Bowl games notwithstanding, the 2018 college football season in the books. The games have been played, the stats have been accumulated, and the moments have been captured. Now that Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Tua Tagovailoa have officially been announced as finalists, one major question remains — who will win the Heisman Trophy?
Something tells me Kyler Knows.
#KylerKnows the way to New York!@TheKylerMurray a finalist for the 2018 @HeismanTrophy!https://t.co/OqDzTtpum0 #BoomerSooner pic.twitter.com/bAnfQK2KGy— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) December 3, 2018
Leading the Oklahoma Sooners to the school’s 12th Big 12 Championship and third appearance in the College Football Playoff, Kyler Murray has shown he can do it all. Quite frankly, he’s often had to.
The winner of the Heisman Trophy will be based on this season alone, but first things first, it’s important to understand just how much winning is part of Murray’s journey up to this point.
Murray went 42-0 as a starter at Allen High School, winning three state championships in Texas’ highest classification. He then went on to be named the 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year.
Thank you to Gatorade & #TheESPYS for an unforgettable night! pic.twitter.com/pPpbKSY2o0— Kyler Murray (@TheKylerMurray) July 17, 2015
Fast forward to the last two years. After transferring from Texas A&M and sitting out a season, he took up both baseball and football at Oklahoma. In 2017, he showed flashes of greatness on the diamond, while he also backed up eventual Heisman winner Baker Mayfield on the gridiron. This year, he made the jump to stardom as a dual-sport athlete. A jump he always believed he’d make.
His exceptional 2018 season with the Sooners’ baseball team led to the Oakland A’s drafting him with the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. He chose to stick around Oklahoma for his first and final crack at being “the guy” quarterback position. Right away, fans found out just how special K1 truly was.
WATCH: Here's a glimpse of Kyler Murray's performance Saturday against Florida Atlantic ... in the first half.— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) September 1, 2018
2⃣0⃣9⃣ — Passing Yards
2⃣3⃣ — Rushing Yards
2⃣ — TD Passes
1⃣ — Ridiculous Scramble#BoomerSooner pic.twitter.com/o9rZC0bk7s
From the season opener against FAU, Murray has been about as consistent as it gets at this level of college football. However, he’s not the only Heisman hopeful who’s been remarkably consistent this season. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, who began the season atop most preseason lists for his heroics in the national championship, has also been exceptional.
That is, until conference championship weekend rolled around. While Murray turned in yet another magnificent performance on the biggest stage to date, Tagovailoa crumbled against Georgia (although not at full strength) before finally being sidelined after suffering a lower leg injury. That final impression for the two of them was enough to put Kyler over Tua in the minds of ESPN’s expert poll voters.
Kyler Murray now No. 1 on ESPN's Heisman Watch.— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) December 3, 2018
➡️ https://t.co/7BPtQCK8Ot#KylerKnows | #BoomerSooner pic.twitter.com/OR7ClN5NK0
More importantly, Murray replaced Tagovailoa as the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy for the first time this season. Meanwhile Haskins’ candidacy is still considered a distant third.
Kyler Murray is now the Heisman favorite, per Bovada. Can’t remember a time in which the momentum has shifted this hard at this stage in the season. #Sooners pic.twitter.com/RI2lN4pCpO— C&C Machine - Oklahoma SB Nation (@CCMachine) December 3, 2018
So how did we get here?
What has Kyler Murray done this season that warrants placing him atop the ballot? Let’s get started with the statistics.
- Murray leads the nation in QBR (96.0), passing efficiency (205.7), total offense (4,945 yards), yards per passing attempt (11.9), and total touchdowns (51).
- Murray ranks second behind Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins in passing TD’s with 40.
- Murray’s 70.9% completion percentage ranks second in the nation and first in the P5.
- Murray’s 4,053 passing yards is third-most in the nation behind Dwayne Haskins’ 4,580 and Gardner Minshew’s 4,477. It’s also worth mentioning that Minshew has 273 more pass attempts than Murray. Haskins has 156 more pass attempts.
- Murray’s 892 rushing yards ranks second in the nation for a QB with at least 300 passing attempts.
- Murray has thrown seven interceptions on the year compared to eight from Haskins and four from Tagovailoa. It should be noted that Murray was the only finalist to not turn the ball over in his respective conference championship game. Tagovailoa threw two picks against Georgia and Haskins threw one against Northwestern.
So many great Heisman candidates this year but my favorite is Kyler Murray, whose total offense (4,945) compares favorably to past Heisman winners. When season is over he'll hold 2 FBS records (pass yds/gm & yds/att). Currently he has comp % of 70.9 w/ 51 TDs. Tape don't lie.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 3, 2018
Now the battle for this year’s Heisman Trophy has essentially boiled down to a two-man race — Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa. One of the main arguments from the Tua camp is that the Alabama QB hasn’t played in most 4th quarters due to the Crimson Tide sitting him after early, comfortable leads. So what do the stats looks like when taking 4th quarters out of the equation?
- Even without his 4th quarter stats, Kyler Murray has recorded 42 total touchdowns compared to Tua Tagovalioa’s 41.
- Murray has 4,247 total yards in quarters 1-3, while Tagovailoa has 3,284.
Strength of Competition
Another commonly-used counter against Murray in the case for Tagovailoa is the perception that Alabama has played a tougher schedule than Oklahoma. Strength of schedule metrics suggest otherwise, as the Sooners have played the 27th best schedule compared to the Tide’s 50th ranked slate.
Taking it a step further, the average defensive efficiency rank of the defenses Tagovailoa has faced is 56th (not including The Citadel from the FCS). For Murray, the opposing defenses he’s faced come in at an average rank of 61st. Clearly, the difference in defenses faced is negligible at best.
In the end, the eventual winner of the Heisman Trophy usually has a singular moment that stands out among the rest. In Kyler Murray’s case, the moment that has left a lasting impression on all who witnessed it came during the final stages of the Big 12 Championship.
With a chance to avenge the October loss to Texas, win the Big 12 title, make the College Football Playoff as well as one final statement in the Heisman race, Murray found Grant Calcaterra on a spectacular fade for not only a third down conversion, but the score, effectively sealing the Longhorns’ fate. The catch was amazing, and the pass was money.
TOUCHDOWN— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) December 1, 2018
MURRAY TO CALCATERRA.#BOOMERSOONER pic.twitter.com/p9xX4ARkiv
With the body of work he’s put together, Murray is suited for the Heisman as much as he is deserving of it. You’d be hard pressed to find anybody arguing against him being the best athlete of the three finalists, and statistically, his numbers are as good if not better than the rest. Then he has the moments, too. On the biggest stages, he shows up with his best stuff. Put it all together, and you’ve got yourself quite the case for Kyler.
The Heisman Trophy Presentation is scheduled for this Saturday, December 8th at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN.
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