Heisman Trophy 2018: Ranking the Top 10 Candidates Ahead of Week 13

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2018

Heisman Trophy 2018: Ranking the Top 10 Candidates Ahead of Week 13

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Some Heisman Trophy voters may already know who they're going to select as this year's winner.

    But for many, the next few weeks are critical. 

    With rivalry games looming and conference championships hanging in the balance, those in the race for college football's top honor still have some resume-padding to do. 

    Can Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hang onto the huge lead he built in this race early in the season? Or have the likes of Will Grier, Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins narrowed the gap?

    Factoring in statistical output, performance on big stages, quality of competition and importance to their teams, take a look at the top Heisman candidates below.

10. Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State

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    Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien doesn't get as many headlines as fellow Group of Five quarterback McKenzie Milton of Central Florida, but he's why the Broncos have a chance to win the Mountain West Conference yet again.

    He will solidify his spot in the top 10 of the Heisman rankings if he has a great performance Saturday against Utah State.

    With a win over the Aggies, the Broncos will get the chance to play in the conference championship game. They'll have a legitimate chance to win both if Rypien is on top of his game.

    Aside from a disappointing two-game stretch in early October, Rypien has been excellent all year. In those two weeks—a loss to San Diego State and a win over Nevada—Rypien threw a pair of touchdowns and five picks.

    Other than those two games, he's tossed 26 touchdowns against two interceptions.

    The next two weeks will be big for both Rypien and the Broncos. They have this opportunity because of him.

9. Quinnen Williams, DL, Alabama

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    Much like Rypien, Alabama sophomore defensive lineman Quinnen Williams won't win the Heisman, but he deserves to be recognized for the amazing season he's had.

    After playing a crucial role as a freshman on last year's national championship team with 20 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks, Williams has turned it up this year. He already has 55 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and six sacks.

    He hasn't had any big-boy touchdowns or Heisman signature plays that would help him climb into the top tier, but he's likely the favorite for the Bronco Nagurski award. The third-year sophomore may head to the NFL after this season.

    If he comes back to Alabama, he may be a serious contender for the Heisman in 2019.

8. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

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    Clemson's balanced attack and its immense rushing prowess will keep Travis Etienne from being near the top of the Heisman rankings, but he's paramount to the Tigers' success.

    Etienne doesn't have to carry the Tigers on his shoulders because of fellow running backs Tavien Feaster and freshman Lyn-J Dixon. Star first-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence and his stable of star receivers take the pressure off Etienne as well, and Clemson also has one of the nation's top defenses.

    But when Clemson needs Etienne, he performs. When Lawrence was injured against Syracuse, Etienne had 27 carries for 203 yards and three touchdowns.

    The sophomore has at least 120 rushing yards in five games this year, but he's also had four games with fewer than 70 yards from scrimmage. That inconsistency will keep him from the top group of Heisman contenders.

    He also hasn't been a force in the passing game, but that could make him a bigger weapon next year. He already has 17 rushing touchdowns this season, and he's only going to improve. 

7. McKenzie Milton, Central Florida, Quarterback

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    In a lopsided win over Cincinnati on Saturday, Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton finished 13-of-25 passing for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Though he wasn't as big of a weapon running the ball as a dual threat against the Bearcats, it's only because the Knights didn't need him to be.

    If the Knights somehow sneak into the College Football Playoff, it'll be because of Milton.

    The junior has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes this year with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also has 291 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.

    Three of his interceptions came in a bizarre win over FCS opponent South Carolina State. Other than that, he's been efficient, even if he hasn't always completed a high percentage of his passes.

6. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin, Running Back

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    Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor made an immediate impact as a freshman last season, rushing for 1977 yards and 13 touchdowns on 299 carries. 

    In a 47-44 triple-overtime win over Purdue on Saturday, Taylor was again the workhorse for the Badgers. He had 33 carries for an astounding 321 yards and three touchdowns in the win over the Boilermakers.

    The career performance capped a three-game stretch that has re-established Taylor as one of college football's elite players. He started the run with a 208-yard, three-touchdown performance against Rutgers and then added 185 yards on 20 carries in a loss to Penn State.

    Taylor leads the nation with 1,869 rushing yards and has scored 15 times. He's averaging 7.2 yards per carry, which is a particularly impressive mark for a workhorse.

    The sophomore may belong even higher on the list of Heisman contenders, but he's battling a slew of dynamic quarterbacks on elite teams this season.

5. Will Grier, West Virginia, Quarterback

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    When you lose ground in the Heisman race after throwing for 364 yards and a pair of touchdowns and running for another one, that's how stiff the competition is this year.

    West Virginia quarterback Will Grier posted those numbers against Oklahoma State on Saturday, but the Mountaineers lost 45-41 thanks to a fourth-quarter collapse.

    To catch the guys at the top of the Heisman rankings, Grier needed to lead the Mountaineers to the Big 12 title game and perhaps even a spot in the College Football Playoff. While the former is still attainable with a win next week against Oklahoma, the Mountaineers' playoff hopes are on life support.

    That doesn't bode well for Grier's Heisman bid, but he's still had a remarkable senior season.

    He's completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,325 yards, 33 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Though he had a definitive Heisman moment with a two-point conversion scramble to beat Texas, he couldn't quite capitalize on another opportunity Saturday. OSU defensive back A.J. Green batted down his pass intended for David Sills V after time expired to give Oklahoma State the win. 

    Grier will get to duke it out with Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray next week, giving him another shot to make a lasting impression in the Heisman race.

4. Dwayne Haskins, Quarterback, Ohio State

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    There was a time just a few weeks ago when Ohio State redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins was Tua Tagovailoa's biggest threat in the Heisman Trophy race.

    But as the Buckeyes began to struggle, the Haskins hype began to die down. 

    Actually, though, Ohio State's one constant has been the 6'3", 220-pound quarterback. The Buckeyes defense has myriad issues, and the running game has been up-and-down, allowing defenses to key on Haskins.

    The numbers remain, but the team's consistency of production has waned, and that will hurt him in the eyes of the voters, and rightfully so. That shouldn't take anything away from his season or his immense talent, which has changed the way OSU coach Urban Meyer calls his offense.

    Haskins' biggest tests remain, though. He'll play against the best defense he'll face all year this weekend when Ohio State hosts Michigan. Then, if the Buckeyes win, he'll go up against Northwestern's strong defense in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

    Haskins needs big showings the next two weeks to get back to the top of the Heisman conversation. He has completed 69.3 percent of his passes for 3,685 yards, 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Even in OSU's loss to Purdue, he completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 470 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. 

    He just needs to prove he can lead OSU to a championship.

3. Gardner Minshew, Quarterback, Washington State

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    You can call him a system quarterback all you want, but there's no denying the year Washington State graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew has had in his only season under coach Mike Leach's tutelage.

    The Cougars have raised their level of play in 2018 mostly because of Minshew. He's the perfect signal-caller to run Leach's offense, and that's why they are 10-1 and the class of the Pac-12 heading into their massive game against hated rival Washington on Friday. 

    The wacky thing is he almost didn't end up in Pullman at all. When he decided to transfer from East Carolina after graduating, he was planning to go to Alabama to learn under Nick Saban since he wanted to be a coach. But with Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts already on the depth chart, he wasn't going to play.

    Leach came calling with a spot, and Minshew went to Wazzu instead. The mustached maestro was born, and the rest is history. Now, if the Cougars beat the Huskies next week and win the Pac-12 Championship Game, who knows what will be in store?

    Minshew could sneak up on everybody and win the Heisman despite the "system" stigma (think MVP candidates from the Colorado Rockies). And the Cougars may find a way into the playoff. Yes, they need help, but it's not out of the question.

    The Cougars elevated their game in Saturday's slaughter of Arizona in which Minshew finished 43-of-55 (78.2 percent) for 473 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. That improved his numbers to 36 touchdowns against seven picks, and he has thrown for 4,325 yards on a 70.4 percent clip.

    You have to recognize those numbers, no matter what system he's in.

2. Kyler Murray, Quarterback, Oklahoma

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    College football feels like Gardner Minshew's world, and we're all just living in it—with the mustache, the hilarious quips from him and coach Mike Leach and the XBox numbers.

    But it's also pretty nice being Kyler Murray, too.

    As the Oakland Athletics' No. 1 draft pick, Murray signed a $5 million contract, and the franchise allowed him to play one more year of college football. Unfortunately for all of us, this is the year, and it's nearly over. He'd have another season in Norman if he could swing it.

    Instead, he'll be swinging at fastballs for the A's.

    College football will lose a massive star. With Oklahoma's defense struggling miserably, Murray has carried the load, and he's done a terrific job doing so.

    He has completed 70.3 percent of his passes for 3,310 yards, 34 touchdowns and just six interceptions and also run for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns. 

    Coach Lincoln Riley's system is ideal for Murray, who keeps proving he's one of the best all-around athletes—if not the best—in college football.

    The nation's top dual-threat quarterback has closed the gap with Tua Tagovailoa in the past few week, catapulting Dwayne Haskins and Will Grier in the process.

    If the Sooners find a way into the College Football Playoff, it'll be because of Murray. He'll get a chance to bolster his resume in a showcase game with Grier on Friday with a conference championship appearance on the line.

1. Tua Tagovailoa, Quarterback, Alabama

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    Through all the partial games, all of Alabama's blowouts and the banged-up knee, Tua Tagovailoa's Heisman Trophy hopes remain intact.

    The star sophomore went from a quarterback competition in the offseason with Jalen Hurts to a surefire starter to the sport's most dynamic passing talent. He took last year's national championship game heroics and extrapolated it across this entire year for Alabama.

    He's the best quarterback playing on the nation's best team, and that's why he leads the race. But the gulf between him, Murray and Minshew isn't as big as it once was. 

    Tagovailoa had another huge game against The Citadel on Saturday, and Alabama needed it after a lackluster first half. For the season, the sophomore's numbers aren't as strong as some of the other candidates' because he hasn't played in many full games because of Bama's dominance.

    He has still completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 2,865 yards, 31 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Tagovailoa has turned a normally run-happy offense into college football's most explosive unit.

    It's going to be interesting to see how dinged up Tagovailoa is moving forward. He threw for just 459 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in wins over LSU and Mississippi State after suffering a knee injury (he also hurt his quad against the Bulldogs). That's the stretch that allowed for Murray and Minshew to gain ground, and they could still overtake him.

    "To catch Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray in the Heisman Trophy race, you’re going to have to do something drastic," SI.com's Jenna West wrote. "It may not be enough, but that’s exactly what Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins and Washington State QB Gardner Minshew did in Week 12."

    At least some players are making a game of it, but this is still Tagovailoa's to lose.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and CFBStats.com.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.