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

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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.

Nation’s top 2017 recruit announces transfer to Miami

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The transfer train has made yet another stop in South Florida, and this one brought a passenger with a helluva high school pedigree with not a lot to show for yet on his college résumé.

In mid-December, it was reported that Jaelan Phillips would be transferring from UCLA.  A little over two months later, Phillips announced on Twitter that he will continue his collegiate playing career at Miami.

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Phillips will likely have to sit out the 2019 season.  He would then have two years of eligibility to use beginning in 2020.

Phillips was the No. 1-rated recruit in the entire country for the Class of 2017 on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Despite that lofty ranking, although in large part due to injury, his collegiate career thus far hasn’t amounted to much.

As a true freshman, Phillips started four of the seven games in which he played. Despite missing nearly half the season because of an ankle injury, he finished fourth on the Bruins in tackles for loss with seven and second in sacks with 3.5. Battling additional injuries in 2018, including concussions, Phillips played in just four games this past season.

Phillips would be the sixth FBS player to transfer to Miami since Manny Diaz took over at The U, joining USC safety Bubba Bolden (HERE), Auburn running back Asa Martin (HERE), Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell (HERE), Buffalo wide receiver K.J. Osborn (HERE) as well as Phillips’ former UCLA teammate, defensive tackle Chigozie Nnoruka (HERE).

Clemson 4-star LB signee suffers knee injury in basketball game

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When a clip of Trevor Lawrence getting into a scuffle during an intramural basketball game went viral earlier this week, a chorus of takes screamed into the void asking what a college football player was doing playing basketball in the first place.

Dabo Swinney has always defended his players’ intramural endeavors, reasoning that unpaid college students should not be treated as employees. “They’re just having fun and enjoying being college people and doing what college kids do,” he said.

Swinney has defended this even in light of Jordan Williams, a potential starter at defensive tackle, suffering a leg injury during an intramural basketball game that will keep him out of a crucial spring for his development.

And now the basketball injury bug has struck another Clemson player.

Bryson Constantin, a 4-star linebacker signee in Clemson’s 2019 class, suffered a knee injury while playing for Baton Rouge’s University Lab High School basketball team last week — and he believes it could be serious.

“At a basketball game last week, I came down from an alley and I felt a pop in my knee,” Constantin told TigerNet. “I went to the ER that night to make sure it wasn’t like a knee cap or anything like that. They figured out it was most likely my ACL. I went for an MRI two days ago but I had too much blood in my knee to do an MRI, so they drained all the blood out and they were like, the only way you’d have this much blood in your knee is if you did tear your ACL. I go back for an MRI this weekend or Monday, so I’ll know for sure what it is coming up soon.”

While active college players playing intramural basketball is a (somewhat) controversial practice, incoming signees playing for their high school teams is not. Many a college coach has waxed poetically about falling in love with a player’s gridiron potential while watching him compete on the hardwood.

Still, it’s a cruel bit of irony: the only place the nation’s best football team seems to suffer any sort of defeat is on the basketball court.

Texas to host Louisiana-Lafayette in 2021

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Texas will host Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 4, 2021, according to a report Thursday from FBSchedules.

The Ragin’ Cajuns will cancel a scheduled game with Arizona State in order to make the trip to Austin. Other than the shorter trip, the switch will not turn a profit for Louisiana-Lafayette. The school was scheduled to make $1.3 million from Arizona State and will take $1.5 million from Texas, but, in order to access that $1.5 million payday, the Cajuns will have to give back $200,000 to the Sun Devils.

The meeting will be the third all-time between the schools. Texas beat ULL 52-10 to open the 2000 season and 60-3 to begin its 2005 national championship campaign. Both of those games were in Austin as well.

For what it’s worth, Texas hosts Louisiana Tech and LSU in this upcoming season.

After Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas will visit Arkansas and host Rice to round out its non-conference slate. ULL also has games with Ohio (home) and Liberty (road) lined up for 2021.

FBSchedules also reported Thursday that Louisiana-Lafayette will visit Minnesota on Sept. 30, 2023 and play a home-and-home with Tulane in 2024 and ’27.

The Cajuns played a 2-for-1 with the Gophers from 2001-03; Minnesota won all three games. ULL and Tulane have played 27 times previously. Tulane is 23-4 in those games, including each club’s most recent game — a 41-24 Green Wave win in the 2018 Cure Bowl.

Florida State hires Randy Clements as offensive line coach

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You knew this was coming as soon as Kendal Briles was hired.

Florida State on Thursday announced Randy Clements as its offensive line coach, ending weeks of speculation and idle waiting for this to happen. Much like an architect prefers a specific contractor or a director only works with a certain cinematographer, Briles and Clements are a package deal. An OG member of the Art Briles tree, Clements has been with dad and/or son dating back to 1990, when Art was the head coach at Stephenville High School and Clements was his offensive line coach.

After Art broke away to serve as Texas Tech’s running backs coach from 2000-02, Clements reunited with Briles at Houston in 2003, where Kendal was along for the ride as a wide receiver and safety. Clements then followed the Briles men to Baylor.

After the staff blew up in infamy in 2016, Clements and Kendal Briles spent 2017 in isolation from each other, with Kendal at Florida Atlantic and Clements at NAIA Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.

But Briles’ overwhelming success in his one season at FAU led a desperate Major Applewhite to hire him, and he brought Clements along with him. The pair’s success at Houston has now led them to Tallahassee.

“Randy Clements has a remarkable resume filled with quantifiable results coaching offensive linemen,” Willie Taggart said in a statement. “He has proven to be a successful teacher and knows exactly how we want to operate in this offense. I am happy for our student-athletes to learn from him, and I’m enthusiastic about him joining our staff as we continue to build a championship culture at Florida State.”

Taggart made a well-renowned hire off the bat in luring Greg Frey, a member of FSU’s 1993 national championship team, away from Michigan, but the hire did not work out. Working with a patchwork line (to put it kindly), Frey’s offensive line helped FSU rank 110th in yards per play, 129th in yards per carry and 112th in sacks allowed, and he was relieved of duties last week to make room for Briles’ preferred contractor.

“I want to start by thanking Coach Taggart for this opportunity,” Clements said. “My family and I are thrilled to be part of this prestigious program. My background with Kendal will be valuable, but I’m also looking forward to integrating with the rest of the staff and can’t wait to get to know and work with the student-athletes on campus. I am excited to work toward our goal of bringing Florida State its next championship.”