Tua Tagovailoa stole America’s hearts in the national title game and is now one of the Heisman favorites. Does he deserve to be?
Tua Tagovailoa is very good at football. After watching him lead Alabama to a come-from-behind win in the National Championship game, that should be obvious.
Tagovailoa can do something that not many of his predecessors in Tuscaloosa have been able to do: he can sling it. And although he isn’t a “running” quarterback, he is a dual threat. He is atheltic and mobile enough to create plays with his feet and maybe even have a designed run play or two.
But is he good enough to merit Heisman consideration heading into next season? I say, unequivocally, yes.
The early Vegas odds for the 2018 Heisman trophy were released earlier this week, and Tagovailoa was given 10-to-1 odds, fourth best of any player in the country, behind only Stanford running back Bryce Love, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, and Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate.
That assumes, one, that Tagovailoa will earn the starting job at quarterback next season, and, two, that he will be able to put Heisman-caliber numbers despite having never started a college football game before. Both seem reasonable to assume.
Despite the presence of rising junior Jalen Hurts, who was Alabama’s starting quarterback for the past two season, there shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Tagovailoa in winning the starting job. Hurts has experience and is a well-above-average athlete, but, like many Crimson Tide quarterbacks before him, he is a terrible passer. That’s unfortunate for Hurts because a key element of playing quarterback is throwing the ball.
Tagovailoa on the other hand showed time and again during his half-plus on the field January 8 (and once against Vanderbilt) that he can throw the rock. He can generate a passing a game. He can stimulate an offense unlike any Alabama quarterback in the Nick Saban era. I can’t imagine that Saban will pass up on the opportunity to be able to combine a legitimate passing attack with some of the best running backs in the nation and a permanently formidable defense.
But even if he does secure the starting gig, will he be able to follow up his national championship performance and string together a full, Heisman-worthy, season-long campaign?
Tagovailoa was a consensus five-star quarterback, the No. 1 dual threat quarterback in the Class of 2017, and the No. 3 quarterback overall. His 0.9843 composite rating by 247Sports is one of the highest recruit ratings for an Alabama quarterback commit since Saban took over the program in 2007. Since he is from Hawaii, Tagovailoa naturally inspires comparisons to former Oregon star and Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota, whose ranking was 0.8631.
Ratings obviously aren’t everything. Clearly Mariota was leaps and bounds better than his rating showed, and many recruits with high ratings have turned out to be busts. But they are, especially for players ranked that highly, generally a good indicator of what a player is capable of at the college level. You rarely get a rating that high if you don’t possess elite ability.
Last season, in mop up duty and the national title game, Tagovailoa completed 63.6% of his passes for 8.26 yards per attempt. There is no reason to suspect that those numbers, already solid for a true freshman, won’t improve next year. He also threw for 11 touchdowns on just 77 pass attempts, which is both an absurd rate at which to throw touchdowns – Baker Mayfield, Drew Lock, and Riley Ferguson all had lower percentages of touchdowns vs. attempts – and six touchdowns fewer than the incumbent, Hurts, who attempted 255 total passes.
Tagovailoa absolutely has the ability to put up unholy numbers in 2018 – numbers worthy of a Heisman.
To win a Heisman, you need three things:
1. To put up a bunch of crazy stats.
2. To play for a nationally competitive team that racks up wins.
3. To have a “Heisman moment,” ranging from an impressive come-from-behind victory, a dominating, full-game performance against a top-tier opponent, or one singular spectacular play to head the highlight tape and exemplify the individual as worthy of a Heisman.
**You should also preferably play quarterback. Since the 2000 season, 15 of the 18 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, and technically Reggie Bush’s win doesn’t count anymore, so it’s really 15-of-17.**
Tagovailoa can check all of those boxes.
He plays quarterback; he has all of the ability, both with his arm and with his legs, to produce Heisman-level statistics week in and week out, even against top-tier defenses; Alabama is going to win a ton of games, like it does every year, and remain in the national spotlight and in the hunt for another title; and he will have multiple opportunities during the season (vs. Louisville, vs. Texas A&M, at LSU, and vs. Auburn to name a few) to create a Heisman moment.
Whether he actually takes home the trophy next season is unknown. But Tagovailoa definitely deserves the preseason Heisman hype that he is getting.
Edited by Jazmyn Brown.
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