What has seemed inevitable may still well be. But the rest of the Heisman Trophy challengers may now have something they haven't in months: a chance.
When Tua Tagovailoa was helped off the field after taking a helmet to the knee last Saturday against Mississippi State, the entirety of Alabama held its collective breath. But it may have provided his prime challengers in the trophy race with an opportunity that has seemed impossible.
That's the state of the dominance of Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide offense got us nine weeks into the season, to the point where it was going to take something cataclysmic, or at the very least gameplan-altering to potentially derail the sophomore quarterback's randevu with the award.
The Big 12's Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) and Will Grier (West Virginia) face off No. 23 in Morgantown, then could meet a week later for a conference title and No. 4 Michigan's Shae Patterson can add a top-10 win to his resume against No. 10 Ohio State on Nov. 23.
But if Tagovailoa is limited -- and he hasn't been as spectacular since reaggravating a knee injury on a long run against LSU, throwing as many touchdowns (two) as interceptions the last two games and had his worst stat line vs. Mississippi State (14 of 21 for 164 yards and a score -- over these next weeks with Auburn and No. 5 Georgia to come in the SEC Championship Game, could he possibly lose what's seemed predetermined?
It's still likely to happen. The buffer that Tagovailoa built up may be insurmountable, and Nick Saban scoffed at the notion that he'd sit his QB this weekend against The Citadel. So all of this may be for naught.
But with Alabama having little reason to ride Tagovailoa until they face Georgia in Atlanta, and spotlight games for his chief rivals, possibility at least has entered a race that has seemed over since mid-October.
We'll get into the players who are rising and falling in the race below, but first, here's a look at how things would stack up through 10 games.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama QB 2. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma QB 3. Will Grier, West Virginia QB
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ON THE RISE: Gardner Minshew, Washington State QB
The mustache love is real, as coach Mike Leach donned one -- not by his own doing -- in a postgame interview and, and the stars are very real too. Minshew's 385.2 yards per game and 3,852 yards top FBS and he's now thrown an incredible 523 passes, 135 more than anyone else with 29 touchdown passes. Chances are Minshew tees off on Arizona, which is 82nd in pass efficiency defense (137.7) and has as many interceptions (seven) as Minshew has thrown in those 500-plus attempts. With the Apple Cup vs. No. 18 Washington, Minshew, his facial hair and No. 8 Washington State are trending in the right direction.
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ON THE RISE: Will Grier, West Virginia QB
This much we know: Oklahoma State is bad at defending the pass. Like really, really, really bad. The Cowboys are ranked 102nd, yielding 255.5 ypg, and are 94th in points allowed (31.7). In four games against Top 25 teams, only seven schools have allowed more TD passes (10) and Oklahoma State has picked off just one of 153 pass attempts. Grier, who has rattled off nine scoring strikes over the last three games with just one pick amid a string of 340-plus yard games, was held in check by Mike Gundy's crew last year, throwing for 285 yards, two scores and a season-high four picks. Expect Grier to flip the script this time around.
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FALL GUYS: McKenzie Milton, UCF QB
No. 24 Cincinnati presents the toughest test yet for No. 11 UCF, which currently has the highest ranking for a Group of 5 team in the College Football Playoff era. The Bearcats are stingy on defense, ranking sixth in total D (279.8 ypg) and seventh in points allowed (14.9 per), yet it would be stunning if they completely shut down Milton and an offense that's racking up 543 ypg (third nationally). The real issue is with the Golden Knights' 90th-ranked defense, has put Milton and Co. in a position where they needed second-half comebacks in two straight games vs. in which they've yielded 64 total points. That storyline is eventually going to spell the end of the winning streak and it may come as early as Saturday night.
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FALL GUYS: Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State QB
It's been a forgettable last three games for the early-season challenger to Tagovailoa. Granted, he flirted with 500 yards vs. Purdue, but it was a loss in which he had a season-low 127.5 ratings and he's since topped that with a paltry 118.9 in throwing for one TD in last weekend's win over Michigan State. Add in a 56.3 completion rating in the narrow victory against Nebraska in the week between the Boilermakers and Spartans and Haskins is a month removed from his last sterling outing, when he hit on 75 percent of his passes with three TDs and no picks vs. Minnesota. The Wolverines and a chance to reshape his and the Buckeyes' season remains, but a trip to Maryland this week won't do much to help Haskins' case.