Heisman Watchlist Feature: Derek Stingley, CB, LSU

The Heisman Trophy has been won by a quarterback in four consecutive seasons, and in nine of the past ten. A quarterback or running back has taken home the hardware every year since 1997, when Charles Woodson, a cornerback and punt returner for Michigan brought the trophy to Ann Arbor. So although including a defensive player on our Heisman watchlist may seem like a long shot, if there’s a star on the other side of the ball to break the defensive drought, it might be LSU sophomore Derek Stingley. Stingley is probably the best athlete on LSU, and there’s even been talk about him being utilized as a two-way player in 2021. But as of now, Stingley resides as the most dangerous returner on LSU’s championship defense, and likely the Tigers’ best chance of keeping the Heisman Trophy in the Bayou. 

Having graduated Patrick Queen and Grant Delpit, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is well aware that Stingely is the best piece on his 2020 defense, and without all-world Joe Burrow under center, he will need the Baton Rouge product to step up while Myles Brennan adjusts to the brutal life of a SEC quarterback. Orgeron is prepared to utilize Stingley in multiple roles, mixing him into some blitz packages as well as his traditional man-coverage role in LSU’s secondary. The ability to be a jack-of-all-trades defender increases Stingley’s Heisman potential, as edge rushers and linebackers more visibly impact games on every play, and thus they get more Heisman votes. Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith were the only two defensive players to finish in the top ten of Heisman voting in the previous three seasons. Stingley’s versatile skill-set draws natural comparisons to Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o in 2012, who finished second in Heisman voting, second only to the legendary season of Johnny Manziel. The Irish star finished that year with 113 tackles, 7 interceptions, and 1.5 sacks. Stingley finished last year with six picks and 38 tackles. As the best playmaker for the Tigers in 2020, he should get a chance to boost those numbers significantly. 

Last season, Stingley faced 94 targets, the second most by a cornerback in the nation, but he allowed just a 38.3% catch rate, a top-5 mark in college football. He played his best football towards the end of the season, intercepting Jake Fromm twice in the SEC title game, and recording four tackles and a fumble recovery in the Playoff. Playing in the SEC, Stingley will have some natural chances for Heisman moments – and if he can be the driving force in leading the Tigers back to SEC supremacy, expect him to be up in the Heisman conversation. 

Top Heisman Moment Opportunity
November 21, at Auburn
Finding a Heisman moment is a difficult balance between finding a big game on the schedule and one that brings chances for the candidate to put up big numbers. I think this contest at Auburn is a great chance, as it matches LSU against possibly the best SEC quarterback in Bo Nix, and with Auburn’s balanced offense playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Stingley will have a chance to be at his versatile best and stop the Tigers in a critical late season SEC West contest.

Game most likely to trip him up
September 26, vs. Ole Miss
Last year, Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee led the Rebels to 37 points against LSU defense. It wasn’t enough to take down Joe Burrow, but it was an extremely impressive performance from the freshman. Ole Miss is not a good team, but Plumlee leads a productive offense for the Rebels, and they could pose some serious issues early in the season for LSU’s defense. It’s a high-risk, low-reward game for Stingley, as a strong performance against a below-average SEC team does little to boost his Heisman chances, but if he struggles against the dynamic Plumlee, it will destroy his limited chances of breaking the stranglehold quarterbacks have on the Heisman Trophy.

Previewing the Top 5 non-conference football games of 2020

As we anxiously await word on the 2020 college football season, let’s preview the Top 5 non-conference games of the upcoming season.

5. Michigan @ Washington, September 5
This is a thrilling Week 1 battle, as both teams will be debuting new quarterbacks. Washington is trying to get back to the top of the Pac-12, and maybe back to relevancy on the national scale after a disappointing 8-5 record in Jacob Eason’s final season. Michigan is hoping to finally break through under Jim Harbaugh, but as of now, they’re certainly expected to continue playing second fiddle to Ohio State in the Big 10. This will be a statement victory for whoever emerges on top. I’m leaning towards Washington in this one – Michigan has really struggled in big games under Jim Harbaugh, and they’ve won just once as an underdog. Although they may not be an underdog in this one, a trip to the West Coast is a tough way to start the season. 
Washington 33 Michigan 23

4. Clemson @ Notre Dame, November 7

If Notre Dame can escape a tough test with Wisconsin earlier in the season, and don’t fall victim to any surprising upsets, this game should be a late-season clash of unbeatens. For Clemson, with a very weak ACC schedule, one loss makes them a long shot to make the Playoff, so they will need this win just as much as the Irish. For Notre Dame, they struggle to win big games under Brian Kelly, but they also rarely lose at home, having not lost in South Bend since Jake Fromm beat them 20-19 in 2017. I don’t think this will be a blowout, as Notre Dame plays with too much pride at home, but I don’t see Clemson dropping this one. With Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, and Justyn Ross back for more, the Tigers are primed for another undefeated season and a run at the national championship. They’ll get off to a hot start and stave off the Irish.
Clemson 35 Notre Dame 30

3. Alabama vs. USC, September 5
This is another great Week 1 game, as Alabama rarely faces a non-conference threat early in the season. USC figures to bounce back this season, coming off an 8-5 season that saw them start three different quarterbacks. With some consistency under center, the Trojans will be Pac-12 contenders, but they face a brutal first game in the Crimson Tide. Alabam’s quarterback situation just got a little clearer with Taulia Tagovailoa entering the transfer portal, and the job figures to go to star recruit Bryce Young, although senior Mac Jones will push to regain his starting job. The Crimson Tide rarely lose, however, and they’ll be hungry after being left out of a New Years 6 Bowl last season. However, I do think USC stays close and their high-powered offense will have the ability to go punch-for-punch with Alabama, who does have question marks with the departure of their quarterback and 1-2 receiver punch in Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs. Give me Bama in a close one in this neutral field battle. 
Alabama 42 USC 35 (overtime)

2. Texas @ LSU, September 12
This was thought to be a huge game last year, and it just became the first of many Heisman moments for Joe Burrow, while kick starting Texas’s spiral to a very disappointing season. However, after not feeling it last year, I’m finally jumping on the “Texas is back” train, as I do believe Sam Ehlinger is an elite quarterback who will dominate the Big 12 this season. However, the SEC is a much different animal, and LSU is the defending national champions. Myles Brennan is a very capable replacement at quarterback, the Tigers boast loads of talent at the skill positions, and their defense should still be very solid. That, combined with a significant homefield advantage, should land LSU a marquee home win to start the year. It’s going to be a good year for Texas overall, but this game will be a tough one.
LSU 38 Texas 20

1. Ohio State @ Oregon, September 12
Oregon’s home field advantage may be largely negated in this one if they aren’t allowed to have fans in this early-season contest, but the Ducks will most definitely be motivated for one of the biggest home games in program history. With College Football Playoff favorite Ohio State, led by Heisman candidate Justin Fields, coming into town, the Ducks will face a stiff challenge, especially having to replace Justin Herbert at quarterback. However, thankfully, this is less of an issue for Oregon, whose system is based on first-reads and their rushing attack. It’s easier for them to rebound from the loss of a stud quarterback, and the Ducks will be raring to go from the start. Ohio State may still make the playoff with an undefeated Big 10 campaign, but they’re not escaping Eugene. 

Oregon 41 Ohio State 34

Nelson: LSU’s Next Man Up

How does a college football team replace the most productive college quarterback the nation has ever seen? 

This is the question Louisiana State and head coach Ed Orgeron will be asking themselves come the beginning of the 2020 season. Joe Burrow, the number one overall pick of the NFL Draft, passed for the third-most yards of all time and the most touchdowns, while only throwing six interceptions in the process. It is the best performance anyone has seen out of a college quarterback for as long as many can remember. As for everyone in college, though, moving on is just part of the game. Roster turnover is nothing new for LSU’s four-year veteran head coach. The next-man-up mentality is one of the few pertinent ideas that every college coach knows. 

Who is that next man up for LSU at quarterback? 

Well, ladies and gentlemen, meet Myles Brennan.

PHOTO CREDIT: The Advocate

Before arriving in Baton Rouge, Myles Brennan tore up high school football in neighboring Mississippi. He was named Mississippi Class 4A Mr. Football his senior year in the Magnolia State. Despite these accolades, he was still only ranked the tenth-best quarterback in his recruiting class and the only blue-blood college football program to offer him a scholarship was his future team, the LSU Tigers. 

During his freshman year in the Bayou, Myles did not get much playing time only getting snaps once a game was too far out of hand. Even with this small sample size, the future did not look terribly bright, as Brennan threw two interceptions on only 24 passing attempts with a completion percentage under 60%. 

Not exactly the showing you hope for out of your four-star quarterback recruit if you are the LSU coaching staff. 

Myles played only one game his sophomore year before Joe Burrow stole the show during Brennan’s junior year. This junior year, despite backing up a legendary college quarterback, was a glimmer of hope for many LSU fans and coaches. Brennan still only was able to jump into games once they were all but over, still Myles made the most of his opportunities. His small sample size still limits the conclusions that are able to be drawn, but on an increased number of attempts, his interceptions decreased from his small freshman year stint. In order to see what Brennan brings to a revamped Tiger offense next year, I took a look at the few snaps he took in college and made some broad conclusions about what LSU can expect from the heir to Joe Burrow. 

The thing that stands out on tape for me is Brennan’s mind. I think this is and will be his greatest asset heading into whatever college football season we see this upcoming fall. 

Brennan is cool under pressure, something that many hope to see in young quarterbacks. There were a few plays where, even as a freshman, he was willing to stay in the pocket for routes to develop even with edge rushers bearing down on him. With this pressure, he also did not panic a bad throw that ended up sailing to the other team, rather, he was keen to find checkdowns to let his receivers make moves after the catch to get the yardage they needed. This ability will allow him to lessen the interceptions he throws next year and let his talented skills players take the burden of getting yards down the field. 

The second skill that truly stands out in this limited tape is Brennan’s ability to trust his receivers. LSU had some of the most talented running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends in years past, and will have some of those players returning for Myles’ senior year. Jamarr Chase is the number one receiving talent college football has seen in the last 10 years and is even threatening for the number one overall pick next year. Myles will need to rely on Chase and others to carry the load for him this season. Brennan has shown the ability to trust his receivers enough to throw the ball up to them when they’re covered one-on-one and if he continues this, it will lead to many scores for the Tigers next year. 

Brennan is not superbly talented with his arm, but where he does excel is similar to where Burrow excelled. Myles does not have A+ arm strength, but he is able to push the ball down the field when he finds it necessary. Myles is able to find tight windows and generally puts the ball in a spot where his receivers can do the rest of the work. 

Will Myles Brennan be able to pull off what Joe Burrow did last year for LSU?

The answer will probably be no. However, if Burrow taught college football fans one thing in his Heisman season, it is to never count out a quarterback until he is given the chance to shine. 

Recruiting Updates: LSU gets a big-time quarterback, Tennessee continues to dominate

Recruiting News

There was some big recruiting news dominating the college football headlines yesterday, with a few big names making commitments, but there will be bigger news tomorrow, as the #1 All-Purpose back of the 2021 class in Will Shipley announced he will commit on Tuesday, likely deciding between Clemson and Notre Dame. How about the major commitments that came out yesterday? Here are the top ones. 

Quarterback Garrett Nussmeier – LSU
Nussmeier is a four-star quarterback, who 247Sports has occasionally floated around as the top QB in the 2021 class. Although he had initially said he wanted to wait until he had a chance to visit all the schools who offered him, he decided earlier than expected, and he’s headed to join Coach Orgeron and the defending national champions, picking them over Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and others. 

Running Back Cody Brown – Tennessee

Tennessee continues to kill things on the recruiting front, as they landed a commitment from 4-star running back Cody Brown. He’s the #9 running back in his class, and Tennessee scored big on this one, beating out Ohio State, Georgia, and Auburn for his services. Brown is the second running back to commit to the Volunteers and the seventh recruit they’ve landed in the past week. Tennessee on the come up?

Defensive End Najee Story to Northwestern
When Northwestern was ranked #5 on ESPN’s list of top defenses in their FPI projections, there was a lot of questioning about the ranking – does ESPN know something about the Big 10 cellar-dwellers that everyone else doesn’t? Even if the ranking was generous, the Wildcats are trying to back it up, and they took a big step in that direction, landing four-star defensive end Najee Story. Northwestern beats out a bevy of Big Ten rivals for Story, including perennial powers Ohio State and Penn State. They even beat out the recent recruiting heavyweights in Tennesse, as well as Minnesota. 

Other Notable Recruits

4-star Defensive End Rodney McGraw to Penn State

4-star TE Elijah Arroyo to Miami 

4-star Defensive Tackle Victory Vaka to Texas A&M 

Cal Christoforo’s 3 Winners and Losers of the Draft: Where does Jalen Hurts fall?

Winner – Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals weren’t known to be searching for defense in the first round, but they obtained an absolute steal with the eighth overall pick, grabbing Isaiah Simmons out of Clemson. Simmons is listed as an outside linebacker, but he can truly play anywhere on the defensive side of the ball, and the fact that he was available at #8 was very surprising. It looked like Arizona had forfeited their chance to grab an impact player at offensive tackle, their biggest need, but somehow, in the third round, Houston tackle Josh Jones, ranked 17th overall on CBS’s draft board, was still available. The Cardinals grabbed the first round talent there, walking away with two steals. Considering their second round pick was part of the deal for DeAndre Hopkins, and the Cardinals were pretty happy with the usage of their top picks. 


Loser – Jalen Hurts

Doug Pederson may find a way to use Hurts in some creative packages, but ultimately, Jalen Hurts wants to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, and he’s now stuck behind Carson Wentz, who is locked in for another four years in Philadelphia. It’s going to be tough for Hurts to develop, especially considering Pederson’s commitment to Wentz. If winning a Super Bowl isn’t enough to supplant Wentz, nor is his multitude of injuries, it’s going to be a long road for hurts to gain prominence at the next level.

Winner – Wide Receivers
Wide receivers flew off the board left and right, with thirty-seven total receivers hearing their name called this past weekend. Six came in the first round, and seven more in the second, as NFL squads showed a desperate wish to grab receivers, finding value in all seven rounds. As dynamic offenses continue to take hold in the NFL, skill position players, particularly receivers, are becoming huge value picks. 

Loser – Las Vegas Raiders

Henry Ruggs was a good pick, but the Raiders started reaching with Damon Arnette, and then they took two more offensive players. I get offense is the new premium in the NFL, but when you’re in a division with Patrick Mahomes, you simply have to get some impact defensive players, and the Raiders just didn’t do that. Considering the Broncos and Chargers really putting together strong drafts, the Raiders could find them at the bottom of the AFC West next season. 

Winner – LSU
14 draft picks. Absolutely absurd. LSU set all kind of records, including an SEC record with 14 picks, along with becoming the first team to have their quarterback, wide receiver, and running back selected in the first round, as Clyde-Edwards Hillaire snuck in with the final pick of the round. Justin Jefferson, Joe Burrow, K’Lavon Chaisson, and Patrick Queen made it 5 LSU players taken in the first round. You can say what you want about how last year was just an anomaly, how LSU is not really the power of the SEC, but 14 draft picks will get you somewhere in recruiting, and that’s undeniable. Also, bonus points for LSU breaking the prior SEC record of 12 draft picks by getting long snapper Blake Ferguson picked in the sixth round. You love to see that. 

Loser – ACC

This is specifically targeted at the ACC not including Clemson. Clemson had a decent draft day, as would be expected from one of the top programs in the country, but the ACC in general struggled. In the first two rounds, only 3 non-Clemson ACC players heard their name called, and only one of those was in the first round (Mekhi Becton, Louisville). Running backs Cam Akers of Florida State and AJ Dillon of Boston College were the only other ACC players to leave the draft board. As Clemson continues to dominate the ACC, the lack of NFL interest in the other teams in the conference is a tough look for teams looking to recruit heavily and begin to compete with the Tigers once more.

2020 NFL Draft Profile: Grant Delpit, Safety, LSU

In our individual draft features, each of our team assigns a rating from the rating system described below. We combine our ratings to give one rating, a projection for where he will get picked, and best fits in the NFL. Here is our 2020 NFL Draft profile of LSU safety Grant Delpit.

Rating System

0.0-1.0 – Bust, you won’t remember this name in three years

1.0-2.0 – Mostly minor leagues and practice squads, occasionally makes the top level

2.0-3.0 – Gets some minutes off the bench, not a major contributor

3.0-4.0 – System player – not much of a ‘wow’ factor but could be utilized in a good system

4.0-5.0 – Role Player/Depth Guy (3rd down back, run block TE, etc) – can fill a hole

5.0-6.0 – Fringe Starter on the Depth Chart

6.0-7.0 – Top of the Depth Chart potential

7.0-8.0 – Starter with big season potential

8.0-9.0 – Consistent All-Star, one of the best in the league at his position

9.0-10.0 – Future Hall of Famer

Grant Delpit

College Kids Talking College Sports Grade: 7.6

Grade Range: 6.3 to 9.0

Best NFL Fits: New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints

Projection: Round 2, Pick 6 – Carolina Panthers

Analysis: No, I didn’t list the Panthers as a best fit for Delpit for a few reasons. One is the Giants, Browns, and Saints are more in the market for a safety than the Panthers, and they have better reason to pick one up. I have no doubt that all of those teams will, but I believe Delpit will go earlier than any of those teams are willing to commit to the position. Meanwhile, the Panthers may prefer a corner, but there are far more corner-needy teams entering this draft. The lack of teams searching for a safety that will start right off the bat makes me think that Delpit, a first-round talent, will slip into the early stages of the second round.

Carolina may not be desperately seeking a safety, but their entire defense is need of upgrading. For anyone not paying attention, they will now be facing Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan for a combined six games out of the year, and I’m not sure Carolina has a high-quality starter on their defense. Delpit will be far too enticing a talent to pass on early in the second round, and the Panthers will gladly take the LSU star and insert him into the starting lineup right away. Our entire team is pretty high on Delpit, as all of us believe he is ready to be a first-year starter, and if Carolina sees him in the second round, that’s an absolute steal.

SEC Status Report: It’s Wide Open Down South

The SEC might be the most interesting basketball conference this year and, come tournament time, they could have a bevy of representatives. There’s easily five or six teams I think could take the title, and a handful of teams who could be extremely effective spoilers. I believe Kentucky remains a title favorite, with Florida replacing Auburn in that category as well. Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas highlight the ‘best of the rest’ in the SEC. There’s lots to be decided here, so let’s take a look at biggest risers and fallers.

Biggest Risers: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State

  • The Gators are playing really well right now, despite their recent 2-point loss at LSU. They are 4-2 in SEC play, sitting third in the conference. They’re 7-1 at home, and I could definitely see the Gators upsetting #1 Baylor this weekend in Gainesville. With a favorable schedule after the Baylor game, Florida has put themselves in good position for a high seed and potential SEC title run.
  • Alabama opened some eyes by staying right with both Florida and Kentucky in road games, and they’ve now won three straight. They broke Auburn’s winning streak in dominant fashion, beating their rivals by 19 points. Games against Arkansas and LSU loom on the docket for the Crimson Tide, who will look to make some more noise in the SEC.
  • The Bulldogs had a bad loss to Alabama and followed it up with a heartbreaking defeat at LSU. That tough sequence could have send Mississippi State into a spiral, but they’ve responded with a pair of dominant victories (72-45 over Missouri and 91-59 over Georgia) and then a resume-boosting win over Arkansas just last night. This team is climbing back into the picture and while I wouldn’t pick them to win the SEC, I could definitely see them getting into the later rounds of the conference tournament.

Biggest Fallers: Auburn, Missouri

  • Auburn is still a very good team, but I dropped them out of the title favorite category after a 2-loss week. It wasn’t just that Auburn finally lost, but they got manhandled twice on the road by unranked teams. I’m pretty high on both Florida and Alabama, but you simply don’t do that as a top-5 team. A four-game stretch in February against Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, and Alabama could make or break the Tigers.
  • I listed Missouri as a dark-horse title pick after they beat up on Florida 91-75, but the Tigers have not impressed since. They lost by 27 to Mississippi State, by 14 to Alabama, and at home to a dismal Texas A&M squad. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if Missouri doesn’t even make the SEC quarterfinals, let alone the NCAA tournament.

Quick Hits

  • I believe the SEC has a lot of quality teams, and I could definitely see them sending 8 teams dancing when all is said and done. Give me LSU, Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Tennessee in the tournament.
  • I’m putting Georgia and Missouri on the bubble in the SEC. Both teams have shown potential, but they’ve suffered some ugly losses – I don’t think they’re in right now, but a solid end to the season could change that.
  • For all the talent at the top of the division, there’s a handful of pretty bad SEC teams. Here, I’m listing four that I don’t believe have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Teams that are declared dead are: South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.

Who Will Be The Next Joe Burrow? Here’s 9 possibilities

Before I start this blasphemous article, be assured I am not suggesting any of the quarterbacks on this list can match what Joe Burrow did this season. His numbers were historically great, and to predict that someone could come close to that would certainly be bold. However, by predicting the next Joe Burrow, I’m taking a look at QBs who are not necessarily a favorite right now to win the Heisman, but have the potential to experience a Burrow-esque breakout season and earn some hardware. I’ve broken up this list into three categories: Unlikely but fun to think about, Possibilities, and Favorites. Before starting that list, I just wanted to present the QBs who were too good to make the list; in other words, these QBs have odds too high (+1000 or better) to be considered for the Next Joe Burrow Award. 

  • Trevor Lawrence
  • Spencer Rattler
  • D’Eriq King
  • Justin Fields
  • Mac Jones
  • Bo Nix

Without further ado, here’s my best guesses at who could be the next Joe Burrow:

Unlikely

Ian Book – Notre Dame

Why he could: Book looked absolutely dominant in the second half of the season. After rushing for a game winning touchdown against Virginia Tech, Book was lights out, tossing 17 touchdowns to just two interceptions and racking up 295 yards on the ground at a 6.7 yards per carry clip. The potential is there, and with a home game versus Clemson and a road game against Wisconsin, Book has the potential for some Heisman moments if he can perform and lead the Irish back to the Playoff.

Why he won’t: Because Book has not performed consistently against good teams. He threw just three touchdowns and two interceptions in their two losses, finishing 8-25 for 73 yards against Michigan. Book also loses several offensive playmakers in Tony Jones, Cole Kmet, and Chase Claypool. Adjusting to life without Claypool and Kmet especially will be tough, and there may be a learning curve that hurts Books’ stats. 

Kedon Slovis – USC

Why he could: He was at his best at the end of the season. His three best games came in his last four weeks, including his bowl game that he was knocked out early. Slovis had better numbers than Ian Book overall, and he’s got a lot of talented receivers around them that can help boost his numbers. Playing in the Pac-12 won’t hurt either, as Slovis will get a few soft games to help his stats. His schedule is also chock-full of potential Heisman moments, with an early season game versus Alabama, a season finale against Notre Dame, and conference games at Oregon and Utah. 

Why he won’t: Slovis is young and error-prone, and USC is ridiculously injury-prone at quarterback. So he first has to stay healthy which was extremely tough this year, and he has to cut down on the interceptions; he had two 3-interception games this season. Slovis also likely will need to be more dynamic as a runner, as dual-threat QBs have become the norm and have dominated the Heisman trophy for over a decade. 

Myles Brennan – LSU

Why he could: To be honest, there’s not much reasoning here, other than he’s with the defending national champions who fully committed to an air-raid attack under Ed Orgeron and Joe Burrow. And while many LSU playmakers will depart for the NFL, Brennan is a competent signal-caller with several weapons returning, including national championship stud Ja’Marr Chase, and he will be greatly helped if Thaddeus Moss and Justin Jefferson return. 

Why he won’t: He has no starting experience and 40 pass attempts to his name. Passing guru Joe Brady just departed for the Carolina Panthers, and he will certainly lose a couple of his weapons. Definitely a long shot, but so was Joe Burrow. 

Possibilities

Sam Howell – UNC

Why he could: The Tar Heels’ signal-caller could certainly have a true breakout season, but a Heisman may be a long shot. Initial projections have the Tar Heels in the Orange Bowl next year and, if that holds steady, Howell may be in the national picture enough to generate some buzz. He’s demonstrated his ability to play at an elite level, as in his bowl game against Temple, when he threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns. 

Why he won’t: Howell is inconsistent as for every Temple-like game, Howell had another disaster, like when he put up 18 points against Wake Forest’s suspect defense. The Tar Heels are not a national powerhouse, and despite their turnaround this year, being in a NY6 bowl will rely on consistency and excellence from Howell himself. I’m not convinced he can handle that pressure. 

Brock Purdy regressed a little this year, but he is plenty capable of some gaudy numbers (Photo: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Brock Purdy – Iowa State

The Iowa State sophomore came out nowhere during his freshman year, but he took a small step back in his sophomore campaign, a middling season punctuated by a disappointing loss to Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl. But you’ll remember that Burrow didn’t exactly light the scoreboard up in his first season at LSU. Purdy has a stable coaching staff and plays in the Big 12, which isn’t exactly known for great defense. He could put up some gaudy numbers, and if Iowa State can stay ranked, Purdy may have a shot.

Why he won’t: Iowa State has not finished a season ranked in the Top 25 sine 2000. The Cyclones have been ranked at different times over each of the last three years, but they have not established consistent success. Iowa State likely needs to be a 9-win team for Purdy to even get consideration, and I’m not sure they can do that. After improving to 5-2 with a win over Texas Tech, Iowa State finished 2-4, and Purdy put up four of his five worst performances in that stretch, leaving hope a little dismal for the future. 

Spencer Sanders – Oklahoma State

Why he could: Sanders is a similar case to Purdy in that he plays in the Big 12, which has produced a finalist in four straight years – although admittedly, they were all Oklahoma quarterbacks. The Cowboys were ranked for a lot of this year, but they fell out with an ugly bowl game loss to Texas A&M. He’ll get some chances to prove himself in big moments, especially against Oklahoma, and a big season could have the Cowboys in the Top 20 with a chance at a Heisman finalist. 

Why he won’t: Quite simply, Sanders might be statistically the worst QB on this list, aside from the unproven Brennan. After balling out against Oregon State in the season opener, Sanders never again matched that game, and he had three games with multiple interceptions. The other problem is that, barring a major fallout by Chuba Hubbard, the Cowboys will be led by their star running back, meaning that Sanders could be relegated to a game manager, like he was this year at times, attempting 25 or less passes in seven different contests. He’s a competent game manager for sure, but game managers don’t win Heisman trophies. 

Hook Em. Can Sam Ehlinger bring some glory to Texas? (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

Top Picks

Sam Ehlinger – Texas

Why he could: I could really see this one happening. Ehlinger had an amazing sophomore season, but many people blamed him for Texas underperforming this year when, in fact, he was actually statistically better than last year on several levels. Aside from a couple duds, Ehlinger was really good, posting a quarterback rating of 89 or above in six games, including his best two performances in his final two games. Texas absolutely has the talent to be a national title contender, they just have to put it together for once. But Ehlinger, at a traditional football powerhouse? Coming off a slightly disappointing season that ended in a massive bowl win over a ranked team? Sounds a lot like Joe Burrow…

Why he won’t: The same reason for hope with Ehlinger – that he put up the numbers he did without playing his best – are also reasons for concern. Ehlinger had two total duds, against Baylor and Oklahoma, and a bad stretch of mediocrity for most of November, before he turned it around late with two great performances. Can he avoid long slumps like the one that plagued him this season; he had five games with a QBR under 73.8 – Burrow’s worst mark of the year. Also, can Texas avoid being Texas and actually perform to expectations? Those questions will be key if Ehlinger wants a chance. 

Kellen Mond – Texas A&M

Why he could: Mond has loads of natural talent, and when he puts it together, like he did in a three-touchdown performance against Mississippi State, he can be lethal. Combined with the Aggies’ great recruiting and a proven coach in Jimbo Fisher, the ingredients are there for Mond to explode this year. Playing in the SEC, much like Burrow, he’ll have lots of chances to prove himself against elite competition. If he rises to the occasion, Mond could have a special season with the Aggies. 

Why he won’t: He was pretty mediocre and at times downright bad this season. His performance against LSU in the regular season finale was probably the worst individual game any QB had on this list. I felt Mond was average or worse in probably eight or nine games,which isn’t exactly a recipe for Heisman votes. 

Kyle Trask – Florida

Why it could happen: Trask is probably the most similar to Burrow as far as where the LSU QB was heading into this season. Trask is a long-time backup, who got a chance to start this season and performed fairly well if not great. He’s on a very good SEC team who has long played second fiddle within their own division, but has a chance to go further next year. The initial CBS Sports projection has the Gators in the Playoff next year, which could happen if the usurp Georgia in the SEC East. If that happens, and Trask is a major reason why, expect the Florida signal-caller to be near the top of the lists.

Why he won’t: Obviously he is not a favorite, but there’s no other obvious reason to not like Trask’s chances. The biggest concerns are probably Florida being able to finally take the next step, and whether Trask can level up; the long-time backup avoided any horrible games, but he also only had a couple games that you could qualify as ‘great’. His biggest difference from Burrow’s 2018 season, is that Burrow played his best four games of the season in the last four games, indicating a sign of things to come. You can’t say that about Trask, who was probably actually a little bit worse in his final four games.

My official prediction as of now is that one QB will make this list – and my guess is Ehlinger. I could definitely see Ehlinger joining Spencer Rattler and Justin Fields and Chuba Hubbard in New York next year, with Kyle Trask finishing in the Top 10 in voting. And if Ehlinger performs, he could find himself making an acceptance speech at the podium. 

5 Takeaways From the CFP National Championship

What a game. What a season. The college football season came to a conclusion as LSU completed a historic season with a 42-25 victory over #3 Clemson, snapping a 29-game winning streak in the process. After a surge in the second quarter, LSU maintained their lead, pulling away in the fourth quarter. Joe Burrow tossed six touchdown passes, bringing his total to 13 TD passes and one rushing TD in the two-game playoff. They were historic numbers that capped the best season ever put forth by a college quarterback. And without getting too ahead of ourselves, we’d like to extend our best wishes to Joe Burrow in turning around the Cincinnati Bengals, as that is likely his next task as the #1 pick in the upcoming draft. 

But, as fun as it is to pour over the LSU Tigers’ historic season from every angle, we’ll discuss 5 other takeaways from the CFP title game.. 

Takeaway #1: The Targeting Call

If I had to rank every factor that impacted the results of the College Football Playoff, my list would probably start with Joe Burrow, with targeting calls close behind. In each playoff game, there was a targeting call and ensuing ejection. Now the targeting call in the LSU-Oklahoma, where Clyde Edwards-Hilaire was blindsided by a brutal hit from behind, was not very controversial, and I don’t believe anyone really questioned that call. Nor did it really affect a game which LSU was already beginning to control and ended up winning by 35 points. 

However, the other two calls? They were both controversial and definitely affected the game in a major way. Ohio State’s Shaun Wade was called for targeting for his sack of Trevor Lawrence. The sack was a big play that should have ended a Clemson drive and kept the score 16-0 Ohio State. Wade was called for targeting on the play, leading to his ejection, 15 yards and a first down for the Tigers, who later scored and turned around the momentum of the game. 

By the rulebook, what Wade did was targeting, but that is horrible. Targeting, especially if it results in an ejection, should be reserved for clearly dirty hits that had the intent of injuring a player, or unnecessary violent acts in the game. Wade was making a football play and  the fact that in the rulebook what he did merited an ejection is awful. At the very least, they need to have seperate targeting penalties, one for plays that were questionable but not ejection-worthy and then penalties, like the one in the LSU-Oklahoma game, that qualify for ejection. 

In the title game, Clemson was the victim of a weak ejection, as stud linebacker James Skalski was tossed for a hard hit in the third quarter. Again, what Skalski did, by the rulebook, was targeting, but by no means was it excessively violent or even unnecessary. While he led with his head, Skalski did not make head-to-head contact, and his extra effort was enough to stop any further gain from LSU receiver Justin Jefferson. At the time of the call, Clemson was down 28-25 and had stopped LSU on consecutive drives. Without Skalski, the Tigers struggled and never seriously threatened again. 

Between the two targeting calls, the team who had a player ejected was outscored 43-7 after the penalty, clearly demonstrating a major impact on the game. Neither of these plays were made with dirty or violent intent, and during the flow of play, they looked like normal football plays. Targeting is becoming far too controversial; the rule has to be fixed. 

Takeaway 2: Pass Interference Is Still Unclear

This is a major problem at every level of the sport, and it was evident again last night. Clemson was first the beneficiary and then the victim of horrible pass interference calls. First, LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton made a great play, jumping a route by Justyn Ross and making an interception. The pick was a likely dagger, as it would have handed the ball back to a red-hot Joe Burrow with a chance to make the lead three possessions. But instead, Fulton was called for an extremely questionable pass interference call. Replay indicated that Fulton may have caught a small fistful of Ross’s jersey in his hand, but the contact seemed to neither affect the receiver’s movement or his balance as he stayed on his feet and appeared unimpeded. Yet after the pick, Ross began pleading for a flag, and the refs obliged, taking away a potentially game-winning play from the LSU defense. 

However, once again, Clemson was victimized by a play that had earlier saved them. Down 42-25 and likely needing to score on every remaining possession, Trevor Lawrence unleashed a deep ball to Tee Higgins. He caught it and waltzed into the end zone only for a flag to deter his celebration. The official closest to the play deemed Higgins’ contact with his defender merited an offensive pass interference that not only negated the touchdown, but slapped Clemson with a 15-yard penalty and a 1st and 25 at their own 36. The Tigers punted soon after, and the game was never in doubt. Replay cast a lot of doubt on the call; LSU cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. made lots of contact with Higgins throughout the route, and when Higgins used his physicality to gain position, never extending his arms, Vincent either demonstrated horrific balance or exemplary acting and flopping skills, as he splayed out on the sideline, allowing Higgins to make the catch unimpeded. 

Put it this way: If that was offensive pass interference…we definitely need to replay the Saints-Vikings OT possession, because what Tee Higgins did was not even close to what Kyle Rudolph did. There was contact on the play. Higgings kept his balance, and Vincent did not, yet Higgins was penalized. The call was not only horrible but also likely cost the game a lot of viewers as a potential 10-point game with ten minutes to go turned into a 17-point game with the winning team in possession. Game over. Thank you refs. 

Clemson’s last gasp was stifled by a questionable pass interference penalty against Tee Higgins. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Takeaway #3 The SEC is the best conference in football

OK, we probably already knew that. But as a Notre Dame fan and Maine resident, I’ve often considered myself an SEC-hater and usually needed extra-convincing when regarding any positive take on the conference. But last night’s title game left no doubt; for one, the SEC put their third different team into the title game in the Playoff era – no other conference has more than one, and the Big 12 is yet to have a representative. That was impressive, but what was arguably more impressive was that Monday’s title game was not LSU’s biggest test of the season. 

I would argue it was their third toughest game of the year, ranking their matchups with the Florida Gators and Auburn Tigers #1 and #2 on that list. The Gators were the only team to lead LSU at any point in the second half, leading the Tigers 28-21 in the third quarter. LSU played Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Texas, and Auburn; none of those teams ever led LSU in the second half. Clemson may have had a 10-point lead, but they ultimately never surpassed LSU’s halftime score, and they finished three points shy of what Florida put up on the scoreboard.

 Meanwhile, Auburn put up the stiffest defensive resistance to LSU’s historic offense. Outside of this game, LSU never scored less than 36 points in a game. Against Auburn, they scored 23. Heading into the title game, I felt this was evidence that LSU’s offense could be stopped and Clemson could replicate Auburn’s performance. After the title game, I’m left with only one possible takeaway: the SEC is simply better than every other conference. Auburn was probably the 4th or 5th best team in the SEC and they were 20 points better than Clemson on the defensive side of the ball. Clemson put up a good fight last night, but they simply did not push LSU to the brink like Florida or Auburn did. 

Takeaway #4: The ACC (and the rest of the country) should be very scared about facing Clemson next year

Trevor Lawrence has lost two football games as a high school and college quarterback. Last night, and his final high school game. The high school loss broke a 41-game winning streak, and Lawrence responded by opening up his college career with 29 straight wins. Whether you’re Notre Dame – Clemson’s top non-conference opponent – or the ACC, I would be extremely scared to be facing Trevor Lawrence. It’s his last college season before he declares for the draft, and you better believe he has one goal in his mind. The Tigers have already been declared 2020 national championship favorites – thanks to the departure of Joe Burrow -, and this team will come out ready to roll over their opponents next season. I would not look forward to this matchup if I’m on their schedule. 

Walking away from this scene will certainly motivate Trevor Lawrence in 2020. Gerald Herbert/AP/Shutterstock

Takeaway #5: LSU Playmakers Boost Their Draft Stock

I could focus on the LSU receivers, but quite honestly, I don’t believe much happened today that was particularly shocking or eye-opening based on their previous play this season. Assisted by Joe Burrows’ precision passing, LSU wide receivers continue to put up gaudy numbers and win a ridiculous number of 1-on-1 battles. Many of them will be Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks when they declare, but I don’t think the National Championship particular boosted them excessively. 

I would also praise Burrow for proving once more that he can throw and deliver under pressure. LSU’s offensive line did not have their best game and allowed Burrow to be pressured frequently, but the Heisman winner still delivered a near-immaculate performance. He didn’t really elevate his draft stock, as the Bengals were picking Burrow #1 no matter what happened on Monday, but they probably enjoyed watching him succeed under pressure, given the state of their own offensive line. The two offensive playmakers I thought truly boosted their draft stock for LSU was Thaddeus Moss and Clyde Edwards-Hilaire. 

Moss often played second fiddle in the LSU receiving corps, and he never put up eye-popping numbers. But on Monday night, Moss hauled in two touchdowns and five receptions for 36 yards, proving himself capable of taking on a critical role, particularly in a red zone offense. Tight ends who can dominate in the red zone can elevate an offense to another level, and Moss proved that, along with his physical build and speed, he has the ability to be a difference maker near the end zone, and that will have a lot of teams anxious to take him, likely on Day 2 of the draft. 

Edwards-Hilaire became a focal point of the LSU offense after their stagnant start on Monday’s game; once LSU adjusted to Clemson’s gameplan, their running back became a key cog of their performance, taking screens and short passes in the backfield and the flat, but also keeping Clemson off balance by churning out five or six yards per carry when necessary. The all-purpose back but up 164 yards and, after dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, proved his ability to be both versatile and physical. Not the fastest back in the upcoming draft, Edwards-Hillaire likely jumped up a few draft boards with his title game performance.