2018 Heisman Hopefuls are Hard to Find

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Only quarterbacks and Alabama running backs have won the Heisman dating back to 2000. (Wikimedia Commons)

After five weeks of action in the 2018 college football season, the shortlist of contenders for the Heisman Trophy is shrinking. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray are the clear front runners at this stage. All four of them are undefeated quarterbacks playing on Power 5 conference teams ranked in the top 10. At this stage, any of them could win the award, but it seems like there is not much chance anyone else manages to get their name into the running. Let’s break down who else was supposed to be in this race.

The Preseason Hopefuls
There were several other players who were supposed to challenge for the highest individual honor in the college game. Stanford running back Bryce Love and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor headline this group. Love was the runner up for the award last season when Baker Mayfield took it home. Taylor finished sixth in the voting. The pair finished second and third in the nation in rushing respectively behind Seahawks first round selection Rashaad Penny. This season Taylor is fifth in the country for ground yardage, but hasn’t scored in either of his past two games and Wisconsin lost to an unranked BYU squad. Love has missed time with some nagging injuries.

Also in this group is Shea Patterson of Michigan and Kelly Bryant of Clemson. The two quarterbacks had rough starts to the season. For Patterson, he lost his season opener to Notre Dame and failed to throw a touchdown pass. He only has seven through five games this year. On the other hand, Bryant actually lost his starting job to freshman Trevor Lawrence and announced he plans to transfer.

The Sleeper Picks
Every year, there are a bunch of dark horse candidates to win the Heisman. 2018 was no different. The most popular sleeper pick this year had to be Penn State’s Trace McSorley. A true dual-threat quarterback, the senior has thrown for over 1,000 yards and rushed for over 450. Normally, that would put you right in the heart of the conversation. However, McSorley sustained a heavy blow to his candidacy with PSU’s loss to Ohio State at home. On top of that, he has a woeful completion percentage of 52 and had two games where he failed to eclipse 200 yards passing.

Alongside McSorely were Drew Lock and Jarret Stidham, two SEC quarterbacks with first round potential in the upcoming NFL draft. Lock was always going to have a tough road to the award being on an unranked team. He opened the season on fire, but came back down to Earth when Georgia drubbed Missouri. Lock failed to complete 50 percent of his passes against the Bulldogs, threw no touchdowns, one interception and for under 250 yards. For a quarterback who doesn’t run much, that pretty much ended Lock’s campaign. Stidham’s candidacy turned out to be mostly hype. Through five games, the Auburn quarterback has only thrown five touchdowns, lost at home to LSU and topped 200 passing yards twice.

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Mayfield became the first senior to win the award since 2006 and translated it into the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. (Wikimedia Commons)

Still Could Join the Party
I have bashed the depth of the hopefuls pretty thoroughly, but it is still early and there a are a handful of players who could make some noise and draw Heisman attention before the season is over.

The first is Justin Herbert. The Oregon quarterback is making a case to be the first quarterback selected in May at the NFL draft. He could also sneak into the Heisman conversation, but it feels like he missed his best chance to assert himself. It will be hard for voters to shake the memory of him throwing four straight incompletions to lose at home to Stanford in overtime. He also has a couple of ugly statistical games on his record where he tossed multiple interceptions and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes.

There is no way that only quarterbacks finish as finalists either. Travis Etienne of Clemson has a chance to thrust himself into the conversation before the season is out. He is currently seventh in the country in rushing with an outrageous 8.1 yards per carry. The sophomore running back also has eight touchdowns so far. Additionally, Etienne might have just had his Heisman moment as he carried Clemson to a comeback in Death Valley over Syracuse with the team’s third-string quarterback under center. He rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns to keep the Tigers undefeated. Being the lead back on a team likely to make the playoff and having your starting quarterback transfer, Etienne has everything in place to take a stab at this.

One last one that is a bit of a unique case is Ian Book. The Notre Dame quarterback took over as the starter in the third game of the season. He threw the game-clinching touchdown against Wake Forest and has thrown for 603 yards and six touchdowns over his last two starts. He torched what is a good Stanford defense and has a stellar 74 percent completion rate. On top of all of that, he hasn’t thrown an interception. The Irish sit at sixth in the AP poll and have a chance to make the College Football Playoff. If Book puts up similar numbers and leads Notre Dame to an undefeated regular season, he could be in the mix.

The Longshots
Just because you aren’t at a big school doesn’t mean you can’t make some noise. Now, Kentucky is a big school, but you probably know them for basketball. However, Ben Snell Jr. is having an impressive year running the ball. He is fourth in the nation in both yards and touchdowns. Kentucky is also 5-0 and up to #13 in the AP Poll. He will get a chance to play some great competition as Texas A&M and Georgia are still on the schedule. He could be a late riser.

Even more of a long shot is John Ursua of Hawaii. He really doesn’t belong, but he leads the nation in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He is on pace to finish with 100 catches, 1500 yards and 24 touchdowns. That kind of production usually catches the eyes of Heisman voters, but the best team Hawaii has played all year is Army. Unless Ursua can step it up and start shattering some records along with Hawaii winning out, he won’t really draw much attention.

One last name to throw around is Steven Montez from Colorado. The Buffaloes are 4-0 this season for the first time in 20 years. Montez is completing 75.8 percent of his passes, which leads the nation. Colorado is 21st in the polls and has road games against USC, Washington and Cal. Montez has thrown for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in four games so far. He still has two-thirds of his games left in his season. It will be interesting to see what he can do with it.

The season is far from over, but it seems like the majority of the whittling down for the Heisman Trophy has already occurred. We might get some fireworks by season’s end, but this feels like a four-man race with a lot of people wondering what could have been.

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2018 NFL Pro Potential Power Rankings

For many college football players, the goal is to have success at school to earn a spot in the NFL. Most players who turn pro after college enter the league via the NFL Draft.

Welcome to year three of this project. Gone from consideration is the class of 2013, replaced by the new group of college athletes selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. The top of the list looks very similar to years past. Further down the rankings is massive turnover and movement. Louisville continues its rise while Oregon continues to tumble. Auburn finally cracks the rankings after coming agonizingly close the previous two years, costing North Carolina its spot. These ranking help measure the success of college programs over the past five years in terms of producing NFL prospects. It in no way accounts or measures success in the NFL, as that is extremely difficult to quantify. This is college football we are talking about, so here is the top 25.

The scoring system is as follows:
1st round-10 points
2nd round-7 points
3rd round-5 points
4th round-4 points
5th round- 3 points
6th round- 2 points
7th round- 1 points

Alabama Logo1. Alabama Crimson Tide– 263 points
Previous: 1 (253 points)
Highest Drafted Player- Amari Cooper, 4th Overall, 2014
No one has yet to come close to Alabama in the three years I have compiled these rankings. With four more first round picks and a host of mid-round selections, the Crimson Tide continues to be the NFL’s favorite spot to find new players.

Ohio State Logo2. Ohio State Buckeyes- 232 points
Previous: 2 (200 points)
Highest Drafted Player- Joey Bosa, 3rd Overall, 2016
The climb continues for Ohio State. For the second straight year, the Buckeyes actually closed the gap on Alabama atop the rankings. The Crimson Tide had the stronger 2018 class, but lost more from it’s 2013 group than Ohio State did. I don’t expect Ohio State to catch Bama any time soon, but even with the uncertainty in Columbus right now, the Buckeyes should be a lock for the top five for the foreseeable future.

Florida logo.jpg3. Florida Gators- 163 points
Previous: 4 (181 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Dante Fowler Jr., 3rd Overall, 2015
Despite dropping a ton of points in the rankings, Florida actually leap frogs Florida State. Nobody is catching Alabama or Ohio State anytime soon. The Gators will stay in the top five though as long as players continue to go in the first round.

Florida State Logo4. Florida State Seminoles- 160 points
Previous: 3 (192 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Jameis Winston, 1st Overall, 2015
Florida State drops a spot for a second consecutive year. The Seminoles 2018 class was deep, but only Derwin James went in the first round. Still FSU should hang around the top five on the back of that 2015 class for at least one more year.

Louisiana State University logo5. LSU Tigers- 155 points
Previous: 4 (175 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Leonard Fournette, 4th Overall, 2017
A large dip in points does not cost the Tigers a spot in the rankings. LSU continues to produce top tier defensive players every season. If the offense can start to catch up, the Tigers could start moving up the board.

Clemson Logo6. Clemson Tigers- 139 points
Previous: 6 (151 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Sammy Watkins, 4th Overall, 2014
Clemson had a woeful showing at the NFL draft this season compared to recent history, but it didn’t hurt them in the rankings. Just three players were drafted in 2018, with no one coming off the board until the third round. The Tigers have a host of defensive lineman that could go in the first round next year, so expect Clemson to bounce back in a big way.

UCLA logo.jpg7. UCLA Bruins- 126 points
Previous: 9 (115 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Anthony Barr, 9th Overall, 2014
Finally, a team that increased its point total and moved up the rankings as a result. UCLA had two first round picks in Josh Rosen and Kolton Miller. It will need a strong 2019 class to hold his position as it loses a solid 2014 class next year.

Notre Dame Logo8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish- 116 points
Previous: 7 (123 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Ronnie Stanley, 6th Overall, 2016
The margin for error among these next seven teams is tiny. For a second straight year, Notre Dame slips a bit in the rankings. However, this Fighting Irish team is back on track in college football and could see that reflect in draft results. Notre Dame continues to be one of the top schools for offensive linemen in the country, which should keep it in the top 10 for a while.

Stanford Cardinal9. Stanford Cardinal- 115 points
Previous: 10 (113 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Solomon Thomas, 3rd Overall, 2017
Stanford didn’t have a great 2018 draft, but it was better than the outgoing 2013 group. The Cardinal remain in the top 10 for another year. With a Heisman candidate in Bryce Love, Stanford will be a team to watch in 2018. We will have to see if that translates into better draft success.

USC logo10. USC Trojans- 114 points
Previous: 12 (105 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Sam Darnold, 3rd Overall, 2018
Sam Darnold went third in this year’s draft, headlining a solid class for the Trojans with two second rounders and a third round selection to round it out. It feels right to have USC in the top 10. 2014 wasn’t a great year for them either in terms of draft success, so the Trojans could climb higher.

Louisville logo11. Louisville Cardinals- 112 points
Previous: 19 (85 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Sheldon Rankins, 12th Overall, 2016
A massive jump up the rankings sees Louisville knocking on the door of the top 10. After failing to make noise in 2017, the Cardinals produced two first rounders in 2018 to bolster their spot in the rankings. Even without Lamar Jackson at quarterback, the talent in Kentucky should keep on flowing into the NFL.

Washington Huskies logo.jpg11. Washington Huskies- 112 points
Previous: 14 (97 points)
Highest Drafted Player– John Ross, 9th Overall, 2017
Often overlooked in the wider college football scene, Washington has quietly become one of the best producers of NFL talent in recent years. Vita Vea headlines a relatively deep group headed to play pro ball in 2018. With very little to lose from its 2014 class, Washington could sneak into the top 10.

Miami logo13. Miami Hurricanes- 111 points
Previous: 13 (98 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Ereck Flowers, 9th Overall, 2015
The Canes are officially back. A spike in points did not correlate with a jump in the rankings, but Miami continues to produce mid-round NFL talent. The Hurricanes had six players selected, but none before the third round. Some early draft picks could be the difference for Miami going forward.

MichiganWolverines14. Michigan Wolverines- 110 points
Previous: 11 (107 points)
Highest Drafted Player- Taylor Lewan, 11th Overall, 2014
After soaring into the rankings last year, Michigan fell back down to Earth a bit in 2018, dropping three spots. That being said, Michigan actually upped its point total from 2017, despite only having two players drafted. The Wolverines will need to bounce back with a much better 2019 class in order to stay in the top 15.

Texas A&M logo15. Texas A&M Aggies- 102 points
Previous: 8 (108 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Myles Garrett, 1st Overall, 2017
We have a big faller here. Texas A&M barely stays in the top 15 after finished T-8th a year ago. An unimpressive 2018 class certainly hurt, but a weak 2019 group could drop the Aggies from the rankings. A&M will lose it’s 2014 class that featured three first round picks. This is definitely a team trending down.

Georgia Logo16. Georgia Bulldogs- 99 points
Previous: 15 (96 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Roquon Smith, 8th Overall, 2018
Hard to believe that Georgia made it to the national championship game and dropped a spot in these rankings. Still, the Bulldogs had a good draft class and definitely have the potential to climb a bit next year. Georgia should be national contenders again, meaning this team definitely has more NFL talent.

Auburn_Tigers_logo17. Auburn Tigers- 92 points
Previous: 25 (74 points)
Highest Drafted Player- Greg Robinson, 2nd Overall, 2014
Auburn just missed the top 25 in 2016. After being a fringe team last year, the Tigers are solidly in the rankings. A 2018 class that featured three second round selections makes it easy to see why they are rising.

Oklahoma Logo18. Oklahoma Sooners- 90 points
Previous: 17 (87 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Baker Mayfield, 1st Overall, 2018
Produce the first overall pick only to drop a spot. Sometimes, life is just like that. Baker Mayfield represents the first Sooner selected in the first round since Lane Johnson in 2013. Oklahoma has put together deep draft classes, but failed to generate stars in recent years. After a run to the College Football Playoff in 2017, I have a feeling there is more to follow. Look for the Sooners to climb.

Penn_State_text_logo19. Penn State Nittany Lions- 85 points
Previous: Unranked (65 points)
Highest Drafted Player: Saquon Barkley, 2nd Overall, 2018
After so many years of producing only mid-round talent, Penn State put together a deep class with a true stud at the top in Saquon Barkley. He became the first Nittany Lion to go in the first round since Jared Odrick in 2010. More of the same from State College, PA could have Penn State cracking the top 15.

Wisconsin logo20. Wisconsin Badgers- 78 points
Previous: 19 (85 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Melvin Gordon, 15th Overall, 2015
Wisconsin slips another spot after a solid if unspectacular 2018 class. Five players in total entered the league, but none before the fourth round. There are couple of offensive lineman already on scouts’ radars for next year so it could be a bounce back showing for the Badgers.

Ole_Miss_Rebels_logo21. Ole Miss Rebels- 77 points
Previous: Others Receiving Votes (62 points)
Highest Drafted Player- Laremy Tunsil, 13th Overall, 2016
Success for Ole Miss in these rankings seemed unlikely back in 2017 when news broke about Hugh Freeze’s personal misconduct violations. However, the Rebels sent four more players to the NFL this year. While there were no first rounders, it was a solid group. Don’t expect Ole Miss to climb much higher, but they should hang around at least for a little while.

Missouri logo22. Missouri Tigers- 75 points
Previous: 18 (86 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Charles Harris, 22nd Overall, 2017
Just one player from Mizzou joined the NFL ranks this year as J’Mon Moore went in the fourth round. Unfortunately for Missouri, it will likely continue to drop in the rankings. The Tigers have only had five players selected in the past three years.

Michigan State logo23. Michigan State Spartans- 67 points
Previous: 23 (75 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Jack Conklin, 8th Overall, 2016
Another quiet year from the Spartans pushes them to the brink of the rankings. Just one Michigan State player was taken, in the fourth round, during the 2018 draft. Strong classes from 2015 and 2016 will keep Sparty in the mix, but it is certainly in danger of falling out next season.

Utah_Utes_logo24. Utah Utes- 66 points
Previous: 24 (75 points)
Highest Drafted Player- Star Loutelilie, 14th Overall, 2013
In 2017, Utah sent eight players to the NFL. That incredible draft put Utah on the map and pushed them into the rankings. The Utes don’t drop in terms of spots, but with only one player drafted in 2018, the view for Utah is a lot more bitter this season.

West Virginia logo25. West Virginia Mountaineers- 65 points
Previous: 22 (83 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Kevin White, 7th Overall, 2015
Last year, I pegged West Virginia to drop out of the rankings. The Mountaineers proved me wrong, but only barely. With just one player selected this year, it will be surprising if West Virginia survives another season in these rankings.

Oregon logo25. Oregon Ducks- 65 points
Previous: 16 (88 points)
Highest Drafted Player– Marcus Mariota, 2nd Overall, 2015
When I started these rankings, Oregon sat at 13th and looked like a lock to stay in the top 25. Fast forward two years and the Ducks have only produce two NFL picks in that time, both coming this season. The fact that Oregon is on its third coach in as many years certainly helps identify part of the problem.

Others Receiving Votes: NC State- 62 points, North Carolina- 60 points, Arkansas- 60 points, Pittsburgh- 58 points, Virginia Tech- 58 points

Note: All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons