How Tua and Kyler took over college football

Who will win the Heisman? Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa have dominated college football this season. ESPN.com Illustration

They have taken two of the most interesting paths to superstardom in recent memory. One never started a game until this season, yet was already responsible for a national championship. The other was a Texas high school legend who never panned out at Texas A&M before finding himself at Oklahoma, replacing a Heisman Trophy winner. And before he ever got on the field this year, was a top-10 MLB draft pick who signed for $4.66 million on the condition he could play football this season.

And now, three weeks into the season, Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma's Kyler Murray have taken over college football, becoming Heisman front-runners and keeping their teams on the path to the playoff.

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Tua's rise: From 'The Pass' to the Heisman?

In the long history of overhyped Heisman Trophy front-runners, Tua Tagovailoa's candidacy stands alone. Entering the season, Alabama's sophomore quarterback was the betting favorite, even though he wasn't technically the starter, had never started a game in his career and, really, had only played one half and one overtime of meaningful college football.

But there was The Pass. Thirty-five seconds after one of the worst plays in championship game history (a sack for a 16-yard loss), Tagovailoa stepped up in the pocket and found a streaking DeVonta Smith for a game-winning, 41-yard touchdown. Confetti fell, Nick Saban won his sixth title and a star was born.

And months later, despite historic hype, the lefty from Hawai'i is somehow managing to live up to everyone's high expectations.


Tua connects with Jeudy for 79-yard Bama TD

Alabama takes its first lead of the game as Tua Tagovailoa finds Jerry Jeudy down the middle for a 79-yard touchdown.

It was one thing to wrestle away the starting job from Jalen Hurts, who had won SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman and compiled a 26-2 record as a starter. But to win the job outright after just one game? That said something. As soon as Tagovailoa spun around in the pocket and found Jerry Jeudy for Alabama's first touchdown of the season, against Louisville, it was over. The job was his and the Heisman chatter was validated.

His improvisational skills and feel for the game were on full display then, and they've been on full display ever since, as he's thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions. As a matter of context, that's as many touchdown passes as Kyler Murray has thrown, despite attempting 23 fewer passes. Through three games, Tagovailoa is 3-0 and his 98.3 QBR is tops in the FBS and six points higher than last season's Heisman winner and the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

"He's very instinctive when it comes to the passing game, when it comes to moving in the pocket, when it comes to keeping his eyes down the field," Saban said of Tagovailoa.


Lamb makes incredible TD grab for Oklahoma

Ceedee Lamb hauls in Kyler Murray's 35-yard touchdown pass.

Alabama, despite its position in the pantheon of college football, has never had a quarterback win the Heisman. But Tagovailoa is in the conversation, shedding the "game manager" label that's haunted every quarterback under Saban by making one miraculous play after another. -- Alex Scarborough

Replacing a legend without missing a beat

Kyler Murray's early success for the Sooners really shouldn't be surprising.

After going 42-0 as the starter at Allen High -- with more than 10,000 career passing yards, 4,000 rushing yards and 190 touchdowns -- Murray was one of the top quarterback recruits to come out of the rich quarterbacking state of Texas in recent history.

Sure, Murray stumbled as a true freshman at Texas A&M. But after transferring to Oklahoma, he had the opportunity to learn from a Heisman Trophy winner in Baker Mayfield for two years. Then the chance to play for one of college football's preeminent offensive minds in Lincoln Riley.


Tua rushes into end zone untouched to extend lead

Tua Tagovailoa breaks to the sideline for a 9-yard touchdown.

Even then, there were questions as to whether Murray could finally put it all together under the pressure of replacing a legend after mostly standing on the sidelines for two seasons. And there were those who wondered if he would even play this season after being drafted No. 9 overall by the Oakland Athletics and inking a $4.66 million deal.

So far, those questions have been emphatically answered.

Murray has 10 total touchdowns with only one interception. And his QBR (93.7) is No. 2 in college football, second only to Tagovailoa.

Murray has simultaneously been under control and an electrifying playmaker, both with his legs and his arm.

"He does make it look easy," Oklahoma running back Trey Sermon said. "He's a great player, makes great decisions. Just seeing him out there, it's kind of amazing. I love watching him play."

College football hasn't had different players from the same school capture the Heisman in consecutive seasons since Army's Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis achieved the feat in 1945-46.

The way Murray has performed so far, it's not unthinkable that he could follow Mayfield to New York -- and win the Heisman himself. -- Jake Trotter