Breaking down each conference's front-runner and dark horse candidate heading into 2019 season
Just ask the likes of Sam Darnold, Deshaun Watson, Trevon Boykin and on and on. There is no more precarious position to be in when it comes to the Heisman Trophy race than the preseason favorite.
We've been waiting 15 years for the summer darling to be the one hoisting the hardware in the winter, so while Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and last year's runner-up, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa enter the season as the front-runners, remember that dark horses matter, too.
Yes, the household names will still drive the conversation, but herewith are each conference's leading candidate and that player you also need to keep an eye on as the season unfolds.
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ACC Favorite: Trevor Lawerence, QB Clemson
Like Tua Tagovailoa the year before him, Lawrence rode a transcendent performance in the national championship game to stardom. But, unlike Tagovailoa delivering Alabama that crown, Lawerence was already laying the groundwork for his 2019 campaign before the title game. After completing 65.2 percent of his passes last season for 30 touchdowns and four interceptions, Lawerence -- who is tied with Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa for the best odds -- is going to be at the helm of an offense poised to build off last year's 44.3 points (fourth) and 527.2. yards (third) per game.
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ACC Dark Horse: AJ Dillon, RB Boston College
Dillon suffered an ankle injury Sept. 29 vs. Temple, missed the next two games and still went over 1,000 yards for the second straight season, as he finished with 1,108 to go with 10 touchdowns on 227 carries. Healthy again, the junior is one of the country's surest bets to go for 1,500 plus yards as the Eagles have a schedule that includes seven rush defenses that ranked 63rd or worse last season, including five 80th or lower.
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Big 12 Favorite: Jalen Hurts, QB Oklahoma
There's no way Oklahoma and Lincoln Riley can do this again ... right? Hurts will try to follow up Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield and give the Sooners an unprecedented third straight Heisman and keep Texas' Sam Ehlinger at bay as the Big 12's top contender. The knock against him at Alabama was an inability to connect on intermediate routes, with a completion percentage of 47.3 percent back in '17 when he shouldered the brunt of the load for the Crimson Tide. Last season, only two teams completed passes of 15-24 yards than Oklahoma (106), so if Hurts can improve there, watch out as they try to bring another trophy to Norman.
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Big 12 Dark Horse: Tylan Wallace, WR Oklahoma State
As mentioned, Ehlinger is right there with Hurts in terms of the Big 12's most logical challengers for the trophy, but Wallace is certainly intriguing as a long shot. A Biletnikoff finalist last season as he finished third in FBS with 114.7 yards per game and he had 12 scores on his 86 receptions. Wallace had his two biggest games of the year vs. the top teams in the conference -- 220 yards and two TDs on 10 catches vs. Oklahoma and 222 and two more scores on 10 receptions against Texas -- and if he does that again, he'll have a chance to supplant the QBs as the Big 12's chief contender.
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Big Ten Favorite: Jonathan Taylor, RB Wisconsin
No active player has ran for more yards than Taylor's 4,171 and the reigning Doak Walker Award winner should become the 25th player to go for at least 5,000 career yards in his career as the focal point of the Badgers offense. If he can come close to duplicating 2018, when he ran for 2,194 yards, Taylor could challenge for a spot in the top five highest rushing totals ever. The other players from Power Five schools in that group (Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, Pitt's Tony Dorsett, Texas' Ricky Williams and USC's Charles White) all won the Heisman in their final seasons. If a running back can end the QB's three-year run, the best bets may be Georgia's De'Andre Swift or this Badgers RB ... but the question is whether Wisconsin can improve on last year's 8-5 mark? If not, Ohio State's Justin Fields will slip into this spot.
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Big Ten Dark Horse: Justin Fields, QB Ohio State
The Ryan Day era will get underway in Columbus with Fields at the helm after he transferred over from Georgia. Fields will bring the dual threat component that last year's Buckeyes QB, Heisman finalist Dwayne Haskins, didn't as Fields averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season for the Bulldogs. Fields has a big arm, but we only saw it in glimpses under Kirby Smart (vs. UMass, Fields had completions of 54 and 57 yards on consecutive series) as he played 12 games as Jake Fromm's backup, but never had more than eight pass attempts in any appearance. That will change as he has a weapon in the backfield in J.K. Dobbins to ease pressure and a deep receiver group led by K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor.
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Pac-12 Favorite: Justin Herbert, QB Oregon
He spurned the NFL to return to Eugene and the Ducks are the clear favorite to win their first Pac-12 crown in five years. Herbert threw for 3,151 yards and 29 TDs last season, and will be operating behind an offensive line that returns four all-conference performers from a season ago. Of note, Oregon's receivers led the country with 52 dropped passes last season, but got an upgrade there in Penn State grand transfer Juwan Johnson. There's plenty of hypes surrounding the Ducks and Herbert has an opportunity out of the game to answer them as they take on Auburn at AT&T Stadium.
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Pac-12 Dark Horse: Laviska Shenault, WR Colorado
A toe issue derailed Shenault last season and limited him to nine games, yet he still had 86 receptions for 1,011 yards and six scores and his 112.3 yards per game were fourth in FBS. If he stays healthy, Shenault should do serious damage against a Buffaloes schedule that's heavy on pass defenses that struggled in 2018, including seven ranked 78th or worse.
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SEC Favorite: Tua Tagovailoa, QB Alabama
The runner-up a season ago, this is the reality facing Tagovailoa: no one has won a Heisman the year after finishing second since Herschel Walker in 1982. The Crimson Tide QB is going to have an insane receiving corps to work with in Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle and Tagovailoa, who threw for 43 TDs last season, could make a run at the seventh 50-TD season in history. Keep in mind, just one of the players to hit that number -- Sam Bradford in 2008 -- would go on to win the Heisman.
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SEC Dark Horse: Kellen Mond, QB Texas A&M
Mond was 24th in total offense last season, a mere 1.6 yards per game behind Tagovailoa in throwing for 3,107 yards and 24 scores and he ran for another 474 yards and seven TDs. He offset all that with a 57.3 completion percentage that was 83rd and underscores how key consistency will be for Mond if he's going to get and keep the Aggies in the College Football Playoff race and aid his own case as he'll have head-to-head matchups with both Lawerence and Tagovailoa.
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GROUP OF FIVE Favorite: D'Eriq King, QB Houston
There may not be a player with a quicker entrance or exit into this race. The Cougars open the season at No. 4 Oklahoma and if King and Co. can pull of the upset, he'll be a darling navigating a schedule with enough meaningful games -- including No. 23 Washington State on Sep. 13 and NO. 17 UCF on Nov. 2 -- to keep people talking. King threw for 2,982 yards and 36 scores last season, while adding another 674 and 14 scores on the ground. Those running numbers will likely go down as new coach Dana Holgorsen says he doesn't want his QB running as much as last year's 111 attempts, but King is sure to put up monster numbers nonetheless.
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GROUP OF FIVE Dark Horse: Brandon Wimbush, QB UCF
The former Notre Dame starter was named Golden Knight's QB1, beating out redshirt freshman Quandry Jones and true freshman Dillon Gabriel as they replace the injured McKenzie Milton. He's not short on experience, starting 16 games for the Fighting Irish and enters the fray for a program trying to build on consecutive undefeated regular seasons. If UCF is puts together another similar run with Wimbush at the controls, he should garner some support.