ESPN has ramped up its college football coverage ahead of opening weekend at the end of the month and put out its list of top 50 players in college football.
ESPN made it clear that the rankings were about how a player will do in 2018 and have nothing to do what with has been accomplished up to this point.
That is why Alabama quarterback and Saint Louis alumna Tua Tagovailoa comes in at No. 11 on the list. Only three quarterbacks — West Virginia’s Will Grier, Penn State’s Trace McSorley and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham — were ranked ahead of Tagovailoa, who last started a football game in high school in the 2016 state title game against Kahuku.
The rankings add to the belief that Tagovailoa will be the starting quarterback on Sept. 1 against Louisville ahead of junior Jalen Hurts.
Four more quarterbacks were listed before getting to Central Florida junior McKenzie Milton, who was ranked ninth among QB’s and No. 20 overall.
Despite setting school records at UCF in passing yards (4,037), passing touchdowns (37) and rushing yards by a quarterback (613), and finishing eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting, the Mililani alumnus was listed behind Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Washington’s Jake Browning, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald and Arizona’s Khalil Tate among QB’s.
ESPN reporters were then asked who they thought was ranked either too high or too low, and both Tagovailoa and Milton were mentioned.
ESPN’s Andrea Adelson thought Tagovailoa was ranked too high, writing, “Before Alabama fans start cranking out the hate mail, let me say this has nothing to do with his potential or his incredible talent. Both are exceptionally high. But there are two problems I have with listing Tagovailoa so high in the preseason. First, we have a limited body of work to go on. Yes, it is true that body of work includes an exceptional performance off the bench against Georgia in the national championship game, along with his beautiful, game-winning touchdown throw. His performance in that game fueled buzz throughout the offseason that he would be winning the starting-quarterback job and Jalen Hurts would transfer. That leads me to point No. 2. Nobody has actually won the starting-quarterback job. That is why I find it so difficult to evaluate Tagovailoa and where he should be ranked. We saw glimpses of what he could be, but I’d love to see how he plays game after game before declaring him a top-11 player.
ESPN’s Chris Low also said Tagovailoa was ranked too high, writing, “In the words of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, one moment doesn’t make a season. Or one unforgettable touchdown pass, for that matter. Yes, Tagovailoa was the spark for Alabama in the second half of the national championship game last season and has elite arm talent. But he still has to win the starting job and prove he can be the guy over the course of the entire season, and it’s not like Jalen Hurts is just going to go quietly into the night. So having Tagovailoa at No. 11 is a bit high, at least without more of a body of work, especially when you look at the long list of proven players behind him. There’s no denying his vast potential, though.
On the other side, Adelson went with Mlton as being ranked too low, writing, “Given his remarkable performance in 2017, Milton should have been ranked in the top 15 going into this season. For those who might have forgotten, Milton ranked No. 7 in the nation with a school-record 4,037 yards passing and set a new school record with 37 passing touchdowns. While it’s true Scott Frost is gone, there’s no indication new coach Josh Heupel is going to change the offensive philosophy. In fact, both Heupel and Milton have said they want to try to get the downfield-passing game going even more this season. With talent across the board at receiver and running back, Milton should have another prolific season.”
The Knights open their season against Connecticut on Aug. 30.