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Week 1 college football preview: Bryce Young can make Heisman history

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young has a chance to be the second player to win the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back seasons. (John Minchillo/AP)

After nearly a half-century of waiting, Archie Griffin’s club might just double in size this season.

Griffin is the only two-time Heisman Trophy honoree, claiming the award in 1974 and 1975 while starring at Ohio State. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is the first Heisman winner to remain at the college level for another season since Louisville’s Lamar Jackson in 2017, and he’s the latest to give going back-to-back a shot.

The closest anyone has come was Oklahoma running back Billy Sims, who won in 1978 with 1,762 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns and was nearly as good the following year while piling up 1,506 yards and 22 scores. He finished a distant second to Southern California’s Charles White.

Jackson is one of a handful of Heisman winners to finish third the following season, a group that includes BYU’s Ty Detmer (who won in 1990), Oklahoma’s Jason White (2003), Southern California’s Matt Leinart (2004) and Florida’s Tim Tebow (2007).

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Young, whose season begins Saturday when Alabama hosts Utah State, might be able to pull it off. For starters, the best way to get into the Heisman conversation is to begin the year there. Inertia is a powerful force, and Young surely will be discussed (and scrutinized) ad nauseam in the weeks to come.

The second-best way to become a fixture in Heisman talk is to be the quarterback on a good team. The Crimson Tide begins the season at No. 1, and the only times in the past six seasons that Nick Saban’s team has found itself outside the top five in the Associated Press rankings were the final three polls of the 2019 season.

There is a difference between being an oft-discussed player and actually collecting the hardware. And Young — who threw for 4,872 yards, 47 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season — has experience on that front.

A similar year might not be enough to produce the same result. And besides, after losing in last year’s College Football Playoff final, Young probably would trade a trophy case full of honors for a national championship. But why not walk away with both? It’s a subplot worth monitoring as the season unfolds.

It’s late early in Lincoln

Plenty of pixels have been allocated over the past week to the status of Nebraska Coach Scott Frost, whose Cornhuskers have become almost supernaturally adept at finding ways to lose close games. It’s unnecessary to do much more than state the obvious: A third-quarter onside kick backfired spectacularly, and Nebraska was run over by a more physical Northwestern team in Ireland.

After Saturday’s 31-28 loss, Nebraska has lost twice as many games (30) as it has won (15) under Frost. It is 5-21 in one-possession games under the former Huskers quarterback. It has rattled off five consecutive losing seasons (four under Frost), and Nebraska has the longest bowl drought in the Big Ten (none since 2016).

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Frost is 0-4 against Iowa (and Ohio State, for that matter) and 0-3 against Wisconsin, none of which is all that startling. Yet he’s also 2-3 against Northwestern and 1-3 against both Minnesota and Purdue. The only Big Ten West team Nebraska isn’t below .500 against since 2018 is Illinois, and even then the Huskers are 2-2 (having lost the past two).

Every year, it seems one or two teams have their seasons implode before Labor Day. Nebraska might be on that list already. The Cornhuskers do get their next four at home, starting with North Dakota on Saturday. A visit from Oklahoma awaits Sept. 17, and no one will confuse it with the Game of the Century. But it might be Nebraska’s last, best chance to revive any hope that this could be a year of progress — or that Frost will still be on the job the next time the Huskers are anything more than mediocre.

Five with the most at stake

1. Notre Dame: It’s finally time for Marcus Freeman’s regular season debut as coach of the Fighting Irish. (He led the team during a Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State in January.) And what a debut it is: a trip to the Horseshoe (Notre Dame’s first since 1995) to face a likely playoff contender in No. 2 Ohio State. It’s an incredible opportunity, but a loss would leave the No. 5 Irish with no margin for error against a schedule that’s light on playoff threats beyond No. 4 Clemson (Nov. 5) and maybe No. 14 Southern California (Nov. 26).

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes rate second because their schedule affords them a better chance to collect multiple high-end wins later in the season and quarterback CJ Stroud is back to run an offense that remains loaded despite the loss of some key wideouts. Second-ranked Ohio State could recover and make the playoff even with a stumble against Notre Dame, but it wouldn’t be a wise thing to do.

3. Utah: If there’s going to be a playoff contender in the Pac-12, the No. 7 Utes are the best bet. Unlike at Oregon and Southern California, there is continuity and stability in Utah’s program, which is fine and dandy for Pac-12 purposes. On a national scale, there probably isn’t much wiggle room, and that means the Utes need to go to Florida (in Gators coach Billy Napier’s debut) and come out of the muggy Swamp with a victory.

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4. Oregon: New Ducks coach Dan Lanning opens his tenure against a program he has plenty of familiarity with — No. 3 Georgia. Lanning was the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator last season, and he’ll be tasked with getting No. 11 Oregon back on top of the Pac-12. This game (to be played in Atlanta) offers the same sort of opportunity the Ducks exploited last season when they won at Ohio State in the season’s second week.

5. Arkansas: It has been a long, long while since the Razorbacks bandwagon was this full. No. 19 Arkansas is ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2015, but No. 23 Cincinnati comes to Fayetteville fresh off last year’s playoff appearance. The Bearcats had nine players selected in the NFL draft, but there’s a residue of success in Luke Fickell’s program. This probably isn’t going to be easy for the Hogs — though if it is, it will be rather impressive.

Heisman Watch

The preseason favorites can move into this feature as soon as they take the field. The stars of Week 0 have earned a moment in the sun.

1. QB Ryan Hilinski, Northwestern: Hilinski took apart Nebraska’s shoddy defense, completing 27 of 38 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 victory over the Cornhuskers in Dublin.

2. QB Mike Wright, Vanderbilt: The Commodores junior rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns and threw for two more scores in a 63-10 throttling of Hawaii.

3. RB Chase Brown, Illinois: Coming off a 1,000-yard season, Brown rumbled for 151 yards and two touchdowns and tacked on a receiving score as the Illini hammered Wyoming, 38-6.

4. WR Ricky White, UNLV: The former Michigan State wideout made an impression in his Rebels debut, hauling in eight catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns to pace a 52-21 rout of Idaho State.

5. QB Drake Maye, North Carolina: The redshirt freshman opened the post-Sam Howell era in Chapel Hill with 294 yards and five touchdowns as the Tar Heels handled Florida A&M, 56-24.