Heisman watch: Tagovailoa, Lawrence stand as preseason favorites

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

The return of college football is upon us. 

Although Florida and Miami officially kicked off the 2019 college football season last Saturday, the majority of teams will open their season this week. Even in the first week of the season, Heisman contenders will look to make their mark and establish themselves as early favorites for college football’s most prestigious award.

Tua Tagovailoa — Quarterback, Alabama 

Despite controversially losing last year’s Heisman race to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, junior Tagovailoa has been a Vegas preseason favorite. Tagovailoa comes off of a season in which he led the NCAA in passer efficiency rating and the SEC in passing yards, total yards per play, pass completion percentage and passing touchdowns.

As one of Alabama’s best quarterbacks in recent memory, Tagovailoa will be playing for more than a Heisman Trophy this year — he’s also playing to prove that last year’s 44-16 blowout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship was a one-off performance, not the beginning of the end of head coach Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty. 

Trevor Lawrence — Quarterback, Clemson 

After winning the starting quarterback position from the incumbent Kelly Bryant in the first half of the 2018 season, sophomore Lawrence spent the second half shredding ACC defenses. In his final two games of the season, Lawrence threw for a combined 674 yards and six touchdowns in the College Football Playoff en route to Clemson’s second national championship in three years. As a true freshman, the former No. 1 overall recruit threw for 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions on the season while completing 65% of his passes to lead the ACC. 

Caesars Palace’s early Heisman odds have it as a two-man race between Lawrence and Tagovailoa. Pair Lawrence with preseason All-American running back Travis Etienne and a few dynamic receivers like sophomore Justyn Ross and junior Tee Higgins, and Lawrence could make his case to be Clemson’s first-ever Heisman winner.

Jalen Hurts — Quarterback, Oklahoma 

Head coach Lincoln Riley’s résumé speaks for itself. 

In his two seasons since he assumed the reins of the Sooner Schooner from Bob Stoops, Riley has transformed Oklahoma into a real-life Heisman House. A year after Riley developed his three-year protégé Baker Mayfield into a Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, he followed it up with another Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick in Kyler Murray. 

Now in his third year as Oklahoma’s head coach, Riley is gearing up for his next challenge: developing Alabama graduate transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts. After he ultimately lost the starting quarterback job to Tua Tagovailoa during a halftime change in the 2018 national championship game, Hurts spent last season backing up Tagovailoa during his Heisman race.

After transferring to Oklahoma in the spring, Hurts has now placed himself in a position to compete for a Heisman with the man who took his starting job two seasons ago. 

Sam Ehlinger — Quarterback, Texas 

Texas is back, folks. And this time the Longhorns mean it.

Last year’s Sugar Bowl should have erased any doubt that Tom Herman has placed Texas in a position to compete with powerhouse schools once again, completing the Longhorns’ first 10-win season since 2009. 

At the center of it all? Junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger.

Ehlinger has emerged as the star Texas has needed to be competitive in the Big 12 after a decade of misery. Last season, Ehlinger put up numbers unseen since the Colt McCoy days, including a span of 10 consecutive games without an interception and improving his completion percentage by seven points from the previous season. Now surrounded by the most talent Texas has had in nearly a decade, Ehlinger has thrown himself into the early Heisman consideration.