Heisman Watch 2018: Last-Minute Expert Predictions for Epic Race

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2018

Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa are this year's Heisman Trophy finalists.
Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa are this year's Heisman Trophy finalists.Ralph Russo/Associated Press

The Heisman Trophy has not always been the exclusive property of quarterbacks. But it seems that is just what it has become since the turn of the century.

After running back Ron Dayne of Wisconsin won the Heisman in 1999, 15 of the next 18 winners have been quarterbacks, including Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, who won last year's Heisman and went on to become the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft with the Cleveland Browns.

The trend will continue Saturday when the 2018 Heisman Trophy is announced because the three finalists are Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State.

All three quarterbacks have had brilliant years, but it seems to be a two-man race between Murray and Tagovailoa.

Murray is the -190 favorite to win the award, while Tagovailoa is the +150 second choice, per OddsShark. Haskins is well behind at +6000. Those betting on Murray have to risk $190 to win $100, while a Tagovailoa supporter risks $100 to win $150.

We'll break down each of the candidates and provide some college football expert predictions on the winner of college football's greatest individual honor.

     

Tua Tagovailoa

It was a dream season for the Crimson Tide, who won all their games (minus the SEC Championship) by at least 22 points, and Tagovailoa was the driving force behind much of their success with 37 touchdowns passes and just four interceptions.

Tagovailoa has excellent numbers, but he is just a bit behind Murray in terms of statistical accomplishments.

He has completed 199 of 294 passes for 3,353 yards with a 9.25-1.0 TD-interception ratio. He has a 202.3 passer rating with an average of 11.4 yards per passing attempt.

He is not a running quarterback, but Tagovailoa can sense the pass rush and escape from it. He has rushed for 190 yards and scored five rushing TDs.

Tagovailoa looked like a maestro conducting a brilliant orchestra throughout the majority of Alabama's perfect 13-0 season. The only time he struggled came in the SEC title game against Georgia, and head coach Nick Saban had to replace him because of an ankle injury.

The Crimson Tide are hoping he will be prepared to play at a high level when they take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the national semifinals December 29.

     

Kyler Murray

Murray replaced Mayfield this season, and few expected him to play to the level he was able to reach this year. Murray is a brilliant athlete who is expected to move on to a career in Major League Baseball with the Oakland Athletics.

Based on what he did this year with the Sooners, that might be a situation that he needs to reconsider. Murray completed 241 of 340 passes for 4,053 yards with 40 TD passes and seven interceptions. He has averaged 11.9 yards per pass attempt, and his TD-interception ratio is 5.71-1.0.

Most of those figures are slightly better than Tagovailoa's, and he has a clear advantage when it comes to running with the football. Murray has gained 892 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns, and he averages 7.3 yards per carry.

Murray gained more confidence on an every-game basis, and he raised his stature quite a bit from the start of the season. He is the favorite to win the Heisman, and he will also have the opportunity to lead his team into battle against Alabama.

     

Dwayne Haskins

Haskins doesn't have to take a backseat to either of the other two Heisman candidates, and he may have been even more important to his team than either Tagovailoa or Murray was to their teams.

That's because the Crimson Tide and the Sooners appeared to be quite a bit better than the Buckeyes. Ohio State will go into the Rose Bowl against Washington with a 12-1 record, but the Buckeyes rarely dominated until their final two games of the year against Michigan and Northwestern.

Haskins had 11 TD passes in those two convincing wins (six against the Wolverines), but he was also instrumental in leading Ohio State to close victories over teams like Nebraska and Maryland.

Haskins completed 348 of 496 passes for 4,580 yards with 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has a 175.8 passer rating and an average of 9.2 yards per pass.

Haskins rarely ran with the football through the large majority of the season, but he proved he could run with the ball and escape pressure during the last three games of the season.

     

Predictions

Heisman voters are not supposed to reveal their votes prior to the announcement of the winner. However, predictions can be made by those who follow college football and the Heisman Trophy closely.

CBS Sports college football analyst Danny Kanell said the award belongs to Murray, and "it's not really even close." The former Florida State quarterback said that Alabama's dominance hurt Tagovailoa because the Crimson Tide were often so far ahead that the quarterback did not have to play in the fourth quarter.

Kanell said a Heisman winner needs defining moments in the biggest games, and there were no such moments for Tagovailoa. Alabama's only close victory came in the SEC title game with Jalen Hurts filling in for the injured Tagovailoa, and Kanell believes that will hurt him with the voters.

Athlon Sports polled a panel of 14 of its college football writers and editors, and that group basically agreed with Kanell. Eleven of the voters sided with Murray, two went with Tagovailoa and one supported Haskins.

NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, the co-host of Undisputed, threw his support behind Tagovialoa.

ESPN polled 10 of its college football staffers, and six voted for Murray, while four voted for Tagovailoa. Haskins did not receive a first-place vote.

CBS Sports college football writer Barrett Sallee predicted that Tagovailoa would win the award despite Murray's late momentum.

The prediction here is that Murray's rally down the stretch will be enough for him to bypass Tagovailoa and win the Heisman Trophy.

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