Just one year ago, Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield was preparing to go to New York as the favorite to win the Heisman Memorial Trophy, and Kyler Murray was an underachieving backup. For Kyler Murray, he was never supposed to be just a backup quarterback watching someone succeed in front of him. Murray was one of the best quarterbacks in Texas high school football history, finishing his career at Allen High School with a perfect 43-0 record as a starter and the top ranked dual-threat quarterback in his class. He committed to Texas A&M, but transferred to Oklahoma after his freshman season with the intention of sitting under Mayfield for one year. However, the Big 12 reversed a rule which granted Mayfield another year of eligibility because he transferred as a walk-on and not a player on scholarship.
Murray was now forced into the backup role for a second season, Mayfield’s 2017 record setting Heisman year. In the ensuing offseason, Murray excelled on the baseball diamond with Oklahoma and was drafted ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics, who allowed him to play one more year of college football before reporting to spring training. Now the starting quarterback for the Sooners in 2018, Murray has taken this opportunity in stride all the way to New York, where he was invited to attend the Heisman ceremony like his predecessor.
Murray’s competition for the Heisman is fierce; each of these players has the skills and resume to win. Murray will be accompanied in New York by Alabama’s quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has revolutionized a generally defensive team into a powerhouse offensive team, and Ohio State’s quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who in his first year as a starter has already broken numerous Big Ten and school records. Nonetheless, the Heisman trophy is awarded to the most outstanding player in college football. That would be Kyler Murray.
Murray leads the nation in yards per attempt (11.9) and in passing efficiency (205.7), which would be a new record should he continue his pace. He also ranks second in completion percentage (70.9) and ranks third in passing yards this season (4,053). What’s even more incredible about Murray’s skillset is that he might be more dangerous as a runner than he is as a passer. Murray is the only player in the FBS era to average at least 300 yards passing and 60 yards rushing per game, and he set a new Oklahoma record for total offense in a season with 4,945 yards, beating Baker Mayfield’s record from his Heisman season last year in one less game played. Because of Murray, Oklahoma’s offense was so explosive that it set the all time record in yards per play (8.75).
The argument for Haskins: Dwayne Haskins has thrown for 500 more yards and seven more touchdowns than Murray this season, while rewriting over 20 school records and a half dozen Big Ten records. In Ohio State’s biggest game against Michigan’s top ranked defense, Haskins threw for about 400 yards and six touchdowns en route to a 62-39 Buckeye victory.
The argument for Tagovailoa: Tua lead his team to an undefeated record while posting numbers that were similar to Murray’s, but against good SEC defenses, and Alabama beat all of their opponents (except Georgia) by at least 20 points. Tagovailoa has played much of the year with injuries, most notably a knee injury, and has not played in many full games due to his team winning by so many points, which deflates his stats.
While these are valid arguments in support of Haskins and Tagovailoa, Murray is still the more deserving player of the Heisman. Haskins’ passing stats are better than Murray’s, but Haskins has also attempted 156 more passes than Murray this season. Additionally, Murray is a dual threat quarterback, so if you compare their rushing numbers, Murray’s 892 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns are clearly more dominant than Haskins’ 122 yards and four touchdowns. In regard to Tagovailoa, the reason he has not played in the fourth quarter for much of the year is because of Alabama’s collective success. Murray, on the other hand, has had to carry Oklahoma’s porous defense, which ranks 96th out of 130 in points allowed per game, all season long, ultimately carrying them to the College Football Playoff. Moreover, if you remove his fourth quarter stats to “level the playing field” with Tua, Murray’s season statistics are still more impressive than Tagovailoa’s.
Murray, Tagovailoa and Haskins each had a chance to solidify their Heisman campaigns last weekend in their respective conference championships. Murray seized the spotlight in the Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma’s biggest rival, the University of Texas, by completing 25 of 34 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, coupled with 40 rushing yards. Tagovailoa, on the other hand, struggled mightily against Georgia, only completing 10 of his 25 passing attempts for 164 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Although Tagovailoa left the game with an injury, he was ineffective when healthy and exited the game with Alabama trailing late in the game. What’s worse, backup quarterback Jalen Hurts came in relief and led Alabama in a comeback to win the SEC championship. Despite Dwayne Haskins also having a phenomenal Big 10 Championship Game against Northwestern, the recipients for Heisman votes is likely to remain a two man race between Murray and Tagovailoa, a race that Murray has earned the right to win.
With the Heisman ceremony coming up Saturday, December 8, experts currently have Kyler Murray listed as the betting favorite (-175) to win the prestigious award. Should he win, Oklahoma Head Coach Lincoln Riley would have coached back-to-back Heisman winners, which has not happened since 2004-2005 when Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush won the Heisman in consecutive years for the University of Southern California (Bush’s Heisman has since been vacated). Murray will play against his Heisman counterpart Tua Tagovailoa when Oklahoma and Alabama play in the Orange Bowl on December 29, in the first round of the College Football Playoffs.