Forde-Yard Dash: It's Tua and then everyone else in Heisman race

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Browns beer fridge sold separately in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the river from Nebraska, in a clever trolling of the suffering Cornhuskers fans):

[More Dash: Assistants in trouble | Notre Dame’s easy path | Maryland mess]


There isn’t much point in discussing the Heisman Trophy in September. But now it’s October, and many teams have reached the halfway point of the regular season, and we’ve got a clear-cut leader. So let’s take a look at the race as it stands today.

The guy everyone else is chasing is Tua Tagovailoa (1) of Alabama. How good has he been through the first half of the season? Historically good. He’s on pace to shatter Baker Mayfield’s NCAA record for single-season pass efficiency. The record is 198.92, set last year, and at this point in the season Mayfield’s rating was 201.12. Tua’s rating currently is — seriously — 258.40. Here were the midseason efficiency ratings from some of the other quarterbacks who would go on to win that title: Mayfield 2016 was 178.35; Marcus Mariota 2014 was 199.14; Jameis Winston 2013 was 194.36; Russell Wilson 2011 was 210.93.

Tua hasn’t had a single-game efficiency rating of lower than 223 yet this season, which is preposterous. Last two games were 316.90 against Louisiana and 394.27 Saturday against Arkansas — not far off the NCAA single-game record of 404.

The biggest threat to Tagovailoa breaking the season record may be getting enough pass attempts. To qualify he has to average 15 attempts per game, and at present he’s barely over that at 16.8. The main reason why: He hasn’t attempted a fourth-quarter pass all season because all of Alabama’s games have been so far out of hand by that point. Presumably he will get to play a full game a few times in the season’s back half. As it stands, Tua also is on pace to break NCAA single-season records for yards per attempt (14.8) and completion percentage (75.2, tied for best in the nation with Colorado’s Steven Montez).

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) tries to get away from Arkansas defender De’Jon Harris in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) tries to get away from Arkansas defender De’Jon Harris in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Dwayne Haskins (2), Ohio State. He leads the nation in touchdown passes with 25 — six of them Saturday against Indiana. Haskins also ranks fifth in efficiency (190.76) and seventh in passing yards per game (319.8). His passing prowess has spurred a paradigm shift for coach Urban Meyer, away from a heavy quarterback run dependency and toward a pure pocket presence. His 21 rushes are the fewest for a Meyer starting quarterback in a six-game span since John Brantley was his QB at Florida in 2010.

Kyler Murray (3), Oklahoma. Tagovailoa might not be the only QB to surpass Mayfield’s 2017 NCAA record for efficiency. Murray is second in the country at 227.76 — a whopping number in its own right, and yet still 30-plus points behind Tua. In addition to throwing it brilliantly this season (21 touchdowns, three interceptions, 71 percent accuracy), he’s also the most gifted runner of the top quarterbacks of 2018, having rushed for 377 yards and five touchdowns. The only demerit next to his name was Oklahoma’s upset loss to Texas on Saturday, and this is an award where voters tend to line up behind players on undefeated teams. Murray will probably make more money with less injury risk playing professional baseball, but it sure would be fun to see where football could take him.

Laviska Shenault (4), Colorado. The best player on arguably the most surprising team to date? That would be Shenault, a sophomore receiver who is the biggest breakout star nobody saw coming. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is an intriguing combination of size and athleticism, and he leads the nation by a wide margin in catches per game (10.2) and receiving yards per game (141.6). Shenault doesn’t have big touchdown reception numbers (six), but he’s also run for four TDs. His chance to make a big impression for those who haven’t watched him play yet will come the next two Saturdays: at USC this week and at Washington next.

Will Grier (5), West Virginia. He’s thrown for a minimum of 332 yards every game and is second nationally in yards per game at 363.8. He’s also tied for third in touchdown passes with 21, despite only playing five games to date. And, of course, the Mountaineers are undefeated and ranked in the top 10. The only negative is that he’s thrown six interceptions, including three against Kansas on Saturday — but, in Grier’s defense, the Jayhawks actually lead the nation in takeaways. Grier’s marquee games will come in November, if the Mountaineers are still winning: at Texas on Nov. 3 and hosting Oklahoma on Nov. 23.


The Dash’s weekly look at who would be in the College Football Playoff, and where, if today were Selection Sunday:

Top seed Alabama (6) vs. fourth seed Georgia (7) in the Cotton Bowl.

The Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 in the SEC) have played only one team from the top half of the conference thus far (Texas A&M), and the non-conference strength of schedule has plummeted along with Louisville. But my goodness, what a path of destruction Alabama has blazed through the first six games: The Tide lead the nation in scoring at 56.0 points per game (the FBS record also is 56.0, by Army in 1944); the averaging scoring margin is 40 (nobody else is over 30); the average halftime score is 40-6. And yes, the schedule will improve. Next: Missouri, with the No. 12 scoring defense in the SEC, wobbles into Tuscaloosa.

The Bulldogs still haven’t let anyone seriously threaten them, with six straight wins by 14 or more points. Georgia’s 41-13 beating of Vanderbilt on Saturday extended its streak of victories over SEC East opponents to 11, with the last 10 all by two touchdowns or greater. Strength of schedule isn’t overwhelming at the moment, but the next four opponents are all ranked so that will change in a hurry. Next: at LSU in a big one.

Second seed Ohio State (8) vs. third seed Notre Dame (9) in the Orange Bowl.

The Buckeyes trailed Indiana for about 12 minutes in the first half Saturday, in their annual Penn State Hangover Game. Then they got it together and rolled to a 49-26 victory. While Ohio State’s young defense remains a work in progress, its offense remains a high-efficiency machine. A team full of home-run hitters at the skill positions has 14 touchdown strikes of longer than 30 yards thus far. Next: home against Minnesota.

Notre Dame continues to roll with Plan B(ook). Ian Book ignited the offense three games ago, and the Fighting Irish have averaged 46 points over those games. After a close first half in Blacksburg on Saturday night, Notre Dame pulled away to pound Virginia Tech 45-23. Running back Dexter Williams has also been a difference-maker since coming off suspension, racking up 339 yards against Stanford and the Hokies. Notre Dame has playmakers all over the field at present, including on a defense that has produced 15 sacks and 11 takeaways. Next: home against Pittsburgh.

The only other school to seriously consider at this point is Clemson (10). The Tigers just won a league road game by 60, pulverizing Wake Forest 63-3, and that’s a rarer thing than you might imagine — it never happened at the FBS level last year. But the Tigers’ strength of schedule is underwhelming to this point, and there have been two loss escapes (at Texas A&M and against Syracuse). The remaining schedule doesn’t offer much in the way of high-level opposition either, though North Carolina State will be undefeated (and unproven) when the Wolfpack come to Clemson on Oct. 20. For now, the Tigers are The Dash’s fifth wheel in the playoff chase.

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