Ranking College Football's Most Dynamic Duos in 2019
Spreading the ball around is important, yet many college football teams put a clear emphasis on creating touches for specific players.
The reason is simple: Those players are really good.
Yes, that's some high-level offseason analysis. But it's similar to the dilemma facing Football Bowl Subdivision defenses: You know the standout running back is getting the ball or the electrifying quarterback is eyeing the star receiver, but how do you stop them?
Heading into the 2019 campaign, probable Heisman Trophy candidates Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa highlight our list alongside their skill-position complements. Any combination of offensive skill-position players (quarterback, running back and wide receiver) expected to thrive were considered and then ranked based on projected impact in 2019.
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Duo: QB Adrian Martinez and WR JD Spielman
Martinez's History: As a true freshman, Martinez started every game when healthy. Nebraska opened the season on a six-game losing streak, but the dual-threat quarterback was a bright spot. Martinez finished the campaign with 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns passing plus 629 yards and eight scores rushing.
Spielman's History: Spielman has posted back-to-back 800-yard seasons for the Huskers. Last year, he notched personal-high totals of 66 catches and eight touchdowns despite a shoulder injury ending the sophomore's season two games early.
2019 Outlook: Nebraska will expect Spielman to assume a greater offensive load following the departure of receiver Stanley Morgan Jr., who had 1,004 yards last season. Martinez will constantly be looking in his direction, but the quarterback's mobility will be an integral asset for a rebuilding offense.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Duo: RB Mohamed Ibrahim and WR Tyler Johnson
Ibrahim's History: A surprise star in 2018, Ibrahim found himself thrust into the starting job after season-ending injuries to Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith. The freshman took full advantage of the opportunity, running for 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns even while missing three games himself.
Johnson's History: Johnson emerged as a big-play threat as a sophomore, averaging 19.3 yards on 35 catches. Last year, he ranked fourth nationally with 53 catches of 10-plus yards and set school records with 1,169 yards and 12 scores.
2019 Outlook: Brooks and Smith are still on the roster, but they're both rehabbing from serious knee injuries. Ibrahim may open the campaign as the undisputed lead back. Johnson, who passed up the NFL, had a stronger connection with Zack Annexstad but will produce with either him or Tanner Morgan at QB.
8. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Duo: RB Chuba Hubbard and WR Tylan Wallace
Hubbard's History: For good reason, Justice Hill dominated Oklahoma State's backfield. But when an injury limited OSU's lead runner, Hubbard immediately produced. The freshman collected 604 of his 969 yards from scrimmage in the last five games of the campaign. Hubbard also tallied 522 yards as the kick returner.
Wallace's History: Wallace rose from a scarcely used receiver in 2017 to second-team AP All-American in 2018. He snagged 86 passes for 1,491 yards―the second-most nationally―and 12 touchdowns.
2019 Outlook: The big question for Oklahoma State is at quarterback. Fortunately for the eventual starter―whether Dru Brown or Spencer Sanders―four experienced linemen are returning. While the Pokes likely aren't winning the Big 12, Hubbard and Wallace should put up big numbers in a typically superb offense.
7. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Duo: RB J.K. Dobbins and WR K.J. Hill
Dobbins' History: The running back exploded onto the national scene as a freshman, scampering for 1,403 yards. Ohio State's offensive line wasn't as effective in 2018, but Dobbins still gathered 1,053 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 263 receiving yards.
Hill's History: In both 2017 and 2018, Hill had 56-plus receptions primarily as an H-Back. Entering his senior campaign, Hill has caught at least one pass in 34 straight games and totaled 2,054 all-purpose yards.
2019 Outlook: Dobbins' workload may further increase now that Mike Weber is pursuing the NFL, and Hill figures to follow suit as the leading returning target. But if expectations are met, transfer quarterback Justin Fields will replace Hill as the second member of Ohio State's dynamic duo alongside Dobbins.
6. North Texas Mean Green
The Duo: QB Mason Fine and WR Rico Bussey Jr.
Fine's History: Heading into his senior year, Fine is already a North Texas legend. He holds the program record for career passing yards (9,417) and is just six touchdowns from breaking that mark as well. The school's single-best season win total is nine, which Fine has matched in both years as the full-time starter.
Bussey's History: As a sophomore, Bussey ranked third on the Mean Green with 47 catches and 677 yards. But last year, he recorded team-high totals of 68 receptions, 1,017 yards and 12 scores.
2019 Outlook: North Texas is loaded in 2019. Fine headlines an offense that returns Bussey, a second-team All-C-USA running back (DeAndre Torrey) and two 400-yard wideouts (Jaelon Darden and Michael Lawrence). As long as UNT finds its offensive tackles, Fine should threaten for the 4,000-yard mark with 1,000-plus to Bussey.
5. Georgia Bulldogs
The Duo: QB Jake Fromm and RB D'Andre Swift
Fromm's History: The pro-style passer replaced an injured Jacob Eason in September 2017 but performed well enough to keep the starting job. Fromm threw for 2,615 yards and 24 touchdowns as a freshman, guiding Georgia to an SEC title and national runner-up finish. He tallied 2,749 yards and 30 touchdowns last season and helped the program win its second straight SEC East crown.
Swift's History: Despite holding a third-string role in 2017 behind star runners Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Swift still amassed 618 yards on the ground. He followed up that season with 1,346 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns as a starter last season.
2019 Outlook: Georgia's starting offensive line is still coming together but returns a whole bunch of experience. Fromm should be well-protected, and Swift is likely to have more chances at explosive runs this year. Heisman Trophy talk is probably a bit too much for both, but All-SEC honors are the expectation.
4. Houston Cougars
The Duo: QB D'Eriq King and WR Marquez Stevenson
King's History: Houston has regularly found a way to get King touches. He returned kicks and logged 44 offensive touches as a freshman, then started three games at receiver and four at quarterback in 2017. His late-season impact led to a starring role in 2018 when he commanded the offense. King totaled 3,668 offensive yards and accounted for 50 touchdowns in just 11 appearances.
Stevenson's History: Following a pair of injury-plagued seasons, Stevenson showed his upside in 2018. In addition to contributing as a kick returner, he amassed 75 catches for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns. He chipped in 126 yards and two scores rushing, too.
2019 Outlook: Thriving in a new system isn't always easy, but King should excel with Dana Holgorsen. The new coach's former team, West Virginia, consistently ranked among the nation's most prolific offenses. Stevenson figures to attract the most attention―and still garner the largest volume of targets.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
The Duo: QB Jalen Hurts and WR CeeDee Lamb
Hurts' History: Few players have had a more fascinating journey than Hurts. He became Alabama's starter as true freshman and has a national title on his resume. He helped the Tide return to the championship in 2017, but effectively lost his job there. Then, Hurts saved Alabama as an injury-inserted reserve in the 2018 SEC Championship Game and transferred to Oklahoma this offseason. Overall, he has 7,602 passing and rushing yards plus 71 total touchdowns.
Lamb's History: The 6'2", 189-pound target impressively combines volume with explosiveness. Through two seasons, Lamb has registered 111 catches for 1,965 yards―a 17.7-yard average―and scored 18 touchdowns. He also ranked ninth nationally in punt returns last season, gaining 12.8 yards per return.
2019 Outlook: Barring an enormous surge from Spencer Rattler upon his arrival, Hurts will replace Kyler Murray in Norman. Hurts will have a chance to showcase his mobility in a QB-friendly offense while Lamb supplants Marquise Brown as OU's lead receiver.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
The Duo: QB Tua Tagovailoa and WR Jerry Jeudy
Tagovailoa's History: During the 2017 season, Tagovailoa entered the national championship in the second half and led a game-winning comeback. Last year, the southpaw smashed Alabama records with 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Kyler Murray.
Jeudy's History: After playing a limited role as a freshman, Jeudy was an absolute stud in 2018. The technically gifted receiver amassed 68 catches for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns, earning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best wide receiver.
2019 Outlook: Jeudy will be the featured target of an offense that returns three other receivers who posted at least 42 catches and 693 yards. His statistical ceiling is slightly lower because of that, but it's a good thing for Alabama―and especially for Tagovailoa. It would be stunning if the record-setting QB is not a Heisman finalist again in 2019.
1. Clemson Tigers
The Duo: QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne
Lawrence's History: After a four-game stint as the backup, Clemson's freshman became a superstar. Lawrence started the last 11 outings for the Tigers in 2018, guiding them to a national title while throwing for 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Etienne's History: In 2017, Etienne collected 766 rushing yards and 13 scores in a shared backfield. He dominated the snap share as a sophomore though, scampering for 1,658 yards and 24 touchdowns en route to second-team AP All-America honors.
2019 Outlook: Clemson is retooling the offensive line, but both Lawrence and Etienne should continue excelling. Lawrence has a pair of returning 900-yard receivers in Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins, and Etienne only needs a small crease to explode past a defense. Even if his absurd 8.1-yard average drops, the star back is still a 1,500-yard threat.