There's a long-running debate in nearly every other sport about what it means to be the MVP. Is the award for the best player? The guy who's literally the most valuable? And what exactly does value mean?
The fact that there's no definitive answer to those questions makes it a fun debate. For the Heisman, though, we tend to use a narrower lens, a focus on the QB or the tailback on the best team or, alternatively, the guy on a good team with the best stats. And for 2018, that has left us with a pretty clear leader in the race for the trophy: Tua Tagovailoa.
As Alabama moved to 10-0 with another decisive win, it's tough to knock the love for the Tide's QB. But Saturday also reminded us that the case, should we measure it truly by the value a player adds to his team, isn't quite so simple.
In Bedlam, Kyler Murray made his case. He completed 21 of 29 throws. He averaged 12 yards a pass. He topped 400 yards of offense for the fourth time this season (and twice more, he has topped 395). Murray has done all this in the long shadow of last year's Heisman winner, on an offense that lost its star tailback in Week 2, with a defense that has already required a change at coordinator and looks about as enthusiastic to slow down traffic as a TSA agent on his lunch break.
We know Alabama would be elite with or without Tagovailoa. But take Murray off Oklahoma's roster and the Sooners would be lucky to be a .500 team.
Or how about the mustachioed magician at Washington State? Gardner Minshew has done more for the mustache than anyone since Tom Selleck, and he has done even more for the Cougars' offense. Minshew is completing 70 percent of his throws with 32 total touchdowns -- slightly ahead of Tagovailoa in both categories. Of course, Tagovailoa hasn't had nearly so many opportunities, but that's part of the point. The Alabama offense is chock full of superstars, but Washington State has needed every big throw Minshew has made. And, for what it's worth, he has made more than twice as many as Tagovailoa and has 306 more dropbacks this season when the game is within two scores. So do we reward the guy who's making the most of a smaller opportunity or the guy who has had to carry twice the load?
None of this is a knock on Tagovailoa. He can't help that his team is great, and it's clear he has taken Alabama from elite to historically good. But before we simply hand him the Heisman, it seems worth taking a deeper look at a couple of other QBs who've had to sweat out a lot more finishes, carry a lot bigger burden and overcome a bunch of extra obstacles.
And then, when we're done doing that, we should still probably give the trophy to Tagovailoa.
More devil's advocate
Remember the movie "The Devil's Advocate"? It was either a bad Al Pacino flick or a good Keanu Reeves movie, depending on your perspective. It's sort of the Pitt football of mid-'90s supernatural thrillers, firmly straddling the fence of mediocrity. It's also one of those movies that feels like the writers came up with the title first and then fit a plot around it, which makes sense because it's a great title, and we might as well rip it off here for a look at some more hot takes we might or might not believe but warrant a little discussion.
What if Alabama is beatable?
Back-to-back games for the Tide have resulted in back-to-back shutouts, which provided the shocking revelation that maybe Alabama's defense is pretty good. Of course, it's worth noting that LSU and Mississippi State had two of the least impressive offenses the Tide will play this season. The bigger takeaway is that Alabama's new high-octane offense failed to crack 30 in either game. The Tide had two sustained drives in the first quarter against Mississippi State, but their only other TD came with a short field. In the playoff, Alabama would potentially have to get through both Michigan and Clemson, two teams that can match that type of dominant defense but bring a bit more to the table offensively. And with Tagovailoa still nursing a gimpy knee, the margin of error for the Tide might not be quite as wide as we assume.
What if fortune favors only the semi-bold?
We all applauded Dana Holgorsen's decision to go for two against Texas last week because it takes some real guts to make a call like that. With Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy this week, however, we already knew the guy had some confidence, as our Tom Van Haaren noted.
Mike Gundy has a mullet, a mock turtleneck on under a shirt that is tucked into his pants. The confidence it takes to pull all of that off is off the charts.— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) November 11, 2018
So maybe there's a limit here. Sideline Red Bull and a great comb-over? Bold enough to go for two. Mullet, turtleneck and shirt tucked into your khakis? Too bold. Settle for the tie.
What if UCF really does belong?
The Knights beat Navy by 11 and led by double-digits the final three quarters of the game. A week ago, they won by 12, actually covering the spread against Temple. The feedback? Bad games, proof UCF doesn't belong. What's a team gotta do? Yes, the schedule has been soft, but as Fresno State showed earlier this week, the Group of 5 isn't exactly a cakewalk. In fact, the Group of 5 teams that have gotten off to a 9-0 start have typically lived up to the hype. Eleven others from non-BCS/Power 5 leagues have done it in the past decade, and six of them played in BCS or New Year's Six bowls, with four winning (and one losing to another Group of 5).
What if we were underestimating Notre Dame?
The popular narrative for the past week was the Irish weren't worthy of the No. 3 ranking, and that despite losing to Notre Dame in the opener, Michigan was the better team today. Really? The Wolverines looked fine against Rutgers, but against a train wreck like the Scarlet Knights, "fine" is the bare minimum. Meanwhile, while the Irish rolled against Florida State, it's worth reconsidering their mediocre performances. That Pitt game -- a five-point Irish win -- doesn't look so bad anymore, as the Panthers are now on the brink of an ACC Coastal title, fresh off a blowout of Virginia Tech. Northwestern, too -- a 10-point Notre Dame victory -- is looking a bit better. The Wildcats wrapped up the Big Ten West on Saturday. So, Notre Dame has been pushed twice, and both times by teams likely to play for a conference championship. That's not so bad.
Best fake mustaches
Minshew provided Mike Leach with a particularly distinguished-looking fake mustache after Saturday's win. But where does it rank in the pantheon of great fake facial hair?
Mustache Mike Leach 🤣 pic.twitter.com/d3ZwApa4Ov— ESPN (@espn) November 11, 2018
1. Bobby Valentine's fake mustache after being ejected from a game with the Mets.
2. Teen Wolf. Sure, the beard gave him confidence. But he had the confidence inside him all along.
3. Groucho Marx. Others have done it better, but he was the O.G.
4. Leach's mustache. "I don't know why everybody only notices his. A lot of these kids have mustaches, anyway. Now I do."
5. Dabo Swinney does Undercover Boss. The fake Dabo mustache only makes us wonder if he actually shaves. He seems too wholesome to need a razor.
Saturday misery rankings
As we close in on the playoff, let's take a look at some of those contenders from September who never quite materialized.
1. Miami: How did it get so bad so quickly? The Canes have now lost four straight and are just 5-8 in their past 13. The airplane-banner business in South Florida is about to get lucrative again.
2. Virginia Tech: From 2004 through 2017, Virginia Tech's defense gave up 49 points or more only once -- and it came in a win. So far this year, the Hokies have surrendered 49 three times, including the 52-22 shellacking by Pitt on Saturday. We're one more ugly performance away from replacing the lunch pail with a bag full of expired Lunchables.
3. Wisconsin: At least all the Badgers fans eager to blame Alex Hornibrook for the team's struggles got a chance to see the alternative, as Jack Coan went 9-of-20 for 60 yards with two picks in a loss to Penn State.
4. TCU: Remember when the Horned Frogs were ranked No. 12 nationally and led Ohio State in the second half in Week 3? Neither do we. Saturday's thumping by West Virginia means TCU has lost six of eight.
5. Colorado: After a 5-0 start to the year, the Buffaloes have lost five straight, which really puts a kink in the goal of having the entire Pac-12 South finish in a tie for first place.
Rocky Top rolling
So what if Tennessee has won two only SEC games in the past two years. They've both been against ranked teams, after the Vols dominated Kentucky on Saturday. Given how bad things looked early this season, Tennessee now needs only one win in its final two games (vs. Missouri, at Vanderbilt) to go bowling. And if you predicted Tennessee would beat No. 11 Kentucky by more than it beat Charlotte a week earlier, well, go ahead and light up a Butch Jones victory cigar.
Lawrence gets tested
Perhaps as much as getting the win Saturday that clinched the ACC Atlantic, the test against Boston College was a chance to measure how ready Clemson's Trevor Lawrence might be for what awaits in the playoff.
The results? Mixed.
BC entered play ranked 20th nationally in both passer rating and yards per attempt allowed, and had the fourth-most interceptions in the country, so this was by far the toughest opponent Lawrence has played since taking the starting job for the Tigers. And he certainly had his share of highlights Saturday, throwing for just shy of 300 yards, including a couple of gorgeous throws downfield. But he also made a bad decision on an INT late in the game and a couple of drives that stalled in the red zone.
On Oct. 1, Pitt, Northwestern and Iowa State were a combined 4-9, with losses to the likes of North Carolina, Akron and TCU. But since then, those three have been among the best teams in the country, a combined 14-2 with both losses coming to No. 3 Notre Dame in close fashion.
Northwestern clinched the Big Ten West on Saturday with a dramatic win over Iowa, led by Isaiah Bowser's 165 rushing yards. Pitt seized control of the ACC Coastal, too. Qadree Ollison had 235 yards on the ground to lead the way. Both teams have found rejuvenated run games in their runs to the top of their respective divisions.
For Iowa State, tailback David Montgomery wasn't quite so lucky. He was tossed from the game after a scuffle on the sideline, later tweeting an apology. It didn't matter much in the outcome, though, as the Cyclones dominated Baylor, and with a head-to-head win over West Virginia, they've got a decent shot at the Big 12 title, too.
Quote of the week: "I'm the only guy that matters on that. I don't give a s--- what they think." -- Mike Gundy on the players' reaction to going for two to win the game. At least he didn't add the noises he provided two weeks ago when discussing social media.
Nebraska finding its stride
Nebraska has four losses this season by five points or fewer, which has made for a frustrating season, but it also has potentially covered up the real progress the Huskers have made. With a win over Illinois on Saturday, Nebraska moved to 3-7. With a few lucky breaks, they could have been 8-2, and the offense has hit 30 in five straight games now. Oklahoma is the only Power 5 team with a longer streak.
HOLD ON! HOLD ON! 🤕 pic.twitter.com/MYN1QYmyUr— ESPN (@espn) November 10, 2018
Wildest ride of the week
Sure, Bedlam was full of back-and-forth offensive fireworks, but that's nothing compared to the ride this Oklahoma student endured, keeping the flag flying as he nearly toppled out the back of the Sooner Schooner. We haven't seen this kind of wagon-related drama since a failed attempt to ford the river when playing "Oregon Trail."
Duke's Daniel Jones nearly singlehandedly toppled North Carolina on Saturday, dominating the Heels with both his arm and his legs. Jones finished with 361 passing yards and three passing touchdowns, to go with 186 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. The only other QB to match all those totals in the same game in the past decade? That'd be Johnny Manziel during his 2012 Heisman season against Louisiana Tech.
Bowling with Herm
No coaching hire drew as much scorn as Arizona State's experiment with Herm Edwards, but it's hard to argue with the results so far. The Sun Devils held on to beat UCLA on Saturday, getting to 6-4 on the season, with all four losses coming by seven points apiece.
Edwards wasn't the only first-year coach to lead his team to bowl eligibility Saturday. Jimbo Fisher led Texas A&M to its sixth win against Ole Miss, too. So it's good to know that $75 million buys you at least a trip to the Independence Bowl.
Also bowl-eligible as of Saturday: Northwestern, Iowa State, Eastern Michigan, Memphis, Missouri, Marshall, Pitt, Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia Tech and Arkansas State.
Group of Fivesman Race
We've already discussed the Heisman race, so let's instead focus on the best of the Group of 5.
1. Darrell Henderson, Memphis: Henderson ran for 166 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, his seventh game with at least 130 yards on the ground.
2. D'Eriq King, Houston: Including another terrific performance in a shootout against Temple on Saturday, King has accounted for at least three touchdowns in every game this season. If he keeps up this pace, he'll be in striking distance for Colt Brennan's FBS record for touchdowns in a season.
3. McKenzie Milton, UCF: He might not be putting up the eye-popping numbers of 2017, but Milton keeps on winning and keeps on throwing touchdowns, including two more against Navy on Saturday.
4. Michael Warren II, Cincinnati: The Bearcats came from behind to beat USF largely on the strength of Warren's running. The sophomore had 151 yards and three touchdowns, and he continues to be the backbone of the Cincy offense. Warren has scored in all but one game this year.
5. Marcus McMaryion, Fresno State: The Bulldogs' season took a big hit in a Friday loss to Boise State, but McMaryion's numbers are still super impressive: 28 touchdowns, three picks, nearly 3,000 total yards.
Underrated play of the week
Here's Arkansas' season in a nutshell: QB Ty Storey takes a shotgun snap, tosses the ball to Jordan Jones, who's crossing in front and who is then immediately demolished by Razorbacks tailback Rakeem Boyd. It's no butt fumble, but it's definitely better than the Florida players blocking one another on the list of friendly-fire fails.
Underrated game of the week
Nothing will top Davidson's 91-61 win from earlier this season, but the Wildcats sure do play some entertaining football. For the second straight week, Davidson scored 50 ... and lost. This time, the Wildcats had four players rush for 150 or more yards and ran for a total of 789 yards against San Diego, a Division I record. To put Davidson's rushing effort into perspective, the total is more than Florida State, Washington State and San Jose State have run for all season. Of course, it didn't matter because San Diego threw for 556 yards with receiver Michael Bandy hauling in 10 catches for 324 yards and four scores.