Heisman Watch 2018: Ranking Top Favorites in the Race

Elizabeth FinnyContributor INovember 24, 2018

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) carries the ball as he tries to get around Citadel linebacker Willie Eubanks III (9) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

It's a quarterback takeover in this year's Heisman race. For weeks now, the 2018 Heisman Trophy competition has been all about Alabama's quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Entering Week 13, nothing changes at No. 1. However, spots are up for grabs at the next three Heisman contenders.

West Virginia's 45-41 loss last Saturday bumped Will Grier down to the four spot, according to ESPN's Heisman Watch. Oklahoma University's Kyler Murray kept his No. 2 spot, while Washington State's Gardner Minshew took Grier's No. 3 spot after a seven-touchdown performance against Arizona in Week 12.

However, last night's games may affect the rankings going forward. Grier and Murray battled it out in an offensive showdown on Friday night, resulting in a 59-56 Oklahoma win. The game saw several lead changes and dominant performances by both quarterbacks.

Minshew took on rival Washington and was unable to find a rhythm, losing 28-15 and throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Entering Saturday's games, here is a breakdown of the top three contenders, which differs slightly from ESPN's Heisman rankings after the Washington Huskies' Friday night loss.

       

1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Butch Dill/Associated Press

Tagovailoa has been dominating for the Crimson Tide, despite sharing time with veteran quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Hawaii native has 2,865 yards and 31 passing touchdowns on the season, compared to only two interceptions. He has another four rushing touchdowns, showcasing his dual-threat ability.

The 6'1" true sophomore has thrown four four-touchdown games, while also running for a touchdown in one of those games against Texas A&M. Despite less than a season's worth of starts, Tagovailoa ranks sixth among total touchdowns in Alabama history with 48 total touchdowns. 

Poised to surpass two players in front of him with two games left to play in the regular season, Tagovailoa is showcasing his NFL potential and his likelihood in receiving the prestigious award.

The young, left-handed quarterback has made the Alabama offense the powerhouse it is, with the offense revolving around him. 

The Crimson Tide utilize a "smash concept" that has Tagovailoa going to his strong side—his dominant left—on most plays. Tagovailoa also looks for the long ball, throwing 60-plus-yard passes in five games—the longest of which was an 81-yard touchdown pass.

While Tagovailoa has been the top contender for most of the season, he is not out of the woods yet. He has a big matchup to end the season against No. 5 Georgia, and his contenders aren't slowing up.

Both Grier and Murray are continuing to play their best football, with both quarterbacks putting up huge numbers in their matchup Friday night. While Tagovailoa is still in the lead, a slip up in the next two games could cost him his spot, especially with Murray gaining on him.

Eight of 10 ESPN experts have the Crimson Tide quarterback as their first pick for the Heisman; however, two have Murray as the trophy winner.

      

2. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 23:  Kyler Murray #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners passes in the first half against the West Virginia Mountaineers on November 23, 2018 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Grier has been making a case to take the number two spot, especially after four touchdowns and a career-high 539 passing yards against No. 6 Oklahoma. However, the West Virginia quarterback lacks in his rushing capability in a time where dual-threat quarterbacks are increasingly valuable in the NFL.

After Grier threw a 41-yard touchdown for the first points of the game on Friday night, Murray countered with a 55-yard rushing touchdown less than three minutes later.

Murray pairs his 37 passing touchdowns with 11 rushing touchdowns, proving his adaptability and ability to think when there's no one open. In Friday night's 59-56 win over West Virginia, Murray ran for 118 yards—his most since a 156-yard rushing game in 2015.

The 5'10" agile quarterback ran for a career-high three touchdowns against Kansas, including a 75-yard touchdown. In the Sooners' one loss of the season—a 45-48 fall to Texas in early October—Murray threw four touchdowns and ran for one.

The Texas native threw his seventh interception of the season against West Virginia, but he makes up for that with touchdowns— – throwing less than three touchdowns in only three games.

Murray has thrown for over 3,300 yards on the season and ran for over 700. His ability to throw as well as run is not even matched by Tagovailoa.

Like Tagovailoa, Murray likes the long ball, with six games in which he threw 60-plus-yard passes. The junior also boasts a completion rate of 70.3 percent through 12 games.

Murray and Tagovailoa seem to be locked in a two-man race, with Murray not letting the Crimson Tide quarterback breakaway.

According to USA Today, Murray was only behind by five points after showing off his arm against Kansas in Week 12. More analysts are beginning to think it's anybody's race between the top two contenders, including USA Today Sports' Dan Wolken and Fox Sports' Skip Payless:

3. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 23:  Will Grier #7 of the West Virginia Mountaineers warms up before the game against the Oklahoma Sooners on November 23, 2018 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

While ESPN experts had Minshew ranked above Grier prior to Friday night's games in a Heisman rankings list updated on Nov. 20, the two Friday night prime-time games may have affected these rankings. 

Minshew took on rival Washington and threw no touchdowns and two interceptions following his career-high seven-touchdown game against Arizona.

While this is most likely a small bump in the road in an otherwise impressive season, a poor performance like this so late in the season will surely knock Minshew out of his No. 3 spot, with little time to make it up.

Grier, on the other hand, proved his NFL worth on Friday night and fought to be a top-three contender in the race for the Heisman trophy. The North Carolina native threw a career-high 539 yards in No. 13 West Virginia's three-point loss to Oklahoma, ran for one and left no room for error with zero interceptions. 

Only one ESPN expert had Grier at third, with five of them putting him at fourth in the Heisman rankings. However, in the game that saw five lead changes and four ties, West Virginia was ahead of sixth-ranked Oklahoma four times throughout the high-scoring game.

With a defense that was basically nonexistent—on both sides—Grier kept the Mountaineers in the game.

Despite being able to showcase his potential and his ability to keep up with the best offenses, it may be too late for Grier to have a chance at the Heisman. He may have put himself back at third, but he doesn't seem to have a shot at the trophy itself.

    

The Heisman trophy winner will be announced on Dec. 8. You can watch the Heisman Award ceremony and all college football broadcasts through fuboTV

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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