Heisman Watch 2018: Examining Odds and Highlights for Finalists

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) celebrates after beating Texas 39-27 in the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

The three finalists heading to New York for the 84th Heisman Trophy ceremony are quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) and Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama). While the announcement was officially made on Monday evening, the unofficial conclusion that these would be the three has been drawn for a while now. 

More specifically, the assumption for the majority of the season was that the Heisman was Tagovailoa’s to lose. Due to a nagging knee injury and eventual high-ankle sprain in the SEC Championship Game, he may have lost it.

According to OddsShark, Murray is the new favorite—and at the time it counts most—followed by Tagovailoa and then Haskins. Even if Murray does become the second Sooners quarterback in a row to hoist the Heisman, the playmaking ability of all three deserves recognition. 

Coincidentally—or maybe not-so-coincidentally—the signal-callers’ passer ratings are in the same order as their odds to win the Heisman: Murray first at 205.7 followed by Tagovailoa at 202.3 and Haskins at 175.8.

Here’s a look back at highlights from Murray, Tagovailoa and Haskins’ 2018 campaigns.

           

Kyler Murray, Oklahoma

As is well-documented by now, Murray will be headed to the MLB after this season. He was drafted No. 9 overall by the Oakland A’s and, regardless of how many times he’s been pressed on his decision to leave football behind, will stick with baseball as his professional sport.

With an arm precise enough to get the ball where only his receiver can catch it and strong enough to reach his target while on the run, it’s no wonder he’s a top outfield MLB prospect. As far as football goes, it doesn’t get prettier than his 18-yard touch pass to Grant Calcaterra to seal OU’s fourth Big 12 championship in a row.

The numbers bear a complete picture of Murray’s ability. On the year, Murray has thrown for 4,053 yards—behind only Haskins (4,580) and Washington State’s Gardner Minshew (4,477)—and 40 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. 

That’s before mentioning his 11 touchdowns and 892 yards on the ground, including two 100-plus-yard rushing games. Murray’s ground game is the largest statistical difference between he and his fellow finalists, who combined for 312 yards and nine touchdowns rushing this season. 

The dual-threat’s 4,945 yards of total offense leads the country. Perhaps the most complete sampling came on Nov. 23 in a 59-56 win at West Virginia. Murray carried the Sooners with 114 yards and a touchdown rushing, complemented by 364 yards, three touchdowns and one pick through the air on 74.1 percent completion.

This was Murray’s first full season as a starting quarterback, as he sat last year behind Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield and started his collegiate career with Texas A&M in 2015. Should Murray win as expected, he will make Oklahoma the first school to have consecutive winners since USC had quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush (though Bush’s was vacated) in 2004-05, respectively.

         

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

The most significant disadvantage for Tagovailoa isn’t the injury bug that wouldn’t quite leave him alone throughout 2018 but rather the sheer dominance of Alabama—so dominant that Tagovailoa didn’t play almost at all in fourth quarters because the Tide in some instances held leads upward of 50 points.

To help illustrate, Tagovailoa attempted eight passes in the fourth quarter all season. Backup quarterback Jalen Hurts had 26 fourth-quarter passing attempts on the season, while third-string running back Najee Harris—behind Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs—had 26 fourth-quarter carries. 

The most recent memory Tagovailoa left with Heisman voters was an SEC Championship Game that saw him throw two interceptions, equaling his interception total from the entire season, before being forced to exit the game in the fourth quarter due to what we now know to be a high-ankle sprain. Hurts came in to lead ‘Bama to a comeback victory over Georgia in fairy-tale history.

Meanwhile, Murray and Haskins both dominated their respective conference championship games.

When Tagovailoa was in, however, he was special. What sticks out the most on paper is the efficiency. Prior to Saturday’s SEC Championship Game, Tagovailoa had 36 touchdowns to two interceptions on the season. He threw 25 touchdowns before throwing his first pick.

But when watching him, his ability to extend plays, maneuver the pocket and make something out of nothing leaves no possibility out of the question. 

          

Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State

Dwayne Haskins is a name inked all over the place in the Big Ten record book post-2018. To name two: most passing yards in a single season (4,580) and most passing touchdowns in a single season (47). Specific to the Big Ten Championship Game, Haskins set records for completions (34), yards (499) and touchdowns (five).

The 6’3″, 220-pound sophomore has been a statistical monster.

The problem with Haskins’ campaign is out of his control, and that’s Ohio State’s failure to reach the College Football Playoff thanks to an ugly loss at Purdue.

In that loss to Purdue, Haskins attempted 73 passes. Seventy-three. Even at that volume, his completion percentage was 67.1. Haskins was not the reason the Buckeyes lost, but the loss is a factor in him not winning this Heisman. 

What’s more important is the projection of Haskins at the NFL level. More than the other two—especially, obviously, Murray—Haskins could excel in the NFL. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has Haskins going No. 12 overall in his latest 2019 mock draft. It’s because of plays like this:

The characteristic associated with Haskins the most is his arm strength, but his accuracy is also attractive. Haskins attempted 496 passes and only eight of them were picked.

Like Murray, 2018 was Haskins’ first as a full-time starting quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see whether he declares for the NFL draft or comes back to set more records—and potentially win a Heisman trophy—in college football.

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