Welcome to Heisman Hopefuls.
The 2018 college season got underway with a fun slate of Week 0 games last Saturday. But our main course comes this week, starting with #21 ranked Central Florida visiting UConn on Thursday before #11 Michigan State hosts Utah State on Friday evening.
Saturday's slate brings some high powered match-ups of college powers, but each and every Heisman contender will be looking to assert themselves with a strong first impression.
Here on Heisman Hopefuls, we'll profile the performances of contenders for the 84th Heisman Memorial Trophy on a weekly basis. Consider this our first rose ceremony of the season.
The Best Of The Rest
These are players who will at some point garner national attention. Although they may be considered contenders, it's not likely we'll see them make a significant push into the Heisman race.
Ed Oliver, DT, Houston (Current Odds: +12500)
Listen, I love Ed. But you have to go all the way back to 1997 before you find a defensive player who won the Heisman. Shouts to you, Charles Woodson. A defensive lineman hasn't finished inside the top three in voting since Hugh Green (Pittsburgh) in 1980. It ain't happening.
Oliver is the star of his team and will win a plethora of awards this year. Among those few awards he will not win is the Heisman.
Damien Harris, RB, Alabama (Current Odds: +4500)
What if I told you the Crimson Tide have had multiple players with more than 100 carries in four of the last five seasons? I mean sure, the one year they had a bell-cow back in 2015 was the year Derrick Henry ripped off 2200 yards and 28 touchdowns to win himself a Heisman...but I digress.
The Tide have a talented back-up in Najee Harris who figures to eat touches and whomever is at QB will be much more mobile than Jacob Coker, who was a big part of why Henry got so many carries in 2015.
Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State (Odds Not Available)
Lewerke is #MyGuy coming into the 2018 season. You'll find out in just a few days when my preliminary big board drops that he's actually my QB1. Actually, wait. You weren't supposed to read that yet.
But Michigan State isn't a team that is going to sling the ball around and let Lewerke really shine. At the team's core, the Spartans are a blue collar bunch who will beat you up and pound the rock. As a result, I don't think Lewerke shines as bright as he could in different conditions.
Drew Lock, QB, Missouri (Current Odds: +4500)
A big-armed QB in a spread offense with four of his top five receivers from last year back. What is there not to love? Well, Missouri isn't particularly good and will likely lose between four and six games in the regular season this year. That's not a recipe for a Heisman winner.
Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State (Current Odds: +12500)
Bosa, like Oliver, plays on the side of the football that Heisman voters haven't acknowledged in 20 years. No matter how well Bosa projects to the next level, he's got a tough road to getting more than just a handful of votes.
The Mississippi pass catchers
D.K. Metcalf is legit. A.J. Brown is considered by some to be the top 2019 Draft eligible receiver in the country. And DeMarkus Lodge isn't a slouch either. But here's the problem: all these dudes play on the same team. That's a lot of mouths to feed offensively, and each one of these talented players figures to eat away at the numbers needed to challenge for a Heisman.
Oh yeah, and the Rebels went 6-6 last season and play Alabama, LSU, Auburn, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Mississippi State again this year.
The Fab Five
For this column, I was tasked with targeting the five players in all the land who I feel have the best chances to bring home a Heisman Trophy. Here are my current favorites, in descending order.
5. Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan (Current Odds: +2000)
Patterson comes into a favorable situation with the Wolverines as he returns from the injury that cost him the final five games of 2017 at Ole Miss. Coach Harbaugh should have this team ready for a big bounce back year after scraping out only eight wins in 2017.
Patterson's natural gifts as a passer will be the best Michigan has seen since...Chad Henne? Hold your tongues -- unless he was playing the Buckeyes, Henne was a solid college quarterback.
More importantly, a gifted young group of skill players will give Patterson a chance to sling the ball around the field. Some bad news from the weekend regarding WR Tarik Black's health will hurt, but WR Donovan Peoples-Jones and TEs Zach Gentry/Sean McKeon can space the field well.
Patterson's candidacy comes down to five games: Week 1 @ Notre Dame, Week 7 vs. Wisconsin, Week 8 @ Michigan State, Week 10 vs. Penn State and Week 13 @ Ohio State.
If Patterson, who led the nation in passing yardage at the time of his injury last year with the Rebels, puts up the numbers he's capable of and the team wins three or more of those five games, he might have some Heisman magic.
4. Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona (Current Odds: +1400)
Great news, Khalil Tate fans! The PAC-12 doesn't play defense! Tate's run as the starter in 2017 was magical, as the sophomore QB totalled 2,875 yards from scrimmage and 26 total touchdowns in 9 games featured at quarterback (11 total games played). Tate's stretch included 6 consecutive games rushing for over 100 yards, including a 327 yard effort against Colorado in early October.
Tate's game is electric and he's now got a head coach in Kevin Sumlin who can let mobile QBs play loose enough to win the Heisman (see Manziel, Johnny).
The Wildcats miss Pac-12 heavyweights Stanford and Washington this year and will catch USC on a down year. If this team can push 9 or 10 wins, Tate will be the main reason why and will have a seat for the Heisman ceremony this winter.
3. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford (Current Odds: +700)
Great news, Bryce Love fans! The PAC-12 still doesn't play defense! Bryce Love certainly knows it after logging 2118 rushing yards last season and becoming the latest Stanford player to finish as the bridesmaid to a Heisman winner.
Love is currently considered the favorite to win the award, and health willing, I certainly think he's a shoo-in for the Heisman ceremonies. Love is a nightmare for college defenders to tackle and it's hard to envision the opposition catching up, so it's a strong bet that Love will have his fair share of explosive plays and "wow" moments.
And for the same reasons why I don't think Brian Lewerke can make a valid push for the Heisman, Love will prove a prominent presence all year. This team pounds the rock. If Stanford can defeat Washington at home this year in early November, Love may have his Heisman moment.
2. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia (Current Odds: +1400)
Ahem...great news, Will Grier fans! The Big XII doesn't play defense either! Well, maybe Texas, TCU and Iowa State do. But still, seven of West Virginia's ten conference opponents allowed more than 25 points per game last season. Only TCU allowed less than 20.
Meanwhile, Grier and the offense had the Mountaineers' best passing season since the magical Geno Smith season of 2012 (4205 passing yards, 42 passing touchdowns and just 6 interceptions). That team went 7-6 despite scoring 39.5 points per game, starting the season ranked #11th (peaking at #5) and winning their first 5 games.
Grier's 2018 squad brings back gifted receivers David Sills V (18 touchdowns in 2017) and Gary Jennings (97 receptions in 2017), plus a potential top prospect at left tackle in Yodny Cajuste.
Grier is a swashbuckler who can go off the script when needed, but he's already proven to be potent in Coach Holgerson's offense after a breakout 2017. One has to imagine Grier will be out for blood after the way his 2017 season ended, when Texas prematurely knocked him out of a game the team would go on to lose 28-14 at home. Oklahoma boat-raced WVU the next week, and that was that.
Grier's season and perception will be defined in November, when the Mountaineers run the gauntlet of @ Texas, home vs. TCU, @ Oklahoma State and home vs. Oklahoma to wrap up the regular season. If the Mountaineers make the Big XII Championship, you'll have Grier to thank.
1. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin (Current Odds: +900)
Bad news, Badgers fans. The Big Ten does play some defense. But with an offensive line that averages over 320 pounds across the front, Taylor will still get his room to run.
Taylor set the FBS freshman record for single season rushing in 2017, tallying 1977 yards -- an incredible feat. Taylor has the goods. He's also pretty effective in one on one situations, offering creativity and power to put defenders in a bind.
Also working in Taylor's favor is the offensive situation in Madison. Top receiver Quintez Cephus is indefinitely suspended due to assault allegations from the spring. Alex Hornibrook returns as the team's staring quarterback and despite a promising Orange Bowl, he hasn't proven himself a polished passer.
Taylor is the offense. He's returning four talented starters in front of him this season as well, highlighted by budding star center Tyler Biadasz.
Finally, there's the schedule. With an out of conference slate featuring Western Kentucky, New Mexico and Brigham Young, the Badgers are set up nicely entering conference play.
In the Big Ten, Wisconsin has three tough games on the docket, all on the road:
- Week 4 @ Iowa
- Week 7 @ Michigan
- Week 11 @ Penn State
If Taylor wants to go from Heisman hopeful to Heisman winner, he'll need to come up big in these heavy hitting match-ups.