Ranking Heisman Contenders' Performances After Week 1 of College Football

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 3, 2019

Ranking Heisman Contenders' Performances After Week 1 of College Football

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    Jalen Hurts
    Jalen HurtsAlonzo Adams/Associated Press

    Jalen Hurts didn't enter the season as the Heisman favorite, but he belongs at the top of the list following his six-touchdown night in Oklahoma's Week 1 win over Houston.

    These are the players who entered the season with the 10 best odds of winning the Heisman, ranked in ascending order of their Week 1 performances.

    To reiterate: These are merely intended to be snapshot rankings—a single grade on the season-long report card, if you will. The player at No. 1 is not necessarily the new favorite to win the Heisman, nor is the player at the bottom of our rankings in danger of dropping out of the picture altogether. It just means the former had a great performance, while the latter left something to be desired.

    Along with the individual stats and highlights, team success and difficulty of opponent factor into the ranking.

    One name not on this list who should be next week: Clemson's running back Travis Etienne. "ETN" had surprisingly pedestrian preseason Heisman odds of 40-1the same as D'Andre Swift, Joe Burrow and Rondale Moore. But after racking up 205 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries in the opener against Georgia Tech, he is bound to be one of the top 10 candidates heading into Week 2.

    Preseason Heisman odds are courtesy of Action Network's tracker.

10. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska

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    Adrian Martinez
    Adrian MartinezNati Harnik/Associated Press

    Preseason Odds: 10-1

    Stats (vs. South Alabama): 13-of-22, 178 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 118.0 PER; 13 carries, 6 yards

    The Good

    Adrian Martinez was rock-solid on Nebraska's opening drive, completing three of his first four pass attempts for 73 yards. Each completion went for a first down, including a 17-yard strike to JD Spielman on 3rd-and-14. One play later, Martinez made a great read on a play-action pass, quickly finding a streaking Jack Stoll for a 42-yard gain to set up the game's first touchdown.

    Though he wasn't ultimately involved in the scoring play, Martinez got the ball rolling early and looked every bit the part of a Heisman candidate for those first three minutes.


    The Bad

    The rest of the game was a disaster for Martinez and the Cornhuskers offense. Nebraska won the game 35-21, but only because of second-half return touchdowns via a fumble, an interception and a punt. After the aforementioned 42-yarder, the Cornhuskers didn't have another offensive play that went for 20 or more yards. And Martinez's interception—which came on a first-down play in South Alabama territory—wasn't anywhere close to the mark.

    Most disturbing, though, was the lack of rushing. The legs were what made Martinez one of the top preseason candidates for the Heisman, as he had at least 50 rushing yards in seven of 11 games played last season. But against a South Alabama defense that allowed 203.0 yards and almost 3.0 rushing touchdowns per game in 2018, Martinez's mobility was a complete non-factor.

9. Justin Herbert, Oregon

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    Justin Herbert
    Justin HerbertRon Jenkins/Associated Press

    Preseason Odds: 20-1

    Stats (vs. Auburn): 28-of-37, 242 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 139.5 PER

    The Good

    On his lone touchdown pass, Justin Herbert did a phenomenal job of reading the defense and creating something out of nothing. It was designed to be a screen pass to Travis Dye, but when Auburn's defense sniffed it out, Herbert improvised and scrambled before lofting one up to Spencer Webbwho had an eight-inch height advantage over his defender, Javaris Davis. That's a play that will inevitably show up on his draft-day highlight reel.

    Moreover, Herbert should have had a second touchdown pass on a ball that Bryan Addison straight up dropped in the end zone. If projected starters Juwan Johnson (leg cramps) and Brenden Schooler (foot surgery) had been available, Oregon likely would have been a little more aggressive with its play calls and might have put this game away before halftime.


    The Bad

    On the first play after an 81-yard punt return by Jevon Holland, Herbert botched the exchange on a read-option, resulting in a fumble that Auburn brought all the way back inside the Oregon 5-yard line. Instead of taking a 21-3 lead late in the first half, that mistake kept Auburn hanging around for the eventual comeback victory.

    Herbert also "checked-downed" Oregon into a lot of punts. On a 3rd-and-3 play early in the second quarter, he threw to Johnny Johnson III for no gain. On another drive late in the third quarter, he had three consecutive three-yard completions that led to another punt. Two possessions later, Herbert had a four-yard pass on 3rd-and-5, which resulted in a turnover on downs.

    Some of that was the lack of Johnson and Schooler. Some of it was just excellent defense by Auburn. But at a certain point, the quarterback needs to be held accountable for repeatedly throwing behind the line to gain on third down.

8. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

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    Trevor Lawrence
    Trevor LawrenceRichard Shiro/Associated Press

    Preseason Odds: 3-1

    Stats (vs. Georgia Tech): 13-of-23, 168 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 114.8 PER; 3 carries, 24 yards, 1 TD

    The Good

    Travis Etienne was Clemson's star on the day, but Trevor Lawrence had a few brilliant moments of his own. Not known as a fleet-of-foot guy last year, Lawrence looked great on the read-option that resulted in a six-yard touchdown scamper. And on his lone passing touchdown, he effortlessly flung the ball more than 50 yards in the air on a 62-yard pass to Tee Higgins.

    But Lawrence's most impressive moment of the game came immediately after his worst. He stared down Cornell Powell on an out-route, paving the way for Georgia Tech's Tre Swilling to jump in at the GT 44 for what appeared to be a pick-six. Rather than hang his head following a woeful pass, Lawrence immediately sprung into action, chasing down Swilling and leveling him across the sideline inside the 5. Clemson's defense then came out for an impressive goal-line stand. 


    The Bad

    As nice as the hit was, it's never a good thing when the quarterback's most memorable play was a tackle.

    Lawrence struggled in this one, throwing multiple interceptions in a game for the first time in his careerthough it must be noted that the second one was on an end-of-first-half Hail Mary more than 70 yards from the end zone. Hard to hold that against him.

    However, if we're pointing that out, let's also mention that Lawrence underthrew Higgins on the 62-yard touchdown. Were it not a freshman cornerback trying to contain one of the best wide receivers in the nation, it would've been either an incompletion or an interception.

    By no means are we waving the white flag on Lawrence's Heisman campaign, but this was not a promising start. Strange that it happened against a team he torched for four touchdowns last year in the process of pushing Kelly Bryant out of the job. This 114.8 passer efficiency rating was worse than any game he had last season.

7. Jake Fromm, Georgia

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    Jake Fromm
    Jake FrommMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Preseason Odds: 18-1

    Stats (at Vanderbilt): 15-of-23, 156 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 136.5 PER

    The Good

    Jake Fromm put up modest numbers, but he didn't take any sacks or throw any interceptions. Considering he was the only quarterback on this list playing a true road game in Week 1, that error-free play is noteworthy.

    Fromm also led Georgia on three consecutive touchdown drives of at least 75 yards to open the game, staking the Bulldogs to an early, insurmountable 21-0 lead. The backfield did most of the heavy lifting (17 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns), but Fromm helped bury the Commodores by completing seven of eight pass attempts for 97 yards and a score.


    The Bad

    At this point in his career, we pretty much know what to expect from Georgia and Fromm. Unless it's one of those rare games in which the Dawgs are playing from behind, he's not going to throw the ball 30 times for 300 yards. They establish the run, and Fromm efficiently contributes a nice passing play here and there. He's a game manager, but he's usually one of the best.

    But compared to what Fromm did to Vanderbilt over the past two seasons24-of-34, 378 yards, five touchdowns, 212.5 PER—this was a subpar performance. If he wants to even sniff the Heisman conversation with raw numbers bound to be well behind those of Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, he needs to be much more efficient than he was in this opener.

6. Shea Patterson, Michigan

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    Shea Patterson
    Shea PattersonPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    Preseason Odds: 20-1

    Stats (vs. Middle Tennessee): 17-of-29, 203 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 151.6 PER; 9 carries, 28 yards

    The Good

    Michigan and Shea Patterson got out to a slow start, scoring just three points in the first three possessions of their home opener. That changed in a hurry, though, as Patterson hit Tarik Black for a 36-yard score and found both Nico Collins and Sean McKeon for 28-yard touchdowns, all in the span of about eight minutes.

    Patterson threw a little behind both Black and McKeon, but the strike to Collins was a thing of beauty. He didn't throw many deep balls last season37 completions of 20 or more yards—but this first-half stretch was a good early sign that Michigan's offense could be more vertical in 2019.


    The Bad

    At the end of a 15-yard run, Patterson fumbled on the first play of the game, setting up Middle Tennessee to take an early 7-0 lead. He fumbled a second time midway through the third quarter, though the Wolverines were at least able to retain possession on that one. Ball security was a huge part of Michigan's 2018 success, losing only three fumbles in the entire season. Patterson needs to get those butter fingers under control.

    And after all the theorizing that the arrival of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis would revolutionize Michigan's offense, it was just business as usual for Patterson. He averaged 200 passing yards per game and had a 149.8 passer efficiency rating and put up nearly identical numbers in this one. Not having Donovan Peoples-Jones (foot) was an obvious factor, but there's more than enough talent in this receiving corps that Patterson still should have been able to torch MTSU.

5. Sam Ehlinger, Texas

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    Sam Ehlinger
    Sam EhlingerEric Gay/Associated Press

    Preseason Odds: 20-1

    Stats (vs. Louisiana Tech): 28-of-38, 276 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT, 169.4 PER; 8 carries, 34 yards

    The Good

    Sam Ehlinger made light work of a Louisiana Tech passing defense that was solid last year, holding all 13 opponents below 300 passing yards with a 16-to-13 TD-to-INT ratio for the season. The Longhorns quarterback completed all five of his pass attempts on the opening touchdown drive and moved the ball at will for most of the afternoon. Texas was up 38-0 late in the third quarter after Ehlinger took his last snap of the day.

    Ehlinger is the only quarterback on this list who did not have at least one completion of 30 or more yards, but there was no need for deep passes against the Bulldogs. The Longhorns were able to just march down the field 10-25 yards at a time. It won't be long before he's airing out bombs to Collin Johnson and Co.

    The four touchdowns matched a career high set last November against Texas Tech.


    The Bad

    Ehlinger did more with his legs than Adrian Martinez did for Nebraska, but it was a little strange to not see him run one in, given four of Texas's six touchdowns were from less than seven yards out. His 16 rushing touchdowns from last season was one of the biggest reasons he was a preseason Heisman candidate. As weird and as nonsensical as this sounds, it would have been more encouraging if one of his four passing touchdowns had come on a tuck-and-run instead.

4. Justin Fields, Ohio State

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    Justin Fields
    Justin FieldsJay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Preseason Odds: 12-1

    Stats (vs. Florida Atlantic): 18-of-25, 234 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT, 203.4 PER; 12 carries, 61 yards, 1 TD

    The Good

    Justin Fields torched Florida Atlantic before the Owls even had a chance to breathe. Within the first eight minutes and 10 seconds, Fields took 13 snaps, completed five of six passes for 100 yards, rushed for 51 yards and scored four times. Ohio State would ultimately win 45-21, but at the end of that surge, the Buckeyes were on pace for a 206-0 victory.

    Fields was effective and efficient during his one season with Georgia, but the vast majority of his numbers were accrued during garbage time of blowouts against bad opponents. It was encouraging to see him on the field from the outset, quickly turning this game into one of those blowouts.


    The Bad

    The primary bad was Florida Atlantic's defense. On all four passing touchdowns, the Buckeyes receiver was W-I-D-E open, and Fields was only remotely under pressure on one of them. And on the rushing touchdown, Fields went untouched through a gaping hole. That said, the passes were right on the money and Fields' elite speed on the big run was as much of a factor as the blocking was.

    The barely-worth-mentioning bad was the "fumble" charged against Fields on an incomplete backward pass. No big deal in a game that was already 28-0 at the time, but it's one thing to be mindful of moving forward. A scoop-and-score on a blunder like that could be the thing that keeps Ohio State out of the College Football Playoff.

3. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

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    Tua Tagovailoa
    Tua TagovailoaKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Preseason Odds: 3-1

    Stats (vs. Duke): 26-of-31, 336 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT, 217.5 PER; 5 carries, 15 yards

    The Good

    Ho-hum. Tua Tagovailoa threw multiple touchdowns and no interceptions, finishing an almost effortless victory with a passer efficiency rating greater than 199something he did in 11 of 15 games last season, including each of Alabama's first eight contests. It may be old hat at this point, but it's still remarkable what this guy can do when he isn't hampered by a lower leg injury and/or facing one of the best defenses in the country.

    Though he doesn't run much beyond the line of scrimmage, Tagovailoa's mobility in the pocket (and his out-of-this-world receiving corps) is a huge part of what makes him so dangerous. He rolled out to his left on the touchdown pass to Major Tennison. Barely a minute later, he rolled out to his right before finding DeVonta Smith with an absolute dime for another score. Best of luck to any defense tasked with trying to fluster this star. 


    The Bad

    Contrary to last year's norm, Tagovailoa got out to a slow start against Duke. The Crimson Tide scored on their first drive in each of their first eight games last year, but it took almost 20 minutes and four possessions for them to get on the board in this one. A Tagovailoa sack on third down resulted in a three-and-out on Alabama's first possession. Three of his five incomplete passes came during the third fruitless drive.

    Of course, part of the problem was the absences of running back Najee Harris, running back Brian Robinson Jr. and wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who were suspended for the first quarter because of a violation of team rules. Once Tagovailoa had his full complement of options, the rout was on. Alabama scored touchdowns on four of its next five possessions, cruising to a 42-3 victory.

2. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

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    Jonathan Taylor
    Jonathan TaylorChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Preseason Odds: 25-1

    Stats (vs. South Florida): 16 carries, 135 yards, 2 TD; 2 receptions, 48 yards, 2 TD

    The Good

    In 2018, South Florida allowed nearly 250 rushing yards per game, and Jonathan Taylor led the nation in rushing yards, so we knew to expect big things from the Badgers running back. And yet, he managed to exceed expectations by finding the end zone four times while serving as Wisconsin's entire offense.

    Taylor scored on rushing touchdowns of 38 and 37 yards and turned a screen pass into a 36-yard touchdown, but the most impressive one was the shortest one. With less than 10 seconds left in the first half and with no timeouts remaining, Taylor caught a pass at the USF 5, was met by two Bulls defenders at the 2 and muscled/spiraled his way across the plane to give the Badgers a 28-0 halftime lead.

    Those two receiving touchdowns were a noteworthy development, which would make Taylor a more serious Heisman threat if it continues in the slightest. En route to top-10 finishes in both the 2017 and 2018 Heisman races, Taylor had a grand total of 16 catches for 155 yards and no touchdowns. That's roughly 0.6, 9.1 and 0.0 per game, respectively. His previous career high was 30 receiving yards. If Jack Coan makes Taylor his security blanket for checkdown passes, he'll average well north of 200 yards per game.


    The Bad

    The only "bad" thing about Taylor's day is that it ended two minutes into the third quarter because South Florida's offense didn't have a single drive of more than 20 yards until attempting (and missing) a sad field goal late in the fourth quarter. Taylor easily could have racked up 300 yards from scrimmage if the Bulls had been competitive enough to keep him on the field.

1. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

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    Jalen Hurts
    Jalen HurtsBrett Deering/Getty Images

    Preseason Odds: 12-1

    Stats (vs. Houston): 20-of-23, 332 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 251.3 PER; 16 carries, 176 yards, 3 TD

    The Good

    Running was always a big part of Jalen Hurts' time at Alabama, but he took that to a new level in his Oklahoma debut against Houston. Hurts set a career high with 176 rushing yards and matched a career high with three touchdowns. Ten of his 16 carries either resulted in a touchdown or a first down, and he was not once tackled behind the line of scrimmage.

    That's not even half of the story, though, as Hurts racked up more than 500 combined passing and rushing yards and six touchdownseach of which marks a new career high. He wasn't afraid the spread the ball around, either, connecting with 10 different receivers and barely even utilizing his best weapon, CeeDee Lamb (two catches for 46 yards).

    Hurts did it all with an elite level of efficiency that we've grown accustomed to seeing from Oklahoma's quarterback. Baker Mayfield had a 282.7 PER in the opener of his Heisman campaign. Kyler Murray's was 301.4 in Week 1 of last season. And thanks to just three incompletions, Hurts will enter Week 2 with the second-highest PER in the nation.


    The Bad

    Hurts did lose one fumble, but even that came at the end of a play when he rushed for 15 yards on 3rd-and-11. Unless you insist on taking it with a grain of salt because Houston had one of the worst defenses last year, it's hard to find any other complaints about the best performance of the graduate transfer's career.