Heisman Hopefuls: The Final Countdown

Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the Conference Championships in the books, the resumes are complete. And the race for the 2018 Heisman Trophy has quietly turned into quite a doozy. Alabama Crimson Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa has long been considered the shoo-in of the Heisman Hopefuls, but the gap has closed in recent weeks. It's on odd year, the race has been dominated by quarterbacks of all shapes and sizes. There was pre-season favorite Will Grier (West Virginia), late season surprise Gardner Minshew (Washington State). A record-setting season from Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) cannot be ignored. Nor can Kyler Murray's efforts to help Oklahoma atop the mountain in the Big XII.

This isn't meant to diminish the seasons of stud prospects like UMass WR Andy Isabella (102 receptions, 1698 yards, 13 TDs), Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor (1989 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns) and other stars and studs across the landscape. But the Heisman voters have a track record of coveting team success. And entering Week 13 two weeks ago, each of these featured QBs was in the hunt for a conference title (and maybe a CFP spot, if the field fell right).

So who will be in New York City? Who will win the award? If I had a vote (and I don't, yet...so call me, Heisman Committee!), this is what my ballot would look like.

Just Missed (Not Invited To New York)

10. Kentucky LB Josh Allen

Allen has blossomed into one of the most diverse defenders in college football. With 84 tackles, 14.0 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss and 5 forced fumbles, Allen has been the key cog in Kentucky's upstart 9-3 season. Allen doesn't necessarily jump out on this list, but his full season deserves some recognition.

9. Washington State QB Gardner Minshew

Minshew, like Allen, has grown up this season. A transfer from East Carolina, Minshew's fiery play and personality have caught fire in Pullman. And it's not just the personality, Minshew has slung the ball all over the field this season and helped Washington State to the cusp of a PAC-12 Championship Game appearance. Minshew's play brought Washington State their first 10-win season since 2003.

Minshew's stats through 12 games: 4477 passing yards, 36 passing TDs and 9 interceptions

8. Louisiana State SAF Grant Delpit

Delpit is one of the most diverse players in the country. With Delpit prowling the field for the Tigers, LSU won 9 games and gave Florida and Texas A&M everything they could handle in losses this season. Delpit's play and production was all over the field: he logged 73 total tackles, 5 interceptions, 9.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and 9 passes defensed.

Delpit will be a top prospect in 2020, but for now he deserves recognition as one of the absolute best defenders in football.

7. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor

One of the pre-season favorites Taylor faded in large part because the Badgers' season fell apart before September was even over. But despite a lackluster passing game, Taylor has bulldozed himself to the cusp of 2,000 rushing yards.

Taylor just missed that figure in 14 games last year, he'll assuredly get it in 13 this season. Taylor is one of the most valuable players to his team in the entire country:

6. West Virginia QB Will Grier

Like Taylor, Grier is essential to his team. Grier entered the year poised to explode with production. He did not disappoint. Grier's Mountaineers dropped a 59-56 contest to Oklahoma on rivalry week to miss out on the Big 12 Championship game, a game that saw Grier's turnovers directly lead to 14 Sooners points.

But don't let that sour note take away from Grier's overall season. The team went 8-3 (they had a September game cancelled) and Grier passed for 3864 yards and 37 passing TDs and 8 interceptions...in one (or two) games less than everyone else.

5. Alabama DL Quinnen Williams

You want the best defender in college football, I've got good news! I found him. Williams came into this year as a promising player, but one who hasn't put a lot of film out there. Now? Williams is widely considered a top-5 prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. His dominant play on the inside yielded far too many disruptions to track.

And with the Tide entering the CFB Playoff as the top seed this season, Williams' performance has been a key to team success as well.

The Final Four (See You In The Big Apple)

4. Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray

Murray's redemption for a turnover filled loss to Texas was sweet. Murray provided the kill late in the game, tossing a loft into the corner of the end zone with moments left to bury the Longhorns. Murray is an explosive dual threat in the backfield, his speed provided game changing plays against Texas in the first Red River Rivalry and early on against West Virginia in Morgantown.

But Murray's Heisman moment was his play down the stretch yesterday. Murray's Heisman resume is terrific and he will undoubtedly be in attendance for the Heisman presentation. But that's what makes this difficult: there's no shortage of qualified candidates this year.

Murray's final line: 4053 passing yards, 40 passing TDs, 7 interceptions, 892 rushing yards, 11 rushing TDs

3. Clemson RB Travis Etienne

Woah. This one might feel like it's out of left field, but I encourage you to:

A. watch his tape

B. check his production

Etienne is the Tagovailoa of running backs, he's put up terrific numbers on limited action...thanks to dominant team performances. Etienne is the most dynamic rusher in all the land: his ability to break explosive plays adds a potent threat to the Clemson offense that endured a (needed) quarterback change mid-season.

And here's the thing: Etienne's 1463 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns have come on 176 carries. And Etienne logged more than 20 carries just twice: against South Carolina in Week 13 and in his own Heisman moment: a hard fought victory over Syracuse (27-23). Etienne punched in a 2-yard touchdown with :41 left to give him 203 yards and 3 TDs on the day. When Clemson needed him most, Etienne played his best.

2. Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa

Flip a coin. For me, personally? The Alabama team is loaded and Saturday's SEC Championship Game was the evidence I needed to break the tie. Tagovailoa played on a different level for the vast majority of his season, but against Georgia Tagovailoa struggled after being hindered early by an ankle injury.

But that wasn't the deciding factor. Nor was Tua's 10/25 passing performance (164 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT) against Georgia...although it doesn't help on the biggest stage. But to see Jalen Hurts step in and generate 14 unanswered points in the final 6 minutes against Georgia? Tua's play this season was outstanding. But there's one more who has more value to his team and tore apart the record books.

1. Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins

Haskins' season numbers are outrageous. 4580 passing yards, 47 passing TDs and 8 INT (51 total TDs). Ohio State "quietly" went 13-1 and it was completely on the back/arm of Haskins. There was the late game push against Penn State in Happy Valley, where Haskins distributed the ball and let his receivers make the plays. There was the 3rd quarter explosion against TCU in an early season ranked showdown. The gritty performance against Maryland in a game the Terps forced the Buckeyes to chase them all game before forcing overtime late. The offensive explosion against rival Michigan in a winner-take-all showdown in Week 13 (62 points and 6 passing TDs for Haskins). And then 500 yards and 5 TDs against a scrappy Northwestern team in the Big Ten Championship.

Haskins re-wrote the Big Ten passing records this season and without him, Ohio State potentially loses to Penn State, Nebraska and Maryland in addition to their lone loss to Purdue (where Haskins passed for 470 yards and 2 touchdowns).

Written By:

Kyle Crabbs

Chief Brand Officer

CBO & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Former NDT Scouting Overlord.