In just two weeks, the Heisman Trust will announce the 2016 finalists for college football’s highest honor, and there’s a really good chance that a Sooner will be among them. But which one?
Last season, Baker Mayfield was far and away the best player—or at least the best candidate—on the OU roster. Knowing this, the athletics department went all in on him. They made a website, a Twitter handle, a bunch of cool vids and gifs and pics—you get the idea. Alas, it was all for naught. Baker finished fourth and didn’t get to go to New York. But most assumed his candidacy would resume this year.
And it has. By many metrics, Baker’s having an even better season this year. He’s got a higher passer rating and he’ll finish with more touchdowns, more yards and more yards per attempt. He doesn’t run the ball nearly as much but will finish with about the same number of rushing TDs, maybe more. But the other thing he’s gained: a Heisman-caliber teammate.
Yeah, I know there’s a ton of talent on the OU offense and Joe Mixon was himself making a Heisman argument there for a second. But Dede Westbrook has been one of college football’s most pleasant surprises this year, turning heads around the country and vaulting into Heisman prognosticators’ top fives.
So who’s the better candidate?
The Case for Baker
Not to downplay Dede, but there’s a reason wide receivers don’t win Heismans. All Westbrook does is run his route and do his job. He does it extremely well—his routes are crisp, he’s faster than most any defensive back, his hands are superb. But his role pales in comparison to the line-of-scrimmage adjustments, progressions, pocket presence and split-second decision-making needed to be a successful quarterback. And Baker isn’t just any successful quarterback—he’s one of college football’s very best.
Baker’s stats actually hold up pretty well to presumptive frontrunner Lamar Jackson’s. Baker’s passer rating is almost 42 points higher; he’s thrown for 250 more yards and two more touchdowns; his completion percentage is 14 points better. The strength of Jackson’s candidacy lies in his eye-popping rushing numbers, but many Oklahoma fans believe Baker could approach those stats if asked to. Now Jackson’s even shown that losing to Houston is a forgivable sin on a Heisman resume.
In the archived #Baker4Heisman website (which is still super dope, by the way), the athletics department made a side-by-side comparison of Baker’s 2015 stats versus past quarterback Heisman winners. The results?
Those are a lot of stats, I know, so the upshot is: Baker Mayfield can hold his own with any quarterback of the new millennium. And his stats this year are even better.
I understand the calls for more positional diversity in the Heisman voting, and I know that Baker’s candidacy is a total longshot with Lamar Jackson around. But if we’re deciding between and quarterback and wide receiver for a coveted invitation to the Heisman ceremony, voters should lean towards the quarterback.
The Case for Dede
Every once in awhile, a player comes so totally out of nowhere that it takes the nation a few weeks to acknowledge he even exists. Back when pundits were still wondering how Oklahoma would pick up the pieces of its shattered, broken program; back when dudes were still writing RIP Sterling Shepard’s college career on message boards; when commentators were wondering if OU should just start handing off 65 times per game—you know, like eight weeks ago—Westbrook’s hammie finally healed up.
And boy, did he deliver. The threat of Westbrook over the top has opened up the OU offense to a whole world of possibilities it didn’t have before. Dede’s deep threat makes everyone look better. He helps Baker with insanely athletic grabs. He helps the running backs by keeping the box uncluttered. The offense has lots of talent, but it owes its success to a healthy Dede Westbrook.
Yesterday, Dede was named a Biletnikoff finalist along with Northwestern’s Austin Carter and East Carolina’s Zay Jones. You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of them. A quick glance at their statlines suggests that Dede should pop the champagne for this one—he’s done twice as much damage in about half as many receptions. He’s averaging almost 20 yards a catch! That’s one award he should waltz away with.
But can he earn a New York invite? Well, this guy certainly thinks so. So do a lot of these dudes and the good folks at ESPN. As usual, it will depend on the number of invites extended and such. But Dede is having a transcendent season, and the nation is taking notice.
There was one particularly torrid stretch there where people were tweeting by the minute about Dede’s latest broken record. As this article points out, Dede went four straight games with at least 150 yards and two touchdowns. He went for 232 and three TDs against Texas; he put up another three touchdowns against Kansas.
All in all, Dede has accumulated 1,354 yard and 15 touchdowns. That’s almost a hundred more yards and four more touchdowns than Sterling Shepard had all last year.
Plus, the last receiver to win the Heisman—Desmond Howard in 1991—did it with just 985 receiving yards.
Barring another big loss or two, I think Jackson’s victory is an inevitable formality. But just attending the ceremony is a huge honor, one that Oklahoma hasn’t had in awhile. Part of me would love to see Baker rewarded for his incredible two years, but it seems the media is, for the most part, backing Dede as OU’s Heisman candidate.
Either way, Oklahoma fans should be excited to see the program’s talent level ticking back in the right direction. With the race for second completely wide open, OU fans should cross their fingers and hope that one of the program’s two superstars gets the recognition they deserve this year.