Getty Images

Tale of the Heisman Tape: Trevor vs. Tua

7 Comments

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.

Texas makes Chris Del Conte the highest paid public school athletic director in the country

Getty Images
1 Comment

We’re only a few weeks away from USC’s upcoming potential coaching search resulting in a bunch of raises for folks around the country but the Trojans’ now-filled athletic director chair may have produced one mega-deal for somebody who was of reported interest to Southern Cal earlier this month.

As the Austin American-Statesman notes, the UT System Board of Regents is all set to formally approve a new contract for Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte that will be among the richest in the country for his position and certainly tops among public schools.

“One of the things I do with all my people is look at where the market is and make sure that our best people are where the market is for those positions,” school president Gregory L. Fenves told the paper. “We got a great deal with Chris when I hired him two years ago, and I want to make sure that we’re still providing competitive compensation to the marketplace as a whole.”

The contract runs through 2027 and is worth over $18 million guaranteed for Del Conte, including a raise to $2.08 million beginning in 2020 and escalating from there. There is a steep buyout for Del Conte should he want to leave for another gig (just shy of the total amount left) or if the Longhorns want to fire him too, a clause more commonly found in the coaches contracts he will be tasked with handing out.

It’s not like the school can’t afford it though as Texas is regularly one of the three richest athletic departments in the country, generating over $200 million in revenue each of the past several years alone (the Statesman says the school took in $219.4 million last season). Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick is likely the only other AD in the country to make more with a reported salary of nearly $3 million to lead the Irish.

Del Conte, who arrived in Austin after successfully leading TCU into the Big 12, has been busy since taking over the gig, fundraising hundreds of millions to help expand Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium and recently to build a new basketball arena for the school.

Florida State players take to social media to support Odell Haggins as permanent head coach

Getty Images
7 Comments

The Florida State coaching search has seemingly gone off the rails before it’s even begun but if the players themselves have a say in the matter, there’s a pretty clear choice as to who they would like to replace Willie Taggart full-time.

And it’s not the ex-FSU star that has been thrown out in various reports either.

In what appears to be a somewhat coordinated campaign on social media, defensive linemen Cory Durden, injured DL Marvin Wilson, linebacker Jaleel McRae and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. were among several dozen members of the current 2019 team to have Tweeted their support for interim head coach Odell Haggins getting the permanent gig.

Haggins is in his second stint as interim head coach, having taken over for Jimbo Fisher when he left for Texas A&M and now again in the wake of Taggart’s firing. He’s 3-0 in charge of the program, including an impressive victory at Boston College last weekend. The Florida native played at FSU from 1985 to 1989 and after an All-American career and brief foray into the NFL, has spent his entire coaching career in Tallahassee at his alma mater as a line coach.

While it remains to be seen if he’ll get serious play for the gig given some of the big names being tossed around, former interim head coaches do occupy the top three spots in the latest College Football Playoff rankings and Haggins is as much Mr. FSU as anybody. It’s pretty clear the players support his candidacy and can certainly help things along on that front by winning out the rest of the regular season.

Syracuse AD says 2019 football season has been frustrating but Orange on the right trajectory

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Syracuse football was one of the remarkable turnaround stories during the 2018 season and the Orange have become one of the more remarkable turnaround stories during the 2019 season… only in the opposite direction many assumed coming into the year.

Despite the program backsliding from their first 10 win season in nearly two decades to their current mark of 3-6 though, athletic director John Wildhack told a local radio station that he’s firmly behind the team and head coach Dino Babers no matter how difficult things have been on the field this year.

“This year is frustrating, no question,” Wildhack said, according to Syracuse.com. “I think this program is in a much better place than it was three or four years ago. I give Coach Babers a lot of credit. We’ll continue to work to analyze what we need to do to make the program better, to make it successful. I’m confident we’ll do that.

“I honestly believe, and I deeply believe, that we are on the right trajectory to where we can be consistently good every year. That’s what we want.”

The Orange being consistently good every year is obviously a great goal to have but something the school has struggled to do for many years on the gridiron. There was hope that Babers was the guy to help raise the floor, so to speak, of the program when hired and he put together a remarkable 2018 season that was a great indication of that — leading to a lucrative contract extension last December designed to keep bigger programs from plucking their head coach.

But the followup has not gone as well with the team struggling to protect their quarterback and the defense give up so many points that they fired coordinator Brian Ward, a long time assistant under the head coach, after a loss to Boston College.

Syracuse football is 21-25 overall under Babers but there is hope that this is simply a bump in the road with the bulk of the two-deep at the moment made up of underclassmen and only a handful of seniors in the starting lineup. The Orange will try to keep their bowl possibilities alive on Saturday when they play at Duke in ACC action.

Contradicting Mark Dantonio, Michigan State says QB Brian Lewerke was checked for concussion vs. Illinois

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s not often that a school comes out firing to directly contradict their head coach on a subject but we’ve long since passed normal at Michigan State this season.

In the wake of the team’s dreadful collapse against Illinois last week, starting QB Brian Lewerke took a knee to the head from a defender and then subsequently was planted on the turf while trying to make a tackle the next play — after he threw an interception that was eventually turned into a momentum-swinging pick-six. The signal-caller told reporters after the game that he got his bell rung but he still stayed in the game.

While that sequence should have prompted Lewerke to go through the standard concussion protocol, head coach Mark Dantonio said at his Tuesday press conference that neither trainers nor coaches thought about pulling him from the game to do that because the player himself said he was fine despite the hits.

“Just I asked him and he said he’s good, and he motioned that to our trainers, as well, so he just went on with it,” Dantonio said.

That, however, is not exactly what happened and the general disregard seemingly shown over putting Lewerke through proper protocols prompted the university to issue a statement later on Tuesday clarifying the situation.

“The safety of student-athletes at Michigan State University is our No. 1 priority. Decisions on whether a player returns to competition after potentially suffering an injury are made by our medical staff, which does not report to our coaching staff or through the Athletics Department,” Michigan State health care chief medical officer and interim director of athletic medicine Dr. Anthony M. Avellino said in a statement released by the school. “Upon returning to the sideline late in the fourth quarter with under five minutes remaining in the game, Brian Lewerke was given a symptom assessment by our medical staff. After not showing signs of a concussion, he was cleared to play.

“As a precautionary measure, Brian was given further testing the following day, and was once again determined not to have a concussion.”

It’s good to know that the signal-caller didn’t get a concussion on the sequence in question but it was still a little bizarre to hear the head coach of the team imply that standard procedures were skipped simply because Lewerke said he was good. Almost all college football programs have a spotter in the press box to keep an eye on hits that may lead to players going through the protocol in addition to trainers on the sidelines.

It sounds like the Spartans did follow through with doing everything they should have but it does appear as though the head coach was the last to find out about it. It’s understandable that Dantonio might have gotten caught up in the heat of the moment of an epic collapse against the Illini but to not have his story straight three days later is a bit concerning.

At least the head coach knows his job isn’t in jeopardy from the incident (or others) because more than a few others in his position would not get quite the kind of pass that Dantonio gets on such a serious subject in college football nowadays.