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The 2018 college football season is only four weeks young, and yet it already feels like we’re down to four legitimate candidates (all quarterbacks) for the Heisman: Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and West Virginia’s Will Grier.
Making grandiose proclamations about the Heisman picture at this point in the season is, admittedly, a fool’s errand.
Case in point: Saquon Barkley was the runaway favorite at this time last year, but he finished in fourth place. Mason Rudolph and Sam Darnold were tied with Lamar Jackson for the third-best odds after Week 4, but Rudolph placed seventh while Darnold didn’t even sniff the top 10. And Bryce Love finished second in the vote, despite not appearing in the late-September top five.
Go back to previous years and you’ll find similar situations. History has proved that much can and will change between now and the official vote.
All the same, if you’re betting on anyone other than Tagovailoa, Haskins, Murray or Grier right now, please consider donating that money to a better cause, because you’re out of your mind.
Those four horsemen of the Heisman were already the clear favorites heading into Week 4, and they further distanced themselves from the pack with fantastic performances.
First, Tagovailoa ended any remaining debate about whether Jalen Hurts should ever play a meaningful minute again for the Crimson Tide.
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On Bama’s first offensive snap, Tagovailoa connected with DeVonta Smith on a 30-yard touchdown strike that looked an awful lot like the play that won the national championship last year. Tagovailoa’s shoulder fake was just enough to get fifth-year senior DB Donovan Wilson to bite on the route, opening the window to find a diving Smith in the end zone.
It was drop-dead gorgeous, and it was just the beginning. He finished with 387 yards and four touchdowns through the air, as well as 10 more yards and a fifth touchdown on the ground.
Tagovailoa had to do a little more work than usual, as this was Alabama’s first game of the season decided by less than a five-touchdown margin. (The Crimson Tide still won by 22.) But that increase in volume didn’t hurt his efficiency one bit. In fact, if you take what he did last week against Ole Miss (11-of-15, 191 yards, 2 TDs) and double it, it’s five yards away from being exactly what he did to Texas A&M.
His per-game numbers aren’t that out of this world, since he’s only averaging 20 pass attempts. But he has completed 72.5 percent of them at a rate of 12.9 yards per attempt—better than Baker Mayfield’s 2017 marks of 70.5 and 11.5, respectively. Tagovailoa has also thrown 12 touchdowns without an interception while rushing just often enough to force opponents to respect that part of his game, too.
It’s a similar story for Haskins, who was even more efficient in Week 4, albeit against a drastically less competent opponent.
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One week removed from leading the Buckeyes to a statement win over TCU, Haskins picked Tulane to pieces.
The Buckeyes got the ball six times in the first half and scored six touchdowns. Backup QB Tate Martell did lead the fifth of those six drives, but the other five all ended in passing touchdowns by Haskins.
We’re not talking about short scoring drives, either. Ohio State’s first drive began at its own 9 and the fourth possession started at the 7. It didn’t matter. Just meant more yards for Haskins.
He completed each of his first nine attempts, finishing the half at 21-of-24 for 304 yards and five touchdowns before getting the rest of the afternoon off.
For the season, he has completed 75.7 percent of passes, averaging just under 300 yards per game with 16 touchdowns against one interception.
But Tagovailoa and Haskins weren’t the only Heisman candidates with five-touchdown days. Grier also got there in West Virginia’s 35-6 win over Kansas State, throwing for 356 yards and five scores.
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Just another day at the office for Grier, though.
Excluding the injury-shortened game against Texas, he threw for at least 285 yards and multiple touchdowns in all 10 starts last year, including a trio of five-TD games. And he has picked up right where he left off with at least 330 yards and four touchdowns in all three games this year.
Grier set a new career long on an 82-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Simms in the first quarter. He later found Tevin Bush on a 62-yard bomb. And the scary thing is neither of those guys is one of his favorite targets for the deep ball. Gary Jennings Jr. and David Sills V are the leading receivers on a team that seems capable of passing for touchdowns in its sleep.
Grier did toss a pair of interceptions against the Wildcats, but it didn’t make a difference. And the occasional multiple-INT game didn’t keep Deshaun Watson out of the Heisman conversation in 2015 or 2016. When you have a guy like Grier averaging 4.7 touchdowns per game, that’s an acceptable part of the package.
And then there’s Murray, who had the least impressive Week 4 stat line of the four favorites, but who also saved his team’s season from going up in flames.
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Because Army possessed the ball for nearly 45 minutes, Murray only managed 15 pass attempts and seven rushes in an overtime affair. But he made the most of them, averaging 11.0 yards per pass and 10.1 yards per carry with four combined touchdowns.
The future Oakland Athletic led the Sooners on what should have been the game-winning drive at the end of regulation, except Austin Seibert missed a 33-yard field goal. Not discouraged, Murray needed just two plays to get Oklahoma into the end zone in overtime for what proved to be the winning score.
Despite limited opportunities in this one, it was Murray’s third consecutive game with at least three passing touchdowns and at least 69 rushing yards.
Mayfield’s replacement is averaging a Mayfield-like 11.7 yards per pass attempt, and he’s more of a rushing threat than the 2017 Heisman winner ever was. Could that legwork be what gives him a leg up on the competition?
These four Heisman favorites combined for 1,212 passing yards and 19 total touchdowns while keeping their respective teams undefeated. Meanwhile, guys like AJ Dillon and D’Andre Swift rushed their way further out of the conversation with subpar performances.
Maybe someone from Clemson or Georgia will find his way into the mix if those teams keep winning. At this point, though, it’s a four-horse QB race for the stiff-arm trophy.
Kerry Miller covers college football and men’s college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.