As the 2018 college football season moves towards the home stretch, the Heisman Trophy race feels a bit like one of Usain Bolt’s Olympic sprints.
It’s another guy with a memorable name playing the role of Bolt – Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Even though he hasn’t had to throw a pass in the fourth quarter of a game, his numbers still read like a video game being played on the easiest mode. Tagovailoa averages 19.3 yards per completion to go with 25 touchdowns and no interceptions. It will take a major oil leak at LSU on Nov. 3 for the rest of the field to catch up to him.
But just as two other runners had to stand on the podium next to Bolt after all those races, there will be at least two other college football players invited to New York City as Heisman finalists on Dec. 8. Following his rebound performance against Baylor on Thursday night, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier remains in contention to be one of them.
Indeed, perhaps no player in the country has a better chance to leave a strong impression on voters right before they mark their ballots. Games against nationally ranked Texas and Oklahoma will draw eyeballs, as will an appearance in the Big 12 championship game if the Mountaineers win out.
Here’s a look at how the season-ending schedule shapes up for the other players looking to make it to Manhattan.
Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray
The season finale at West Virginia could be the single most important game in the country this year when it comes to determining Heisman finalists. It is the only one remaining with two viable candidates facing one another.
The Heisman is an individual award. But if WVU’s defense manages to be the first to put clamps on Murray this year, it would be a perfect example of a team-wide performance benefiting Grier.
Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins
Haskins will have chances to either succeed or stumble down the stretch. Ohio State’s slip-up at Purdue was no fault of his own – he was an absurd 49 of 73 for 470 yards in the 49-20 loss. The Buckeyes have tough games looming against Michigan State and Michigan, though, and it’s possible his gaudy numbers will take a hit at the wrong time for voters with tunnel-vision.
Kentucky RB Benny Snell
We’ve reached the point where running backs have virtually no chance of winning this award. The last one to do it who didn’t go to Alabama? Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne in 1999.
Of course, we’re just talking about making it to the podium. Even that will be an uphill battle for this back on a one-dimensional offense, but a game against Georgia on Nov. 3 does provide a chance for a signature performance.
Washington State QB Gardner Minshew
He’s tucked away in the sleepiest town in the Pac-12, and Mike Leach’s quarterbacks always post such good numbers that they are frequently discounted. But with a season finale against a very good Washington defense, the nation’s leader in passing yards has a shot at making a lasting impression – provided anyone is awake to watch it.
Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy
Jeudy is unlikely to siphon off votes from Tagovailoa, but it will be interesting to see if he ends up a runner-up on enough ballots for the Crimson Tide to send two players to New York.
Jeudy is the most efficient receiver in the country, with 10 of his 31 receptions resulting in touchdowns. He’s also leading the nation with an average of 25.06 yards per catch. That’s a full 6 yards better than anyone else with at least 30 receptions.
If Alabama continues throttling opponents, he could sneak up on the rest of the field.
Notre Dame DL Jerry Tillery
It seems inconceivable for Notre Dame to go unbeaten and not produce a Heisman candidate, deserving or not. This is the school that made Joe Theismann change the pronunciation of his name to rhyme with Heisman, after all. They find a way. And it doesn’t really matter who they play.
The challenge here is that the best player on the Fighting Irish is a defensive lineman, so it’ll be a hard sell. But if Ndamukong Suh could make it to Manhattan in 2009, maybe the ND PR machine is capable of building a case for the talented Tillery.