Let’s all travel back to Jan. 1, 2018. The clock is winding down on a dominant 24-6 win for Alabama over reigning national champion Clemson. Jalen Hurts, after another efficient performance, has just lead his team to back-to-back appearances in the national title game. All is right in Tuscaloosa.
At that point it didn’t seem crazy to think Hurts was the Heisman frontrunner heading into 2018. He was 25-2 in a two-year run in which he’d started every game but one. He was also the unquestioned leader of an offense that just finished steamrolling a dominant defense, doing it in a building that had given previous offenses under the Saban regime nightmares.
Boy does that moment seem a world away.
A week later, 28 million people watched Tua Tagovailoa, the heralded freshman from Hawaii, lead a furious second-half comeback against Georgia to win Bama’s 17th national title. It was there, on second down with 26 yards to go, that Tua Tagovailoa cemented himself in college football lore.
Tua was already being crowned the 2018 (and maybe ’19?) Heisman Trophy winner by Alabama fans. Jalen Hurts? The QB who got the team to that national title game? Nope, his time had passed.
Damien Harris? The running back who had just finished back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons? No way, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs would take too many of his carries. Tua was the dynamic QB Bama fans had clamored for, even as efficient quarterbacks like Jake Coker and Greg McElroy hoisted national title trophies.
I thought the shine would wear off. It didn’t.
I thought Tua-mania would take a backseat at some point. It hasn’t.
So here we are, on Aug. 24, with college football beginning in full swing in less than a week. Tua is still among the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. To understand just how incredible this is, we must first look at the entire list of Heisman odds from offshore sportsbook 5Dimes, which lists him as the second choice behind Stanford’s Bryce Love.
To be fair, there are more head scratchers here than just Tua. Dawyne Haskins, the Ohio State backup a year ago, was just 40 of 57 for 565 yards in 2017. Jake Fromm, although extremely efficient, seems more like a game manager for a power running team at Georgia than he does a Heisman Trophy-winning QB.
Oh, and the 10th guy on this list? Trevor Lawrence? He’s a true freshman at Clemson who hasn’t suited up for a game yet.
So why not throw some money on Tua Tagovailoa?
It’s simple. There’s not enough value. Tagovailoa is the only name high on this list, aside from Lawrence, that hasn’t been named a starter. Remember Hurts? He’s still battling for the starting QB job at Bama and has reportedly looked pretty good through fall camp. He was, after all, the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman in 2016.
Nick Saban has said multiple times that if both guys can help the team, both guys will play. Add in the fact that Bama’s defense is supposed to be as dominant as ever, and it becomes extremely hard to imagine Tua even coming close to the statistical expectations that have already been placed on him. Bet $100 to win $750? No thanks.
“But Mike, I’m a Bama fan and I want to lay a big bet on the Heisman winner!”
Good news! There’s another name on this list that is worth taking a look at. Remember Harris? The bellcow back for Bama the last two seasons? The guy who at one point was averaging 9.2 yards per rush midway through the 2017 season? The guy who turned down a sure spot in the NFL Draft to return to Bama for his senior season?
Yup. He’s on the board too. The shifty running back returns for a Bama team that’s had two different Heisman-winning running backs in the last nine years under Nick Saban, the program’s first two winners of the award.
And even after a career of sharing carries with Bo Scarbrough, Harris is only about 1,400 yards from passing Derrick Henry as Bama’s all-time leading rusher. With a line of 55-1, Harris is the guy who’s worth your risk.
This is not all to say Tua, or Jalen, cant have great seasons at QB. Bama under Nick Saban is an almost certain lock to win 12 games and have a well-above average offense. But I’ve seen first hand what a great passing attack means in Tuscaloosa. It means more room to run.
My money is on Harris.
Mike Johnson played offensive line at Alabama from 2006-2009. He was a first-team All-American and helped lead the Crimson Tide to their first national title under Nick Saban. Follow him on Twitter @MPJohnson79.