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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.

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”

Colorado State pauses football after allegations of racism

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Colorado State is pausing all football activities after an investigation started by the president of the university into the program’s handling of COVID-19 cases uncovered allegations of racism and verbal abuse toward athletes.

Athletic director Joe Parker said he asked President Joyce McConnell to expand the investigation she announced Tuesday to include a comprehensive review of the athletic department and football program.

“Today, we learned of some extremely troubling allegations of racism and verbal abuse from CSU’s athletic administration generally and in the football program specifically,” Parke said.

Parker’s statement did not mention any particular member of the coaching staff or athletic department. Steve Addazio is in his first season as head coach of the Rams.

McConnell announced the investigation Tuesday after an article published in the Coloradoan that quoted unidentified football players and members of the athletic staff saying coaches told them not to report coronavirus symptoms and threatened players with reduced playing time should they quarantine.

“Colorado State University is committed to being an anti-racist university, and we will not tolerate any behavior or climate that goes against that core value,” Parker said. “Moreover, CSU Athletics is committed to the health and well-being of student-athletes above all other priorities, and this includes their mental health. We believe it is our responsibility to make sure that all student-athletes feel welcomed and valued as members of an inclusive athletics community.”

Colorado State has paused all meetings, workouts and practices.

“While we have been working hard towards playing football this fall, the holistic well-being of our student-athletes is our unequivocal top priority,” Parker said. “We must and will address these allegations before we focus on playing football.”

On Tuesday, Addazio said he welcomed the investigation into the football program’s alleged mishandling of coronavirus protocols.

McConnell announced via an email to student-athletes and department staff Thursday that Husch Blackwell, a legal firm based in Kansas City, would lead the probe into those allegations

Addazio was hired in December, replacing Mike Bobo, after spending seven seasons with Boston College.

The Rams were scheduled to open the season Sept. 19 by hosting Northern Colorado, but the Big Sky Conference voted this week to push back its football season to the spring.

Pac-12 player group ‘disappointed’ after commissioner call

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The Pac-12 players of the “WeAreUnited” movement said they were “disappointed and deeply concerned” after a recent meeting with the conference’s commissioner.

The players sent an email to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott late Friday accusing him of not taking the issues they have raised seriously enough. The email was also shared with members of the media.

The group’s correspondence came after Scott followed their Thursday call with an email to the players that struck a very different tone, thanking them for the “passion and honesty with which you spoke yesterday evening.”

The group is pushing the conference to address their concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for college athletes. Players threatened opting out of practices and games if their demands aren’t addressed. Leaders of the group have said their movement has more than 400 players from around the conference supporting it.

In their email to the commissioner, the players said they were unsatisfied with Scott’s answers to question about increasing the frequency of COVID-19 testing done on athletes and the mandating of best practices across the conference.

“Without a discernible plan and mandates to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes, it is absurd, offensive, and deadly to expect a season to proceed,” they said.

When the players went public with their demands last Sunday, they reached out to the Pac-12 and requested daily meetings with conference officials. Instead, they got one call last week and a pledge from the conference for continued communication.

“You informed us we cannot have legal representation attend these meetings to assist in connection with our legal rights, nor were you willing to even have regular meetings with us to provide updates,” the players wrote to Scott.

Scott’s email addressed four topics that made up the bulk of the Thursday call with 12 players: health and safety; eligibility; COVID-19 liability waivers; and opt-out due to COVID-19 concerns.

Scott wrote the conference will attempt to provide the players an opportunity to speak with the Pac-12 medical advisory committee and keep them abreast of work being done at the NCAA level to address whether athletes who opt out of the coming season will be permitted to retain eligibility.

Scott said the conference office would ensure none of the league’s schools ask athletes to sign liability waivers and reiterated Pac-12 schools were committed to honoring scholarships of players who chose not to play this season because of COVID-19 concerns.

“We will work on gathering the information listed above and providing it to you as soon as possible,” Scott wrote.

Clemson QB Lawrence says he’s completely committed to 2020 season

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Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said he considered opting out of this season when he was unsure what college football would look like going forward amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Lawrence said Friday once he understood he’d play an 11-game season with a chance for an Atlantic Coast Conference and national championships, he decided to play his junior season.

The Heisman Trophy hopeful said he’s completely committed to this season and confident in Clemson’s ability to keep himself and his teammates safe.

Lawrence, who is the likely No. 1 overall pick in the next NFL draft should he leave college early, was 25-0 as a starter until he and Clemson fell to LSU in the national title game last January. The 6-foot-6 junior, had perhaps his poorest performance in college in the 42-25 loss to LSU. He joked how after his freshman year when he led Clemson to a championship he heard how amazing he was and since the LSU defeat, he heard how much work he has to do improve.