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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.

Jon Runyan Jr. expected to play for Michigan this weekend at Wisconsin

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The Michigan Wolverines may have one of their best offensive linemen on the field this weekend when they hit the road to play at Wisconsin. Jon Runyan Jr. will make his season debut on Saturday against Wisconsin, according to Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner.

“We’ve had two weeks to work him through, so he’ll be ready to go,” Warinner said, according to MLive.com. “Jon will be excited to get some action.”

Runyan is a starting offensive lineman, although Warinner didn’t specifically say Runyan will get the start against the Badgers. However, that would be a safe assumption if Runyan is ready to get back on the field. Warinner did say Runyan will play left tackle. This will help solidify the left side of the offensive line as the Wolverines try to get their offense on track. The new-look Michigan offense hasn’t quite gotten going as hyped heading into the season, although the absence of Runyan is not believed to have been a major reason for the mild offensive struggles.

Runyan had been out for the start of the season due to an undisclosed injury. He was dressed for Michigan’s game against Army, but he was held out as a precaution. Michigan had a bye week last week, allowing more time to get ready for a game that should be quite a battle on the line of scrimmage against Wisconsin this weekend.

Bill proposed in New York aims to share college athletics revenue directly with student-athletes

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As the state of California moves forward with a push adopt a law that would allow student-athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name and likeness, a new bill proposed in New York aims to go one step farther. Senator Kevin Parker has proposed a bill that would allow student-athletes to be compensated directly from the school’s annual revenue.

As written, Senate Bill S6722A in New York seeks to allow student-athletes (including college football players) to be able to receive compensation for the use of their name, likeness or image; the ability to hire an agent; and to receive an even distribution directly from the school from the university’s athletics revenue. The bill intends to require schools to set aside 15 percent of revenue earned from ticket sales and distribute that evenly among every student-athlete at the school.

This could impact three FBS schools in New York; Syracuse, Buffalo, and Army. New York also has a handful of FCS programs as well, including Fordham, Stony Brook, and Colgate. If the bill gains any traction, it would impact each school differently due to the range in ticket revenue generated by each school. The proposed bill currently sits in committee right now and has not been scheduled for a date on the Senate floor in New York.

The NCAA will frown upon this bill, just as it has in California, and it would be expected schools in New York would not be in favor of such a bill. The NCAA has already threatened the state of California with potentially removing all championship events organized by the NCAA from the state. A similar threat to New York would be the typical response if needed. That may not impact the college football world much, although it could mean no NCAA basketball tournament games being played in New York, a state that has routinely hosted NCAA basketball tournament games across the state. The Pinstripe Bowl should be safe because it is not run by the NCAA (although the NCAA could refuse to certify the Pinstripe Bowl if it really wanted). But we are far from the point to have that discussion.

The Fair Pay for Play bill in California, which is currently waiting to be signed into law or vetoed by the state’s governor, merely allows student-athletes to seek representation and receive compensation for the use of their name, likeness, or image. This trend is certainly picking up steam, and it would not be a surprise to see other states attempt to challenge the NCAA’s model of amateurism.

Iowa and Iowa State release joint statement asking fans to treat the marching bands better

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Whatever happened to the Iowa marching band on Saturday at Iowa State must have crossed a fine line, because on Wednesday both Iowa and Iowa State released a statement addressing the concern.

“Both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University are committed to providing a safe environment for everyone attending events on their respective campuses. This includes members of the school’s marching bands,” the joint statement from Iowa athletic director Gary Barta and Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard said. “Unfortunately, both the Hawkeye and Cyclone marching bands have been the target of unacceptable behavior at football games in Iowa City and Ames in recent years. Some of the conduct directed at the students in our respective marching bands recently has been rude, vulgar, and in some cases, violent.”

Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for visiting marching bands to be harassed by hostile fans around the country. Sometimes, those shameful acts by fans of teams cause some bands to decide never to make the trip to a specific stadium ever again. Fortunately, it does appear Iowa and Iowa State are committed to ensuring the bands of both schools are treated respectfully in each other’s stadiums, as should always be the case for visiting bands, fans, and players.

“We should all feel embarrassed when students in the bands don’t feel safe when performing at an away game,” the joint statement continued. “Each of our athletics departments is committed to doing whatever is necessary to improve the environment for visiting school marching bands in the future. A significant part of the solution is insisting our fans help address this issue by showing more respect to our visitors. We owe it to these hardworking performers to have a safe stage on which they can showcase their spirit and talent.”

Make all the jokes you want, but a college band is part of what makes the college football atmosphere enjoyable and more authentic. It would be a shame to lose some of the sounds of the crowd because some idiots decided to be a bunch of jerks.

Former USC coach Pete Carroll never thought players needed to get paid

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The state of California recently passed a law that would allow college athletes to hire agents and be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness if they desire. The NCAA, naturally, has weighed in to protest the law and is hoping the governor of California decided to hear their case and not sign the bill into law. Former USC head coach Pete Carroll, now the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL with a Super Bowl championship to his name, was asked for his opinion on the developments in California. Perhaps not surprisingly, Carroll came on the side of the conversation which suggests players do not need any additional compensation beyond what is provided by a scholarship.

“I’ve never been of the thought that players need to get paid,” Carroll said, according to Joe Fann, Seattle Seahawks insider for NBC Sports Northwest.

Of course, nobody needs to be reminded Carroll was the head coach of former USC running back Reggie Bush (Ok, I guess I just reminded you anyway).The NCAA found Bush had received improper gifts from an agent, which ultimately dropped a series of sanctions on USC including four years of probation, forced the Trojans to vacate a national championship and the entire 2005 season. USC was also placed on a two-year postseason ban and was stripped of 30 scholarships over a period of three years. The Heisman Trust also vacated Bush’s Heisman Trophy from the record book, and USC has removed any ties and references to Bush from the program. USC was handed their sanctions after the 2009 season, at which time Carroll left the Trojans to coach in the NFL with Seattle.

Carroll’s thoughts on the idea of players receiving compensation (legally, of course) are not too surprising, and they are common thoughts expressed by other college football coaches who make millions. In 2009, it was reported Carroll was paid $4.4 million for the 2006-2007 fiscal year, four times as much as USC President Steven B. Sample at the time.

Carroll isn’t the only coach chiming in on the subject. Washington State head coach Mike Leach thinks California has some other issues to be concerned about.