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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.

Arizona outruns Texas Tech as QB Khalil Tate shows a few flashes of old self

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Every so often, college football is capable of throwing a curveball. Or, perhaps to borrow an analogy from the sport itself, a duck of a throw when you expect a perfect spiral.

Such was the case out in the desert late on Saturday night as Arizona showed enough on both sides of the ball to secure a badly needed 28-14 win over Texas Tech in the most surprising defensive struggle of the 2019 season so far.

While each side entered the contest ranking in the top 10 in FBS total offense, only the Wildcats could find the end zone with any sort of consistency. Quarterback Khalil Tate showed a few flashes of his old self by topping the century mark rushing (129 yards, 1 TD) and passing (185 yards, 1 TD), including an 84-yard scamper in the second quarter that was far more of the 2017 version of the signal-caller than his injury-plagued 2018 self.

Of course, with some of that good also came some bad on a night where yards were generally hard-fought and hard to come by. That included a pair of interceptions and an early fumble to hold back the Wildcats on a night that otherwise was a highlight for the program. J.J. Taylor added 39 yards rushing while teammate Gary Brightwell looked like the fresher option in the backfield with 85 yards and two scores.

Red Raiders quarterback Alan Bowman wound up with decent numbers himself (311 yards, one touchdown, two picks) but never could keep the chains moving enough against a defense that threw a lot of looks at the youngster making his first road start with the new coaching staff. T.J. Vasher came on late to record 96 yards receiving while Utah transfer Armand Shyne couldn’t get much going (68 yards on 13 carries) against an old Pac-12 South foe.

Perhaps worst of all for Matt Wells and company was the way the defense wilted after three quarters despite playing well early on. That included giving up the nail in the coffin late in the fourth quarter: a 13 play, 99 yard drive that all came on the ground.

Things don’t get any easier after a bye for Tech either as they face Oklahoma in two weeks, a top five team that has their own dual-threat quarterback that can make you pay. Arizona’s path is a little easier with UCLA coming to Tucson after an off date as the Wildcats can take plenty of confidence into the breather next week following a victory in a game that didn’t go quite as expected — in a good way.

No. 25 Virginia holds off Florida State; FSU now 1-2 (or worse) in back-to-back-to-back seasons for first time since 1974-76

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While it’s not solely on him, Willie Taggart‘s Florida State football program has hit yet another new low.

In Week 3, Florida State traveled to Charlottesville to take on No. 25 Virginia, the first time ever that a ranked Cavaliers team faced an unranked Seminoles squad.  After six lead changes over four quarters of play, Virginia gave its fans a reason to storm the field — which they wholeheartedly did — as the Cavs scored the last 14 points to secure a 31-24 win.

The Seminoles led 14-10 at halftime, then stretched that lead to 17-10 at the end of the third quarter.  After eventually taking a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, the ‘Noles watched as the Cavs scored a touchdown with 6:02 left in the game to pull to within one at 24-23 (missed conversion) and then go ahead 31-24 with 2:34 remaining thanks to a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

FSU had one last chance to at least tie the game, taking over at its own 25-yard line.  Thanks in very large part to penalties (four 15-yarders on UVa. on that drive), FSU drove inside the Cavs’ five-yard line; with time running out, Cam Akers was stopped for no gain at the four-yard line.

Virginia picked up its fourth win all-time in 19 games against Florida State, and have now won three of the last six meetings. None of the three previous wins (2011, 2005, 1995) had been by more than five points (one, five, five).

For an FSU team that went 5-7 in the first season under Willie Taggart in 2018, missing out on a bowl game for the first time in 36 years, Week 3 continued a downward arc that shows no signs of abating.  It also continues a distressing trend: Florida State is now 1-2 (or worse) for the third straight season, the first time that’s happened since 1974-76.

So, for those wondering: Taggart’s buyout is in the neighborhood of $17 million if he’s fired without cause before February 1, 2020.

Godspeed, FSU fans.  And make sure you hydrate properly.

Defense in the desert? Arizona out front of Texas Tech in low-scoring first half

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The Texas Tech-Arizona tilt in Tucson was expected to be one of the highest scoring games of Week 3. Proving that college football continues to surprise on a wild Saturday, the Big 12-Pac-12 clash was actually one highlighted more by the defensive efforts from two programs that aren’t quite accustomed to making a splash on that side of the ball as the Wildcats managed to eek out a 13-7 lead going into halftime.

Red Raiders quarterback Alan Bowman was far from efficient in his first road start since late October of last season, throwing for 146 yards on 15-of-29 passing with two interceptions. The normally productive offense converted just three 3rd downs and didn’t get much going in the run game either, with Armand Shyne posting just 45 yards on the ground as the Utah transfer faces off against a familiar foe.

There were good and bad moments for Arizona as well, with QB Khalil Tate showing flashes of his old self (see highlight of an 84-yard TD run below) and also of the version where you didn’t quite to make of the one-time Heisman candidate (two interceptions to hold back his 124 yards and a score passing).

Now all that being said, we could still have a wild one as both programs had a few moments where they came close to nailing a big play or two to break things open. This is obviously a new coaching staff for Texas Tech making their first big road trip but also an Arizona side that badly needs to grab a non-conference win for a league lacking in them.

That leaves both sides pretty hungry to get a win in what could be a second half that helps return the game to the high scoring affair we all kind of expected.

No. 1 Clemson peels Orange

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After beating Clemson in the Carrier Dome two years ago and nearly doing the same in Death Valley East last year, tonight’s Clemson-Syracuse game was billed preseason as a meeting of the ACC’s two best teams, a de facto ACC semifinal even. Pretty much all of that hype evaporated when Syracuse was crushed 63-20 by No. 21 Maryland last week, but, still. If this is truly the ACC’s second-best team… woof.

Trevor Lawrence tossed two interceptions and generally put in a workmanlike effort, and still the defending champions won with ease: No. 1 Clemson 41, Syracuse 6.

Lawrence completed 22-of-39 passes for a career-high 395 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing four times for 42 yards and an additional score. Most of his success through the air came on jump balls and screens to his massive, speedy wide receivers. Tee Higgins caught seven passes for 150 yards, Amari Rodgers snared four for 121 yards and two scores, and Justyn Ross snared five passes for 64 yards.

The heroes of the night were the Tigers’ defenders. Clemson (3-0, 2-0 ACC) limited Syracuse (1-2, 0-1 ACC) to 184 yards of total offense. Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito was 15-of-27 for just 172 yards with an interception and while absorbing six sacks.

If there was one moment of drama on the night, it came early in the third quarter when, trailing 17-6, Syracuse linebacker Christopher Frederick intercepted Lawrence and returned the ball to the Clemson 9, but DeVito gave the ball right back by throwing it to Clemson’s Mario Goodrich.

Lawrence hit Rodgers for an 87-yard touchdown two plays after that and the game was all but over.