunities?

SANTA CLARA, CA – JANUARY 07: Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts against the Clemson Tigers in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi’s Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

This is where the difference could be made for Lawrence and Tagovailoa. For voters who are looking for a defining moment in which a Heisman Trophy candidate lifts the team up in a pivotal point, the search for Heisman Moments will be important in swaying a ballot or two one way or the other. What will these great quarterbacks do when the pressure is ultimately on?

Lawerence may have a great opportunity to make some early highlights with games against Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Syracuse to start the season. The schedule after that could potentially turn into a bit of a drag with Clemson being a lopsided favorite the rest of the year. Could Lawrence actually be punished for Clemson’s dominance while other candidates such as Tagovailoa may have some more marquee matchups in the spotlight?

While Lawrence gets a good start to the season with the schedule, Tagovailoa may have a chance to pile up some big numbers early before the nitty-gritty of the Alabama football schedule kicks in. Tagovailoa will lead Alabama on the road to Texas A&M (a chance to compare results with Lawrence due to a common opponent) and a potential top-10 matchup with LSU on early November could carry some significant weight down the stretch. Throw in a possible opportunity to go up against a highly-ranked Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, the edge in notable showcase games as the Heisman Trophy race winds down probably leans in favor of Tagovailoa.

The flip side of that is Tagovailoa needs to shine in those game sin order to take advantage of the spotlight, and the magnifying glass that goes with it if the race is close. Tagovailoa struggled in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia last year when he completed just 10 of 25 pass attempts for 164 yards with just one touchdown to two interceptions before being replaced by Jalen Hurts. A better showing may not have changed the final outcome in the Heisman voting enough to dethrone Kyler Murray, but Tagovailoa’s performance in Atlanta didn’t help his case.

So, who’s it going to be?

It is difficult to see how Lawrence loses steam this season. A chance to jump out to an early lead with some big games to start the year gives Clemson’s young phenom the perfect opportunity to back up his hype as the preseason Heisman favorite, and the chance to rack up stats the rest of the year could be enough to stay ahead of the pack. History would suggest Lawrence will not win the Heisman Trophy though because rarely does a player start the year as the favorite and end up winning it. They can’t all be Marcus Mariota, right? Lawrence may be in a good position to pull it off though.

Manny Diaz confirms QB Tate Martell is open to a position change

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So there you have it.  Sort of.

Instead of bringing it on and competing with Georgia transfer Justin Fields for the starting quarterback jobTate Martell hightailed it out of Ohio State earlier this offseason and ultimately landed at Miami shortly thereafter.  Granted immediate eligibility with the Hurricanes, and seen as a slight favorite to win the starting job, Martell instead saw Jarren Williams stake his claim as QB1 as Manny Diaz named the redshirt freshman the Hurricanes’ starter earlier this month.

Losing out on the starting led to Martell bailing on practice, even as he ultimately returned.  Not long after, it was reported that Martell had begun working with Miami’s wide receivers.

Wednesday, the Hurricanes’ head coach confirmed that, as the Miami Herald put, Martell is receptive to a potential position change.  The Herald also noted that Martell wasn’t wearing the traditional orange jersey normally worn by quarterbacks and also met with the running backs and wide receiver positional groups following practice earlier today.

“It’s like anybody else we have,” Diaz said of a potential position change for Martell. “Anybody will help by doing anything that’s available, so yeah.”

The intimation coming out of South Florida seems to be that, if Martell loses out on the backup job to N’Kosi Perry, he would then shift his focus to another position, although that has yet to be officially acknowledged.

Martell was a four-star member of OSU’s 2017 recruiting class, rated as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  After redshirting as a true freshman, Martell threw for 269 yards and a touchdown on 23-of-28 passing this past season while also running for another 128 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.

Report: West Virginia LB VanDarius Cowan suspended four games

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Even as he left Alabama, it doesn’t appear VanDarius Cowan has been able to leave off-field issues behind.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, Cowan has been suspended for West Virginia’s first four games of the 2019 season.  The only reason given was unspecified “NCAA eligibility issues.”

The suspension will sideline Cowan for games against James Madison, Missouri, NC State and the Big 12 opener against Kansas.  The linebacker would then be eligible to return for the Oct. 5 game against Texas.

Cowan was a four-star member of Alabama’s 2017 recruiting class.  In July of last year, he was dismissed by the Crimson Tide after being charged with misdemeanor assault.  A month later, he landed at West Virginia.

The Florida native sat out the 2018 season to satisfy NCAA transfer bylaws.  He’s been expected to be a significant contributor this coming season.

Third Maryland player tears ACL this offseason, with LB Durell Nchami being the latest

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Maryland has seen a player sidelined for a significant period of time by a serious knee injury.

The latest Terrapin to suffer such a setback is Durell Nchami, with first-year head coach Mike Locksley confirming Tuesday that the linebacker has been diagnosed with a torn ACL.  The true sophomore suffered the injury during a scrimmage this past Saturday.

Nchami, who will undergo surgery once the swelling subsides, will be sidelined for the entire 2019 season.

As a true freshman this past season, Nchami played in 10 games and was credited with 15 tackles, 4½ of which were for a loss.  While not expected to start this season even before the injury, Nchami was expected to play an even bigger role in sub packages this year.

“[It’s a] blow to us because of depth, that’s a big concern for us,” Locksley said. “We’ve got a really strong core group of players, but our depth is an issue. So again, we’ve got to continue to find ways to keep our guys healthy and it’s a shame because he was actually playing really well, really taken the next step.”

Nchami is the third Terrapin to suffer a torn ACL this offseason, joining wide receiver Jeshuan Jones (HERE) and Antwaine Richardson (HERE).