The college football regular season has essentially come to a close, with just Army-Navy left before bowl season begins. We know the playoff teams, the bowl games are set, and now is as good of time to talk about what we saw/what we think will happen over the next few months.
Let’s get to it.
1. Who should win the Heisman?
Mark Lindquist: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa. While Tua was picked off twice by Georgia on Saturday, that was his first game all season in which he has thrown multiple interceptions. He entered the weekend having thrown just two picks. Kyler Murray's numbers may be more flashy than Tagovailoa’s on the whole, but also come with 46 additional passing attempt. Tagovailoa should not be penalized for the fact that he plays on a team which plays defense.
Thor Nystrom: Tua Tagovailoa
The “Kyler Murray stole the Heisman from Tua!” hot taeks have been flying hot and heavy around the Twitter water cooler since Saturday afternoon. This is a 14-week award, absolutely, but it shouldn't be weighted more heavily on the last weekend. I’ve heard the argument that “Kyler was more valuable to his team than Tua.” That’s undoubtedly true. But this isn’t the MVP award, and punishing Tua because his surrounding cast is better is missing the forest from the trees.
Allow me flip the argument a bit: If Tua and Kyler switched teams, which team would benefit most? I think the answer is Oklahoma. Murray’s stats were incredible, but keep those numbers in context. Tua finished with only three fewer touchdown passes (also three fewer interceptions) despite the fact that he threw 46 fewer passes.
Two critical factors for me: Tua’s statistical output would have been around 15% higher across the board if he hadn’t been lifted from so many games due to blowouts, and Tua played a far, far, far, far, far harder slate of defenses. While Tua was doing battle with the Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn and Georgias of the world, Murray played a procession of Big 12 teams that play no defense whatsoever outside of Texas, TCU and Iowa State. In Oklahoma’s offense, with a full 13 games played, I think Tua’s already-crazy numbers would have been quite a bit more crazy. Kyler stealing this award from him late may feel good in the moment, but I think it would be looked back on in a decade as a big voter mistake.
Christopher Crawford: It has to be Tua Tagovailoa. All due respect to players like Gardner Minshew and Kyler Murray and a few others, Tagovailoa was the best player on the best team. That’s not necessarily a prerequisite to win the Heisman, but when you put up these kind of numbers and look good doing it, you deserve it. I’ll go and and predict right now that Tagovailoa is our first back-to-back winner of the award since Archie Griffin. He’s that good.
2. Who is your coach of the year?
Lindquist: That Dan Mullen guided Florida to the No. 10 spot in the final AP poll of the season is simply remarkable. His quarterback was Feleipe' Franks and they won nine games. A year ago the team was a burning pile of leaves. Imagine what he will be able to do when he actually starts to get his players on roster. Again, Florida finished the season ranked 10th in the country.
Nystrom: Dino Babers, Syracuse.
My primary criteria for this award is always: What team overachieved the most from preseason expectations? We’re talking about coach of the year, after all, and not “best recruiter of the past four.” For that reason, I side with Babers in a close call over Buffalo’s Lance Leipold, Washington State’s Mike Leach, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, UAB’s Bill Clarke, and Hawaii’s Nick Rolovich. That’s my list.
Syracuse’s win total opened in May at 4.5. Babers doubled it, despite the fact that Syracuse was never able to locate the prolific WR1 the offense had produced in his first two years. I was especially impressed by the way he did it. Syracuse’s defense improved, and it fielded the nation’s best special teams unit. This wasn’t a team that was just winning firefights every week.
And the Orange were very close to a season that was even more special. The Orange’s only two ACC losses were in overtime to Pitt and a four-point near-miss of a colossal upset at Clemson.
But I gotta go with Brian Kelly. Notre Dame returned a solid -- but not spectacular -- roster from a 10-3 team that struggled down the stretch. Now he has the Fighting Irish in position -- albeit unlikely -- to potentially win a championship. He deserves credit for making the switch from Brandon Wimbush to Ian Book, and outside of a game against Pittsburgh -- and it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh ended up much better than anyone anticipated -- and the last game of the year against USC, Notre Dame dominated their competition. A team that looked destined to go 8-4 is going to play in the semifinals in four weeks, and Kelly deserves a lot of credit for that.
3. Who wins the National Championship?
Lindquist: Alabama. I know, I know, I know. But as much as I love Clemson, projecting them as champs requires you to believe that Trevor Lawrence will win two Playoff games. Maybe Lawrence does. We saw Jake Fromm do it a year ago. One year does not make a trend, though, and Lawrence has not faced any competition of Alabama's caliber. As you can gather, I would be surprised if either Notre Dame or Oklahoma advanced to the title game.
I reserve the right to change my mind in the week leading up to the Alabama-Clemson title game that has been inevitable since this summer. But I’ll side with the chalk on first blush.
Crawford: Alabama. I know, I’m going out on a limb. They’re just too good. I think Clemson has a chance to give them a decent game, but at the end of the day, I think the Crimson Tide have too many weapons on offense and Trevor Lawrence is too inexperienced to pick anyone but Alabama to take home (another) championship.
4. What team surprised you the most, in a good way?
Lindquist: Washington State. There was so much swirling around the program, from the heartbreaking -- Tyler Hilinski -- to the weird -- Mike Leach posting political videos on Twitter and feuding with USA Today writers -- that I thought the team would take a clear step down off its Luke Falk-led recent past. Instead they flirted with Playoff fringiness. Completely wrong on WSU this year.
Rolovich isn’t getting the credit he deserves for the Rainbow Warriors’ turnaround. Listen: This transition to the run-and-shoot was no sure thing to work. Coming off a 3-9 season, the major scheme change could have proved disastrous in Year 3 of Rolovich’s tenure. Another 3-9 season probably would have cost him his job.
Instead, Hawaii went 8-5 with one of the more entertaining brands of football in the G5. His squad hit the skids after a 6-1 start, but to Rolovich’s credit, Hawaii pulled out of the four-game tailspin to beat UNLV and San Diego State to close out the regular season. A win in the bowl game would give Hawaii its first nine-plus win season since 2010.
Crawford: Utah State. I thought the Aggies would have a nice year, but by nice year I was thinking 7-5 or 8-4; at best. Instead, Matt Wells took them to a 10-2 record, and they probably should be 11-1; that game against Michigan State was very, very winnable, to say the least. Jordan Love is a star, and even with a new coaching staff coming in, they should be very good again in 2019, but this is about 2018, and they were quite good.
5. What team disappointed you the most?
Lindquist: So many, so many. There are a lot of ways you could go here, but for me, the answer is Auburn. This was a top-10 team that beat Alabama and Georgia last season, possessing of a strong defense and an allegedly NFL-caliber quarterback. They tumbled to a 7-5 record while playing sometimes unwatchable football this time around. Runner-up would be Florida State.
Nystrom: Flip a coin between the Trojans, Florida State, Louisville, Arizona, Auburn, Wisconsin, TCU and Navy.
But I’m going to give USC the tiebreaker for their baffling decision to bring back HC Clay Helton while purging the rest of his staff. In September, Helton was telling reporters “I can't wait for people see where we're at in November”, an excuse for the team’s youth. Fair enough. The Trojans had were very young and had a few true freshman at key positions, including QB and WR.
But by November, Helton’s tune had changed. He offered OC Tee Martin as a public sacrifice and then doubled-down on youth and health-related excuses. Here’s the truth: The Pac-12 was down this season, significantly so. The top two teams in each division combined for 14 losses, and the bottom of the league was filled with bad teams (Oregon State, UCLA, Colorado, etc). To go 5-7 with this specific program in this specific year in this specific conference is unacceptable. It should have cost Helton his head. The reason most cited for why he didn’t is that he’s a “good guy.” This isn’t Pop Warner football. USC fans deserve better.
Crawford: A close call for me, but as disappointing as Auburn was, I gotta go with TCU. On paper, this looked like a team that should have challenged for a Big 12 title. Instead, everything went wrong, and they are fortunate enough to play in a bowl game. Injuries certainly played a part, but injuries are disappointing, aren’t they? There will be better days for Horned Frog fans, but 6-6 isn’t good enough.
6. Who was the most disappointing player in 2018?
Lindquist: Khalil Tate should have been so, so fun this season. Remember when he was viewed as a short-list Heisman candidate over the summer? That was a thing! Tate finished with 225 yards rushing this season. He averaged 3.0 YPC. How is that even possible? We already saw Kevin Sumlin lose Kyler Murray at Texas A&M. If he can somehow keep Tate from transferring, that would be a miracle of miracles.
Nystrom: Arizona QB Khalil Tate.
I should say in advance: Tate’s season probably wasn’t quite as bad as you’ve been led to believe. He did, after all, throw for 2,530 yards with a 26/8 TD/INT ratio.
But so much more was expected. Tate averaged less yards per attempt than he did last season. But the real reason he failed to match expectations came on the ground. Tate rushed for 1,411 yards and 12 TD on a 9.2 ypc average last season. This fall, he ran for a mere 225 yards and 2 TD on 3.0 ypc. This one year after he topped 205 rushing yards in three separate individual games. Injuries were blamed, a scheme change was blamed, and Kevin Sumlin was blamed.
Whatever the case, Tate was a colossal disappointment. He entered the season considered one of the nation’s five-best quarterbacks. He spent it as a replacement-level quarterback. And now he’s reportedly pondering a transfer.
Crawford: It’s another injury situation, but Bryce Love. Love was arguably my favorite player to watch last year, and he was considered by many to be a clear Heisman favorite. Instead, he ran for 739 yards and six scores, and quite honestly, he didn’t look good doing it. I think the injuries had a lot to do with that; the explosiveness that was readily apparent in 2017 was nowhere to be found in 2018. I also think the offensive line didn’t help, but again, it doesn’t change the fact that Love was a major bust this season.
7. Who was your favorite new player to watch in college football this season?
Lindquist: I love watching Jaylen Waddle play football. Alabama has so many offensive stars that a guy like Waddle can fall a little under the radar, but he's sitting on a 41-803-7 receiving line heading into Alabama's Playoff date with Oklahoma and finished the regular season averaging 19.6 yards per reception. My favorite play from Championship Weekend was Waddle catching a short pass from Tua Tagovailoa against Georgia and turning it into a long touchdown simply because of his pure athleticism and speed. He's doing all of this as a true freshman.
Nystrom: Kansas RB Pooka Williams.
If you didn’t catch a Kansas game this year — how dare you? — you missed seeing one of the nation’s most devastating offensive weapons. And Pooka was only a true freshman!
The twitched-up burner managed to average 7.2 yards per touch from scrimmage (164 carries, 34 receptions) despite the fact that he was ganged up on all year as KU’s only viable source of offense. David Beaty may not have panned out. But he gave Jayhawks fans — and new HC Les Miles — a departing gift of a minimum two more years of a player who’ll be one of the nation’s top halfbacks going forward. Heck, he already is. Pooka was named to the Big-12 First-Team after the season and was also, obviously, the Big 12’s freshman of the year.
Crawford: Oh, I saw some good ones this year. But I’m all aboard the Rondale Moore hype train. He’s ridiculous. Once the ball is in his hands, you’re in trouble, and he showed that he’s pretty good at getting open down field as well, and only going to get better. Anyone who saw Moore play against Ohio State knows how good this kid is, but it was far from a one-game wonder situation. I can’t wait to see what he does over the next two years.
8. What's the funnest non-playoff or New Year’s Six bowl game that you’re most looking forward to?
Lindquist: Please inject the Camping World Bowl into my veins. West Virginia-Syracuse is going to be a first-to-55-points-wins kind of game. It's also going to be our last chance to see our a few of our favorite players from recent years, including Will Grier, David Sills and Eric Dungey. Same day (Dec. 28), we'll also get Iowa State-Washington State in the Alamo Bowl, another one which I foresee being fun to watch.
Nystrom: Syracuse and West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl will be great fun.
The total of the game opened higher than any non-playoff bowl. On one side, this’ll be your last shot to see West Virginia’s prolific aerial trio of QB Will Grier and WRs David Sills and Gary Jennings. On the other, the hyper-tempo Syracuse offense takes aim at a bad West Virginia defense. Will WVU HC Dana Holgorsen put the fallout of his failed bid for the Texas Tech HC gig behind him and hold serve as a TD-plus favorite? Or will Babers end Syracuse’s dream season with a 10th win over a high-quality Power 5 opponent?
Crawford: A few honorable mentions: The New Mexico Bowl (North Texas vs. Utah State), the Servepro First Responder Bowl (Boston College vs. Boise State) and, of course, the Camping World Bowl for all the reasons Thor and Mark lay out. If I had to pick just one, however, I’ll go with the Alamo Bowl; featuring Washington State and Iowa State. I want to see how the Cougars respond to their loss in the Apple Cup; they’ve looked uninterested in their past two bowl games and gotten blown out. If they show up, I think the matchup between the Cyclones and Cougars is a dandy one, and it should be an excellent game. I do offer the caveat of the Cougars’ bowl history, though.
9. Name your top-three most valuable college fantasy football quarterbacks of 2018.
Nystrom: 1. Murray 2. King 3. Hawaii QB Cole McDonald
Crawford: 1. Murray 2. Minshew 3. King
The Sooners’ signal caller tops my ballot in a close call over D’Eriq King. King not taking home the trophy is hardly his fault — he was on track to end the CFF season as QB1 before he suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee in Game 11 against Tulane. That injury stole his final six quarters of regular season football (including, most unfortunately for his owners, Week 13, which is CFF championship week for most leagues), allowing Murray to sneak into pole position. Murray was a force all season and then combined for nearly 100 fantasy points in Weeks 12 and 13, swinging playoff matchups in many leagues. For my third choice, I went with Cole McDonald, who finished QB6 in standard CFF scoring but provided an absurd return on investment for anyone who threw a dart on him late in their August drafts. Dwayne Haskins (who had a few down games but was dominant in most others), Gardner Minshew (a season-long revelation after winning Wazzu’s QB job) and Taylor Cornelius (who averaged over 31 fantasy points per game despite all the turnover along Okie State’s offense) are other worthy choices worth mentioning. Had Tagovailoa played anywhere near the entirety of Alabama’s 48 regular season quarters, he may have topped this list. But alas his owners ironically became victims of his and his team’s dominance. -- Nystrom
10. Name your top-three most valuable CFF running backs of 2018.
Nystrom: 1.Henderson 2. Arizona State RB Eno Benjamin 3. Williams
Crawford: 1. Henderson 2. Taylor 3. Clemson RB Travis Etienne
If Etienne would have gotten more carries, I think this would have been his award; and the fact he put up the numbers he did while constantly only getting around a dozen carries a game is pretty darn impressive. Henderson had a couple of clunkers, but there were games this year that single-handedly won the Tigers games, particularly early and late in the year. He also was a competent receiver on top of putting up the huge rushing totals, so with all due respect to Taylor and Etienne -- and a handful of others -- I don’t see how you can’t give this award to Henderson. -- Crawford
11. Name your top-three most valuable CFF wide receivers of 2018.
Crawford: 1. Isabella 2. Shenault 3. Moore
Shenault at two might be a “controversial” choice, but let’s face it; through the first half of the season, there was no one better. He might have been the MVP of the entire season if he would have kept it up.
Enough about second place, let’s talk about Isabella. If you’re not familiar with his work, you weren’t paying close enough attention. He was second to Moore in total receptions (102), first in total yards (1,698) and scored 13 touchdowns; good enough for fifth. Yes it came for a bad football team and often came against bad competition, but Isabella solidified himself as the most valuable wideout when he caught 15 passes for 219 yards and two scores against Georgia. He was a star. An unheralded one, but a star. -- Crawford
12. Cast your ballot for college fantasy football MVP of 2018.
Nystrom: 1. Murray 2. King 3. Henderson
Crawford: 1. Murray 2. Henderson 3. Minshew
While I am not willing to give the Heisman to Murray, he was the most dominating player on the fantasy landscape, with the extra opportunities afforded to him by a horrible defense ended up paying dividends for fantasy owners. This season, Murray accounted for 51 total touchdowns -- the same number Lamar Jackson accounted for during his transcendent 2016 season. His consistency (at least three touchdown passes in nine of 12 regular-season games) was awesome, and he brought 892 rushing yards to the table to boot. Even better, because everybody was busy burning their entry fees drafting Khalil Tate at 1.1, Murray could be had at a draft discount in many leagues. -- Lindquist