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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.

Troy loses RB B.J. Smith, SBC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, to season-ending injury

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This one will certainly leave a lasting mark.

Over the summer, Troy’s B.J. Smith was named as the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.  Two months later, the football program confirmed, the running back will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2019 season because of an injury sustained in the Week 3 loss to Southern Miss.

While the specific nature of the injury wasn’t divulged by the school, it’s believed Smith injured his knee midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s game.

Last season, Smith led the Trojans with 1,186 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.  This season, the fourth-year senior had rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in two games.

Because of the timing of the injury, Smith can take a redshirt for the 2019 season and return to the Trojans next season.

Texas LB Caleb Johnson enters transfer portal

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Sitting at the quarter-pole of the 2019 regular season, and Texas is the latest FBS program to feel the pain of the portal.

Joe Cook of InsideTexas.com was the first to report that Caleb Johnson has placed his name into the NCAA transfer database.  247Sports.com subsequently confirmed the initial report, writing that the junior linebacker “feels he has not fit in well since he arrived at Texas.”

247Sports provided further details as to the events leading up to Johnson’s decision.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Johnson met with the staff Monday morning to inform them of his intentions to enter the transfer portal. While the staff requested he think more about his decision, Johnson decided to enter his name into he NCAA Transfer Portal, and is listed in the portal as of Tuesday morning.

Johnson joined the Longhorns from the junior college level, enrolling early and taking part in spring practice this past offseason.  He was a three-star 2019 signee who was rated as the No. 3 JUCO outside linebacker in this past year’s class.

Through three games, Johnson hadn’t yet taken the field for the Big 12 program.

Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow surge past Trevor Lawrence in Heisman odds

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When the 2019 campaign kicked off, most assumed that the 2019 Heisman Trophy would be a two-player race. Three weeks in and that number has more than doubled.

In odds released by one offshore sportsbook, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is listed as a 2/1 favorite to win this year’s Heisman. The other preseason co-favorite, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, whose odds now sit at 15/2 — they were at 3/1 a week ago — after a start to the season has seen him throw more interceptions in three games (five) than he had in 15 games (four) as a true freshman a year ago.

Lawrence was actually leapfrogged in this latest odds release by a pair of quarterbacks: Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, who went from 7/2 to 3/1, and LSU’s Joe Burrow, up to 4/1 from 18/1.

Another quarterback also made an upward move as Ohio State’s Justin Fields climbed from 16/1 to 10/1.

The only non-quarterbacks on the list?  Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor sits at 20/1, while fellow running backs Travis Etienne of Clemson and D’Andre Swift of Georgia, along with Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy,  are sitting at 33/1.  Another running back, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, is listed at 100/1.

Other quarterbacks that were listed include Georgia’s Jake Fromm at 14/1 (12/1 a week ago), Oregon’s Justin Herbert at 18/1 (25/1), Texas’ Sam Ehlinger at 18/1 (16/1), Notre Dame’s Ian Book at 50/1 (50/1), Michigan’s Shea Patterson at 66/1 (22/1) and Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez at 100/1 (off the board).

Ex-Auburn WR Nate Craig-Meyers cleared to play at Colorado State

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A couple of weeks into the 2019 season, Colorado State has realized an immediate infusion of Power Five talent.

Nate Craig-Meyers transferred from Auburn in September of 2018; three months later, he landed at Colorado State.  After being sidelined the first three games of this season, CSU confirmed Monday that Craig-Meyers is now eligible to play for the Rams, beginning in Week 4 against Toledo.

“Nate’s been an awesome teammate,” head coach Mike Bobo said according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan. “He’s done a good job learning our offense. The first two weeks of the season he did scout team. This past week, when we knew he was going to be eligible for this week, he came down and repped some with the offense.

“He’s in a good position. He’ll be ready to go.”

Craig-Meyers was a four-star member of the Tigers’ 2016 recruiting class, rated as the No. 6 receiver in the country; the No. 6 player at any position in the state of Florida; and the No. 45 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board. He was the highest-rated signee on the offensive side of the ball for the Tigers that recruiting cycle.

Despite starting all three games for the Tigers prior to his transfer last season, Craig-Meyers had just two receptions for 39 yards. He finished the AU portion of his playing career with 394 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns on his 22 catches.