Article by: Harrison Weaver
Get ready college football fans, we are officially less than a month away from football season. That means Saturday morning College GameDay, raucous student sections, Lee Corso mascot head picks, upset alerts, electric plays, Heisman debates, heated rivalries, everything we love about college football. We’ve spent all off-season in preparation, looking at position battles, player progression, and which teams are ready to make a run at the title this year. Once again, the field is set up for a Clemson/Alabama shootout for the Number 1 overall ranking throughout the regular season. Most of the blue bloods such as Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan, LSU, Texas, etc. have themselves positioned for a playoff run. That doesn’t mean that there are not any outsiders who can’t make a splash though, as there always seems to be at least a slight underdog that sneaks themselves into playoff contention. Back in 2015, Iowa was in the CFP discussion until a late loss to Michigan State. In 2016 the frenzy was around Penn State and their dream run to win the Big 10 Championship but got snubbed a spot in the playoffs. In 2017 and 2018, the debate was around an undefeated UCF team that got left out due to playing in a weak conference. Who’s now going to be the team to spice things up this year? Who’s going to be jarring it out for the Heisman? Let us get into it.
2019 Top Heisman Candidates
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: After leading Bama to a thrilling comeback victory in the 2017 National Championship, Tua has never looked back. After throwing for a ridiculous 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns, while adding 5 more TD’s on the ground in 2018, Tua is set up for another stat-stuffing season at Alabama as well as another shot at a championship. With an easy non-conference schedule, look for his numbers to be just as good, if not better than last season. He’ll have his top targets back, including Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, and Henry Ruggs. All these factors combined put him in a perfect spot to win himself a Heisman.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson: There is a ton of hype surrounding the 2019 Clemson Tigers and their star QB Trevor Lawrence. All he did as a true freshman was throw for 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns, while featuring a huge National Championship Game against the daunting Bama defense in which he threw for 347 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Just like Tua, Trevor Lawrence is returning with a loaded receiving corps and will be in perfect position for a Heisman run.
Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia: After an extremely disappointing ending to their 2018 campaign, Jake Fromm and the Bulldogs will be out for redemption. He threw for 2,749 yards and 30 touchdowns last year and will again have star running back D’Andre Swift to take away pressure via a strong running attack to compliment the passing game. Fromm has shown steady progression through his first two years, so expect him to take another step forward this year towards a Heisman campaign.
Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas: The man tasked with leading Texas back to the top of college football glory put up tremendous stats in route to an impressive year last season for the Longhorns. Ehlinger scored 41 touchdowns, 25 through the air and 16 on the ground. He threw for 3,292 yards and rushed for 482 more. He even had 5 receptions for 51 yards over the course of the season. If anyone can produce a Heisman Moment, Sam Ehlinger is that guy. Let’s see if he can build on the success of last year’s Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia to land a spot in New York for the ceremony.
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: Justin Herbert won’t only be contending for a Championship or a Heisman this year, he will also be competing for a chance to be taken as a top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The only concern West Coast fans have is that Herbert will not get the same spotlight due to late-night games for East Coast fans (#PAC12AfterDark). Not to worry, Herbert threw for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns last year. Those numbers are only going to improve, and if Oregon can win enough of their big games to stay in playoff contention, Justin Herbert will get all the Heisman recognition he needs.
Others to Keep an Eye On: Adrian Martinez (QB, Nebraska), Jalen Hurts (QB, Oklahoma), Travis Etienne (RB, Clemson), Jonathan Taylor (RB, Wisconsin)
Dark Horse: A candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.
This section is going to be all about the teams I have my eye on as outsiders with College Football Playoff potential, or at least the ability to drive some debate to be in the conversation. Some of you may read this list and wonder why your favorite team is not included, especially if you’re an LSU, Texas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida, or Notre Dame fan. Each of those teams are a Preseason Top 10 team, and in my opinion, I do not consider Top 10 teams to be a dark horse. If anything, take it as a compliment. I expect each of those teams to be in the running. They’re all loaded with talent at a point where they’re ready to win titles. On the other hand, once you drop out of the Top 10, then you start to get teams that people are sleeping on or teams that are ready to break through that may have had some rough spots last season. That is how I define a dark horse.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: Last year was a frustrating year for the Cornhuskers. In a highly anticipated first year for new head coach Scott Frost, the college football world was expecting slightly better than the 4-8 that the Huskers finished at. However, in games decided by 5 points or less, they went a rough 1-5, meaning that if a few more plays went their way, they could have earned themselves a spot in a bowl game. This tells us that they were much better than their record demonstrates. The Huskers are bringing back 13 starters from last year, including dual-threat QB Adrian Martinez who put up 2,617 passing yards and 629 rushing yards last year. Starting out the season ranked #20, look for Scott Frost and the Huskers to start winning those close games and begin to climb in the rankings.
Boise State Broncos: Much like UCF of the past few seasons, Boise State could be the small-conference school to make some noise this season. They will have a tough Week 1 matchup against Florida State in Jacksonville, but if they can get past that, they’ll be playing a much easier schedule the rest of the way. Such as a tricky matchup against BYU in mid-October. There is still lots of uncertainty for the Broncos in the backfield as they have yet to name a starting QB or running back. However, Boise State will be returning a lot of stars that were lost to injuries last season, meaning this team will be loaded with great players on defense and they’ll have their top two receivers that were lost back. With a Week 1 win, the Broncos could set themselves up to hang around the Top 10 all season.
Utah Utes: Utah boasted the nation’s fifth-best run defense in 2018 and racked up 37 sacks on the season. They have 10 starters on award-watch lists and are hungry to get to the top of the PAC-12. They will be battling it out with Heisman candidate Justin Herbert and the Oregon Ducks as to who will come out with the PAC-12 Championship, a game in which the winner could end up earning a CFP spot if both teams can live up to expectations. Look for that stout defense as well as the return of last year’s starting QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss to be a spark to a possible playoff run for the Utes.
Texas A&M Aggies: The Aggies surprised many last season, came within a two-point conversion of going to overtime against Clemson early in the season, and defeated LSU in a thrilling 74-72 7-OT game, and then capping off the season with a convincing 52-13 bowl victory over NC State. Coming in with the #3 ranked recruiting class in 2019, the Aggies will be loaded with young talent this season as well as moving into the future. They will also be returning dual-threat QB Kellen Mond who threw for 3,107 yards and rushed for 474. Mond’s weapons will be young, but fast, strong, and electric targets that will be ready to break through this season. The loss of breakout star running back Trayveon Williams will hurt, but they will use a RB-by-committee approach headed by shifty, fast-accelerating Jashaun Corbin. That offense paired with a young but talented defense will have them primed as a near-perfect dark horse entering this 2019 season.
Oregon Ducks: Justin Herbert. Have you heard of him? If you haven’t, then you will be hearing a lot about him this season. The Heisman candidate who threw for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns last year will have the spotlight on him all season to lead this team to a PAC-12 Championship as well as a possible playoff berth. The Ducks will be returning 10 starters on offense and 7 starters on defense. The one loss on offense was their top receiver Dillon Mitchell, but on the bright side they’ll be heading into the season with the nations’ sixth-ranked recruiting class to fill any holes they may have. The recent Achilles-heel for the Ducks has been their inability to win big games, as they dropped key matchups against Stanford, Washington State, Arizona, and Utah last season. Oregon will face Auburn in Week 1, so look for Justin Herbert and the Ducks to give everything they’ve got to get off to a strong start and put the Quack Attack back in college football prominence.
Others to Watch: Miami, UCF, Syracuse, Penn State, Iowa State
My Way Too Early College Football Playoff Selection:
Penn State Fans: A Section for You
I’m going to take off my unbiased helmet now and just speak as the Penn State fan that I am. We’re going to miss Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders, Connor McGovern, Shareef Miller, Amani Oruwariye, and the rest of the studs we lost from last year. As much as it pained me, there is a reason why I did not pick Penn State as one of my dark horse teams. You look at our offense, and there is a complete lack of experience at almost every position except for the O-Line. Sean Clifford will attempt to lead an offense whose best threat may be sophomore RB Ricky Slade. KJ Hamler is back to give our receiving corps at least one name that people will know. After Hamler, our most productive receiver returning from last year is Jahan Dotson who had 13 catches for 203 yards. However, as inexperienced as this offensive unit may be, it also means that they haven’t even had a chance to prove themselves yet. Head Coach James Franklin and OC Ricky Rahne have had a whole offseason to get this unit prepared, so there is a chance they could surprise us all. However, with no sample size to look at and the pure volume of talent that we lost this offseason, these Nittany Lions are not one that I would peg as a dark horse for the playoffs.
The defense is back and as strong as ever. Led by Micah Parsons, Yetur Gross-Matos, and a beast of a front-seven, our defense is going to shut down the run and get after opposing quarterbacks. Bleacher Report’s Kerry Miller tabbed Penn State as the #2 defense in the country this coming year, and whether that’s accurate or not, we have the talent to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. The one flaw could be the secondary, where the talent does not measure up to the front-seven. We should be more than okay though as opposing QB’s will need to get rid of the ball quickly, which will make the secondary look better.
All in all, it’s hard to foresee what kind of season our Nittany Lions are going to have. We’ve never seen this offense, there is no way to know how well everyone is gelling, what kind of flow and chemistry they will possess. The defense will be the calling card in 2019. Who knows? Maybe Penn State will find a way to upend Michigan and/or Ohio State, all hell breaks loose in the Big 10, and we find a way to make it to the playoffs. Why not? Either way, Beaver will be rocking once again this year. Fight on State! #WeAre
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