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CFT Previews: Six-pack of Heisman dark horses

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The early frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 will be Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. But history suggests the preseason favorite or favorites for the Heisman Trophy have a rough time getting to the end of the season as the frontrunner. Every season sees new Heisman contenders come and go and the favorites going in may run into a rough patch that does significant harm just because they were the favorite at the start of the season.

The preseason oddsmakers have labeled Lawrence and Tagovailoa as clear favorites for the Heisman Trophy this season, which leaves the pool full of possible darkhorse candidates. Here are six players who may already be flying on the radar or have a shot to skyrocket up the charts with some big performances this season.

ADRIAN MARTINEZ, NEBRASKA
Quarterback

Expectations are high for Nebraska this season as Scott Frost begins his second season on the job. One reason for the optimism this season, aside from the schedule and a wide-open division race, is quarterback Adrian Martinez. As a freshman, Martinez passed for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 629 yards and eight touchdowns. His dual-threat ability should electrify the Nebraska offense this season and could be why the Huskers potentially play for the Big Ten title at the end of the year. A good spotlight performance against Ohio State in Lincoln would fuel the Heisman buzz if things go well for Martinez.

SAM EHLINGER, TEXAS
Quarterback

A year removed from throwing for 3,296 yards and 25 touchdowns while leading Texas to a regular-season victory over Oklahoma and a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia, Sam Ehlinger should certainly be on the radar for the Heisman Trophy. Similar production this year with the Longhorns already starting the year in a good spot on the playoff radar should keep Ehlinger in the mix. Improving the touchdown total and leading the Longhorns back to the Big 12 championship game could very well result in a trip to New York at the end of the year for the Texas gunslinger.

SHEA PATTERSON, MICHIGAN
Quarterback

If the Michigan offense truly does improve by opening up the playbook and picking up the pace, as has been the big difference expected this offseason with a new offensive coordinator in charge in Ann Arbor, then Shea Patterson could have a shot. Patterson passed for 2,600 yards and 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions last fall, his first with the Wolverines since transferring from Ole Miss, but those numbers likely won’t cut it. So if the Michigan offense does focus their gameplan more to Patterson’s skill set and comfort level, and if the Wolverines score some big wins along the way to a possible Big Ten title shot (which would include beating Ohio State in conference play and likely a non-conference victory over Notre Dame in October), then Patterson may have some possible marquee moments lined up.

AJ DILLON, BOSTON COLLEGE
Running Back

Quarterbacks may rule the Heisman Trophy conversation these days, but a running back can sneak up every now and then. As a true darkhorse candidate, last year’s leading rusher in yards per game may have the steepest uphill climb. AJ Dillon rushed for 110.8 yards per game last season in 10 games. And his touchdown total of 10 would certainly need to go up this year too. He should get plenty of chances to run the ball at Boston College, so the numbers could pile up.

JUSTIN HERBERT, OREGON
Quarterback

Perhaps the Pac-12’s top Heisman Trophy candidate is one the NFL scouts are already watching closely. Justin Herbert opted to return to Oregon for one more season rather than turn pro, and now he could have a chance to lead the Ducks back to the Pac-12 this fall. If he does, then he will likely remain in the Heisman discussion all season long. Herbert passed for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns last season. Improving the pass completion percentage would help, but scoring big wins against Auburn to open the season and later against Washington may be the key to a trip to New York.

JK DOBBINS, OHIO STATE
Running Back

Sure, Ohio State may have one of the more talented transfer quarterbacks looking to keep the offense humming this season (Justin Fields), but the Buckeyes may be wise to rely more on running back JK Dobbins this season. Dobbins saw his rushing total take a dip last season after a brilliant freshman season in 2017 (1,403 rushing yards down to 1,053 yards despite nearly 40 more rushing attempts), but he is still one of the top running backs in the Big Ten and it shows. If Dobbins is used more early on this season as the new quarterback gets situated in the offense, Dobbins should rack up some big numbers to get started. Spotlight games at Nebraska, home against Penn State and at Michigan spread out this season and down the stretch give Dobbins a chance to make some loud noises in the Heisman race.

We might as well talk about Jalen Hurts…

Oklahoma has been the home to the last two quarterbacks, with Baker Mayfield winning the award in 2017 and Kyler Murray taking the trophy back to Norman last season. Head coach Lincoln Riley could not have stepped into a better quarterback situation than he did when he took over for Bob Stoops in 2017. Now, with Murray off to the NFL, the Sooners bring in former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. While Hurts may not be exactly the same kind of quarterback Mayfield or Murray were the past two years, the Sooners are gaining an experienced starter who has led his previous team to the national championship game in back-to-back seasons. There is a lot to like about this combination, even if Riley has a few things to work on with Hurts to get the offense where he wants it.

The odds a school claims three straight Heisman Trophy winners are likely against Oklahoma this season. No school has ever had three straight Heisman Trophy winners (Yale and Army have each had back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners; USC had back-to-back winners but one (Reggie Bush) has since been officially vacated; Ohio State has back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners courtesy of the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, Archie Griffin). Could history be made? Sure. Why not? But the streak probably comes to an end in Norman this year, even if the season goes well for Hurts and the Sooners.

Because of neck injury, Texas A&M RB Vernon Jackson ‘will probably never play again’

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The tumult Texas A&M has experienced in its backfield the past several months has taken yet another negative twist.

In April, Texas A&M’s Vernon Jackson posted on social media that he had “suffered a neck injury in practice… [that] could keep me from ever playing again.” Three months later, A&M would only confirm that the running back would be sidelined for the entire 2019 season because of the injury.

Wednesday night on his weekly radio show, Jimbo Fisher acknowledged that, because of the injury, “Vernon will probably never play again.” The specific nature of the neck issue has never been divulged.

According to the head coach, Jackson will remain on a medical scholarship and serve as a student coach with the football program.

“He wanted to be in coaching,” Fisher said according to the Dallas Morning News. “He’s a tremendous human being. We wanted him to be a part of our team. He’s become a student coach and learning all the things you got to be to do that.”

Jackson was a four-star member of the Aggies’ 2018 recruiting class.  As a true freshman, he appeared in 12 games, carrying the ball seven times for 49 yards.

The situation around Jackson, as well as a couple of other developments, has left the Aggies with just three healthy running backs heading into Week 4.

Starter Jashaun Corbin, who posted his first career 100-yard game in the 2019 opener, is out for the season after suffering a hamstring injury in the Week 2 loss to Clemson.  This week, Deneric Prince opted to place his name into the NCAA transfer database.

Isaiah Spiller‘s 246 yards (on just 28 carries) currently leads the Aggies.  His 8.8 yards per carry is seventh nationally among all players with at least 25 rushing attempts.

Braylon Edwards: Michigan ‘light years behind Ohio State’ right now

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There is some breaking news, y’all.

To say that Ohio State has owned the greatest rivalry in all of sports of late would be an understatement of mammoth proportions, with Michigan losing each of the last seven editions of The Game.  Taking it back further, the Buckeyes have won 14 of the last 15 and 16 of the last 18.

Throughout the offseason, and as OSU is in its first year of the post-Urban Meyer era, there’s has been many a discussion that this is the season that, finally, the Wolverines get over that Buckeye hump.  Michigan, though, has hardly looked the part thus far — they nearly lost to Army in the Big House in double overtime — while Ohio State has outscored its opponents 138-31 in starting 3-0 and still looks like the class of the Big Ten.

Enter Braylon Edwards, the former U-M receiving great who has never in the past been shy about criticizing his alma mater when he feels it’s warranted.  During a radio appearance this week, Edwards laid out his unvarnished opinion on how the Wolverines stand in comparison to their hated rivals.

“Falling [behind OSU]? We fell,” Edwards said by way of USA Today. “It’s past tense. We’re light years behind Ohio State right now.”

Edwards also had stern words for how the Wolverines approach The Game compared to the Buckeyes.

My biggest concern, if I’m being honest. Three-hundred-sixty-five days a year, [OSU is] breathing, living, hating – they can’t even say our name. They hate us so much. When they go into that game, that’s that old-school, 1960s football, Friday Night Lights in Texas – that’s the atmosphere. That’s what they bring to the table when they play us. You can feel it on them. You can almost smell the hate when you play against them.

… You approach certain teams differently. We got to start approaching that game from the standpoint that they do. I feel like when we go into that game, you’re looking at two different preparation systems.

The latest edition of The Game will be played Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor.  If U-M were to lose that game, the heat underneath Jim Harbaugh‘s seat, regardless of the record the first 11 games, will be cranked up exponentially.

Nick Saban says Alabama’s highest-rated 2019 signee has ‘basically quit’ the team

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I guess it’s time to close the books on this little mini-soap opera, at least for now.

Antonio Alfano was suspended for unspecified reasons and didn’t dress for Alabama’s Week 2 home opener against New Mexico State.  Last week, Nick Saban added a bit of mystery to Alfano’s status when he stated that the highly-touted defensive lineman has “kind of disappeared a little bit” before launching into an oral dissertation about failing to confront and learn from one’s mistakes.

On Twitter nearly a week ago, Alfano’s parents stated that, in large part because of an ailing grandmother, their son “has not attended classes or practices” for an unspecified period of time.  Against their wishes, the parents also confirmed that Alfano has entered the NCAA transfer database.

Wednesday, Saban offered up an update in which the head coach, very bluntly, stated that the defensive lineman has basically quit the team as he hasn’t shown up for football-related activities, classes or counseling for unspecified issues.  The player isn’t responding to attempts by the team to contact him, either, Saban added.

With his name in the transfer database, other schools can contact Alfano without receiving permission from Alabama.  The true freshman also, as the parents alluded to in their social media posts last week, can pull his name from the portal and remain with the Crimson Tide.

During summer camp, Alfano missed a couple of practices for what were described as personal reasons but ultimately returned to the team.  Even before the suspension, the lineman didn’t play in the season opener against Duke.

A five-star 2019 signee, Alfano was rated as the No. 1 strongside defensive end in the country; the No. 1 player at any position in the state of New Jersey; and the No. 5 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  He was the highest-rated Crimson Tide signee during this most recent cycle.

Oklahoma State’s Blake Barron opts to enter transfer database

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Another morning, another portal post to start the day.

The latest to see a personnel loss is Oklahoma State, with Blake Barron announcing on Twitter earlier this week that he has decided to leave the OSU football program.  Said Barron, “This has been the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my life.”

“I am forever grateful for the [life-changing] opportunity that the OSU football program has provided for me,” Barron wrote, adding, “Thank you Oklahoma State for everything, I wish the university and football program nothing but the best.”

The redshirt freshman linebacker gave no specific reason for his departure, saying only that he feels it’s in his “best interest.”

While OSU has yet to publicly address Barron’s departure, his bio is no longer available of the program’s official website.

The Rockwall, Tex., native was a three-star member of the Cowboys’ 2018 recruiting class.  A knee injury Barron sustained prior to the 2018 season kicking off sidelined for the entire year.  This season, a healthy Barron hadn’t seen the field at all.