Kyler Murray has been the Oklahoma starting quarterback for just 14 games and one full season, yet that one season so far is the best ever by a Sooner signal caller.
On Monday, Murray, as expected, was named one of the three finalists invited to attend the presentation ceremony for the 2018 Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest individual honor, on Saturday in New York City. For most of the second half of the college season, Murray and Alabama sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa have been the two front runners on most Heisman watch lists.
In the past two weeks, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins has come on like a man possessed with a pair of sensational performances against Michigan and in the Big Ten Championship win over Northwestern. Those two eye-popping performances — 899 combined passing yards and 11 touchdowns — undoubtedly were the clincher in earning the sophomore Haskins the third invite to this year’s Heisman presentation.
This is just the seventh time in the 84-year history of the Heisman that all of the finalists are quarterbacks.
Although there are three finalists, the competition realistically is between just two: Murray and Tagovailoa.
Murray and Tagovailoa have been virtually neck and neck statistically this season and will get the chance to oppose each other when Oklahoma and Alabama square off in one of the College Playoff national semifinals games on Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl. That game will most probably feature the Heisman winner against the Heisman runner-up. The only real question is: Which side will the 2018 Heisman winner be on?
There is a lot of chatter circulating on social media and in the mainstream media this week that Murray is gaining a lot of favoritism across the country as the lead candidate and the player to beat when all the Heisman votes are counted. That notion is supported by this week’s ESPN Heisman Watch Experts’ Poll. For the first time this season, Murray has moved ahead of Tagovailoa in the ESPN mock balloting.
Murray garnered a total of 46 points, and six of the 10 first-place votes, from the 10 ESPN writers who participated in the poll. Tua received 44 points and four first-place votes, Haskins was third with 29 points and West Virginia QB Will Grier was fourth with 16 points.
Murray has an even larger margin (91-71) in a similar Heisman poll conducted by writers of The Athletic.
If Murray is the player whose name is called out on Saturday night for the presentation of the 2018 Heisman Trophy, the difference maker may be the comparative performance of Murray and Tagovailoa in their team’s conference championship. Murray accounted for 418 yards of OU’s 508 yards of total offense in the Sooners championship victory over Texas.
Meanwhile, Tua posted 164 passing yards, threw for a touchdown and had two passes intercepted before leaving the SEC Championship game with Georgia with an injury.
The season statistical comparisons between Murray and Tagovailoa are also in Murray’s favor. The Oklahoma quarterback leads the nation and is on a record-setting pace in passing efficiency with a rating of 205.7 through 13 games. He ranks second in the country in completion percentage (70.9) and total offense per game (380.4) and seventh nationally in passing yards per game (311.8).
All of these stats are better than those put up this season by Tagovailoa in the same categories. Plus, Murray’s pass efficiency rating, passing yards per attempt and percentage of passes thrown (11.9) for touchdowns (11.8), as it stands now, will break NCAA records. OU is 13-1 in games started by Murray in his Sooner career. That compares to a 13-0 record by Tagovailoa at Alabama.
Another impressive stat that Murray owns this season and perhaps for some time afterward: He is the only player in the FBS era to average at least 300 yards passing a game and 60 yards rushing.
“He’s the best athlete on the field and the smartest player on the field at the same time,” Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said about his star quarterback on The Dan Patrick radio/TV show on Monday this week.
“Rare combination of elite athleticism, great mind of the game, competitive spirit, very confident and just a rare thrower…You’re not gonna see many like this, ever.”
This is the third consecutive year an Oklahoma player has been invited to New York City as one of the Heisman finalists and the fourth year in a row that a Sooner has been among the top four in the final vote totals (Baker Mayfield was fourth in the voting in 2015, but did not attend the presentation ceremony).
Not since 1945-46 (Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis of Army) have two different players from the same school won the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back years. Archie Griffin of Ohio State is the only player to win the award in back-to-back years.
It’s all up to the Heisman voters now — 870 media representatives and 58 former Heisman winners, along with 1 fan vote, bringing the overall vote total to 929 for the 2018 Heisman. If it’s about both production on the field and the player judged to be the most valuable player on his team, it should be Murray who comes away with the famous stiff-armed bronze trophy on Saturday, making him the seventh Sooner to receive the coveted college football award.