From the moment Tua Tagovailoa released a 41-yard, game-winning bomb to DeVonta Smith in overtime in last season's College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Georgia as Alabama’s backup quarterback, the spotlight has been on the super sophomore to see if he could live up to the hype through a 12-game season. With intense national scrutiny week in and week out, Tagovailoa rose to the occasion, proving he is not only one of the nation’s best quarterbacks but best players period in the FBS ranks. That approach to the season and every game for No. 1 Alabama culminated with the native Hawaiian taking home both the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award and some argue should have won him the Heisman Trophy as well.
The Crimson Tide (13-0, 8-0 SEC) went wire-to-wire as the nation’s top team and did so as a member of the best conference, the SEC. Although he has dealt with some injuries, Tagovailoa is a big reason why Alabama won the SEC West, beat then-No. 4 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and now has a chance to defend its national title. Tagovailoa's body of work includes 3,353 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, and just four interceptions while completing 68 percent of his attempts. Those numbers and his role in his team's success were enough for Tagovailoa to be named a Heisman finalist alongside winner Kyler Murray from Oklahoma and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins.
Tagovailoa received 1,871 points, giving him the most by a runner-up in Heisman history as Murray (2,167) won by 296 points. The relatively small margin is just more evidence as to why Tagovailoa was deserving of the honor. Here are five other reasons why Tagovailoa should have been holding the stiff-armed trophy on Saturday night.
5. Tagovailoa’s projected stats
Had Alabama not been as dominating of an all-around team, blowing the doors off the opposition, perhaps Tagovailoa would have had even better statistics. As is, he is ranked 14th nationally in passing yards (3,353) and tied for third in touchdown passes (37), despite attempting 202 fewer passes than Dwayne Haskins. Haskins led both of these categories with 4,580 and 47, respectively. Applying Tagovailoa's completion rate (67.7 percent) and yards per attempt average (11.4) and with the same volume as Haskins, the Alabama quarterback would have finished in the neighborhood of 4,900 yards. Add in his touchdown rate (12.6 percent) and you're looking at a really big number, as in 60-plus. Now those are just calculations but it underscores how impressive Tagovailoa's numbers are given he had fewer opportunities. Tagovailoa's value certainly didn't go unnoticed, as he took home both the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award earlier this week.
4. Trouncing No. 22 Texas A&M
Alabama's first test of the season came in Week 4 against then-No. 22 Texas A&M. The Aggies had nearly knocked off No. 2 Clemson two weeks ago and there was talk that they would be able to hang tough with the Crimson Tide. Tagovailoa made sure there would be no upset, as he posted a season-high 387 passing yards with four touchdowns in the 45-23 rout in Tuscaloosa. He added a rushing score and didn't even play in the fourth quarter.
3. Torching Auburn in the Iron Bowl
With last year's 26-14 Iron Bowl loss still fresh in their minds, Tagovailoa doubled the Tigers' touchdown output as the Crimson Tide rolled to a 52-21 victory. Tagovailoa got Alabama on the board first with a seven-yard TD run but it was a 17-14 game at halftime. That changed in the third quarter, as he connected with three different receivers for touchdowns that covered at least 33 yards to build a 38-21 lead. From there it was just academic, as Tagovailoa hooked up with Henry Ruggs III on a 22-yard scoring strike early in the fourth quarter for his fifth and final TD toss of the game.
2. Taking on Mississippi State's tough D
In a bit of role reversal, the Bulldogs came to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 10 ranked 16th in the country and boasting the nation's third-ranked defense anchored by defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat. Mississippi State did what it could to keep Alabama's high-powered offense in check, but Tagovailoa completed 67 percent of his passes for 164 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown to Josh Jacobs. He did throw an interception but otherwise, the Crimson Tide dominated both sides of the ball in shutting out Mississippi State 24-0.
1. Dismantling LSU in Death Valley
One of the toughest places to play in the entire nation is Tiger Stadium, especially at night. On Nov. 3, Alabama rolled into Baton Rouge to face the fourth-ranked Tigers and walked away with a convincing, dominating 29-0 victory. LSU's defense feature plenty of talent, including Butkus Award-winning linebacker Devin White and first-team All-SEC defensive backs Grant Delpit and Greedy Williams, but once again Tagovailoa was up to the challenge.
He got the Tide on the board late in the first quarter on a 15-yard TD pass to Henry Ruggs III. Then, late in the second quarter, he connected with tight end Irv Smith Jr. from 25 yards out to push the lead to 16-0. Tagovailoa later took matters into his own hands, or rather feet, by breaking the game open with a 44-yard TD run in the third quarter. He finished the game with 344 total yards and three touchdowns, which are numbers you don't typically see opposing quarterbacks put up against the Tigers, especially at home.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.