Alabama Football: Damien Harris is a better Heisman candidate than Tua

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Damien Harris #34 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs the ball against J.R. Reed #20 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the first quarter in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Damien Harris #34 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs the ball against J.R. Reed #20 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the first quarter in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Alabama football has two preseason candidates for the Heisman Trophy. One candidate has a better shot than the other, and it is not who you would think.

Before Alabama football head coach Nick Saban stepped foot in Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama never had a Heisman Trophy winner. Electrifying wide receiver David “The Deuce” Palmer finished third in Heisman voting in 1993, that was the best finish ever for a Crimson Tide player.

Primetime players suited up in crimson, patrolling Bryant Denny Stadium, or even Legion Field is what Alabama fans have expected since Bear Bryant roamed the sidelines. However, national recognition was challenging in the past because of the Crimson Tide’s emphasis on the team’s success over individual success.

Stellar junior running back, Bobby Humphrey, finished tenth in Heisman voting after amassing 1,425 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior All American running back, Shaun Alexander, had 1,706 all-purpose yards and 23 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he finished seventh in Heisman voting in 1999.

The Tide’s Heisman Winners

Mark Ingram brought the prestigious trophy to the Capstone in 2009 after leading Alabama football to its first national championship since 1992.

Ingram did not enter the season as a Heisman favorite. As a matter of fact, there was no mention of the running back. Sophomore receiver Julio Jones was a 50:1 odds to win. The Heisman favorites were quarterbacks Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford. After exploding for 1,678 yards and 17 scores, the star became the school’s first Heisman winner. Stanford’s Toby Gerhart finished second in the closest Heisman race as Ingram won by 28 votes.

The school’s second winner, Derrick Henry, rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns. Both were Crimson Tide records. His dynamic play led Alabama football to its fourth national title under Nick Saban.

The wily coach heavily used the running back as he consumed a school record 395 carries, including a 46-carry, 271-yard day in Jordan Hare Stadium against rival Auburn. Henry entered the season as 16:1 odds to win the coveted trophy. TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott were the preseason frontrunners.

Heisman Finalists Under Saban

In 2011, all-world running back Trent Richardson had 2,017 all-purpose yards, 24 touchdowns and closed the season third behind Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Quarterback A.J. McCarron finished second in 2013 succumbing to Florida State’s Jameis Winston. A.J. delivered 3,063 passing yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The quarterback was mere seconds away from leading Alabama to a shot at a third straight national title, losing to Auburn in the “Kick Six” game.

Amari Cooper’s 2014 season had him finishing third behind Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariotta. Cooper caught 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Westgate Las Vegas Superbook released its Heisman Trophy odds for 2018. Two Alabama football players made the exclusive list: sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and senior running back Damien Harris.

Tua in his sophomore season is no longshot at 10:1

Famed lefty quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has the third best odds to win the Heisman Trophy. Saban is probably shaking his head and muttering under his breath, “external clutter and rat poison.” Tua’s freshman numbers were not pedestrian as he managed 11 touchdowns in just 77 attempts. Starting Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts threw 17 touchdowns in 255 attempts. Granted, the true freshman played in mop-up time while Hurts competed against the stingier first string defenses.

However, Tua carving up a Georgia secondary, with a victory seemingly within grasp of the Bulldogs, remains etched in everyone’s memory.

If Saban starts Tua, will he use him as he used A.J.? The star quarterback blossomed from a “game manager” as a sophomore to an NFL ready quarterback as a senior. As a result, McCarron displayed a championship pedigree and could always deliver dimes in pressure-cooked situations.

The question remains how does Tagovailoa adjust to defenses prepared to stop him. Trent Dilfer has sung his praises, and the entire world saw his exclusive dissection of the Bulldogs’ Cover Two defense on second-and-26 to win the championship game.

However, Saban will keep this sleek Lamborghini well under the 55 miles per hour speed limit. The head coach has not had a Heisman winning quarterback, and it will not start this year.

The best chance for another Alabama Heisman winner

Damien Harris has a better shot at winning the Heisman than Tua. Listed at 40:1 odds, the explosive running back two 1,000 yard seasons, averaging over seven yards-per-carry.

Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has a senior running back that has participated in 39 games. He has been through the battles and won two titles in the process.

The running back has shared the spotlight with Derrick Henry, Bo Scarbrough, and Kenyan Drake. Also, Damien will share the workload again with junior Joshua Jacobs and sophomores Najee Harris and Brian Robinson. All three substitutes would start on any team in the country.

Fans quickly forget that Harris was the number one running back in the country coming out of high school. During his sophomore season, he had 18 runs of 12 yards or more. Harris only carried the pigskin 135 times his junior year. Last season, his 7.4 yards-per-carry ranked seventh nationally.

Furthermore, if Damien handled the ball as much as Stanford’s Bryce Love (263) and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor (299), he would be the best back in the nation.

Only three running backs have won since 2005, USC’s human highlight film, Reggie Bush (2005), Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry.

Damien Harris will need an exceptional season to join this elite list. He has the physical tools to make a splash this upcoming season.

Next: 25 Greatest Games During Saban Era

The Tide’s sophomore tailback Najee Harris has also received some love as a Heisman candidate. Next year, the California native will be the primary runner and put up extraordinary numbers.