Sam Ehlinger

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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.

Shoulder injury leaves status of Texas QB Sam Ehlinger up in the air

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In a victory over Iowa State on Saturday night to put Texas in a good spot to clinch a berth in the Big 12 championship game, starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury. With one game left to play in the regular season against Kansas, it is unknown if Ehlinger will be ready to play this weekend.

Texas head coach Tom Herman said Ehlinger has aggravated his AC joint in his right shoulder, his throwing shoulder that was hurt earlier this season. Herman told reporters Ehlinger would not throw on Monday but the head coach of the Longhorns noted he was hopeful to see Ehlinger be able to do so again on Tuesday as practices resume in preparation for Kansas this week.

The good news appears to be no serious damage was discovered in an MRI Ehlinger underwent. Texas may be fortunate to have a game against Kansas on the schedule this week, as the Longhorns should still be a solid favorite to come out of this game with a win. A win would guarantee a spot for Texas in the Big 12 championship game, which would result in a rematch with either Oklahoma or West Virginia (the winner of this week’s Oklahoma-West Virginia game heads to the Big 12 championship game; Texas is in regardless of who wins that game as long as the Longhorns beat Kansas).

If Ehlinger is unable to play, Texas will continue to roll with Shane Buechele at quarterback. Ehlinger’s status will be monitored throughout the week before any official decision is made.

Sam Ehlinger expected to start for Texas vs. Oklahoma State

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Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger may be getting back in the saddle just in time to play the Oklahoma State Cowboys this weekend. On Thursday evening, Texas head coach Tom Herman announced Ehlinger will be expected to start on Saturday when Texas visits Oklahoma State.

Ehlinger was forced to leave a game against Baylor two weeks ago with a sprain in his throwing shoulder. Fortunately, it was not severe enough to cost Ehlinger serious playing time, as a return this week would mean he would not miss a single game. Herman had noted earlier in the week he anticipated Ehlinger would have a chance to get back on the field quickly, and his follow-up update on his starting quarterback supports that optimistic outlook.

Nothing is written in stone just yet, but this appears to be promising news for Ehlinger and the Longhorns. If there are any setbacks, however, Texas will put the keys to the offense in the hands of Shane Buechele.

After extended weather delay, Maryland sends No. 23 Texas home with loss

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For the second year in a row, Maryland (1-0) is starting the year with a win against Texas (0-1). The Terrapins managed to regroup after blowing a big first-half lead and weathered a nearly 90-minute weather delay in the fourth quarter to close out a 34-29 win against the No. 23 Longhorns.

Turnover issues popped up at the most unfortunate of times for Texas. After Maryland kicked a field goal to take a five-point lead, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger was picked off on the second play of the ensuing possession. Fortunately for Texas, the defense stood tall and forced a three-and-out to get the ball back. But on that next offensive series, Tre Watson fumbled the football after a pass completion for a six-yard gain on third-and-three. After video review, the ball was awarded to Maryland.

Maryland had a 24-7 lead in the first half, but Texas stormed into the locker room with momentum after cutting the lead to 24-22. As things seemed to settle down after the break, Texas took their first lead of the game on a Kyle Porter touchdown run in the third quarter. Maryland would answer with a lengthy 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing possession. Tayon Fleet-Davis ran for a 17-yard score to grab the lead back for Maryland, but it was at this point Mother Nature decided to interrupt the game with Maryland up 31-29 early in the fourth quarter.

The weather delay clocked in at 1 hour 26 minutes and the game resumed with Maryland kicking off to the Longhorns after their go-ahead touchdown. The break did not hurt Maryland, as the defense made some plays, including a game-clinching interception by Antoine Brooks as Texas was moving down the field in the final minutes of the game. Texas was just 3-of-15 on third downs and Texas had three turnovers in the game, while Maryland was without a turnover all game long.

Kasim Hill led the Maryland offense with 222 passing yards and a touchdown. Freshman wide receiver Jeshaun Jones had a grand debut as well, becoming the first FBS freshman to score a touchdown with a reception, run, and a pass in the same game since Marcus Mariota did it in 2012.

Ehlinger was 21-of-39 for 263 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

Say what you will about the current state of the Maryland program and all that has happened, but the players wearing the Maryland football uniforms absolutely deserved to enjoy the moment with a victory over the Longhorns once again.

Maryland will be on the road next week at Bowling Green. The Terrapins will play their first true home game in Week 3, against Temple. Texas will play their home opener next week with a game against Tulsa.

Texas settles on Sam Ehlinger as starting QB

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Another quarterback decision has been made before the start of the college football season. Texas head coach Tom Herman has settled on Sam Ehlinger to be the starting quarterback for the Longhorns when they open the season on the road against Maryland in Week 1.

Ehlinger was expected by many to win the starting job this offseason as he and Shane Buechele attempted to make their case for the job. Ehlinger and Buechele each played in nine games for Texas last season, with Ehlinger throwing for 1,915 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions and Buechele tossing for 1,405 yards and seven touchdowns with four touchdowns. Buechele had a higher completion percentage, but Ehlinger made up for it with higher production in passing yardage and with more of an ability to create some plays with his feet.

Ehlinger rushed for 381 yards and two touchdowns, while Buechele rushed for 99 yards and two scores.

Just a few days ago, Herman seemed to suggest he was waiting for one of his options to separate himself from the other in the quarterback competition. If this is any indication, Ehlinger did just that (unless it was more Buechele falling off). Regardless of how it got to this point, Herman and Texas can now begin planning to start the season with a quarterback decision seemingly made.

Texas opens the college football season against Maryland in FedEx Field on September 1.