For the vast majority of this college football season, the Heisman Trophy race seemed to be all but a formality. Coming off of his stellar and unprecedented showing off the bench in last season’s national championship game, Tua Tagovailoa picked up where he left off and catapulted further into the collective consciousness by leading Alabama to an undefeated season.
After winning the starting job in camp, Tagovailoa showed that he was, in fact, the explosive player he had shown himself to be during the overtime win against Georgia. His numbers were flawless, as was his record. Alabama was crushing opponents and not just doing it with defense, which has been their calling card for most Nick Saban seasons. The offense appeared unstoppable, and Tua could seemingly strike for long touchdowns at any moment.
Through eight games, he had thrown 25 touchdowns and no interceptions. He was averaging 258 yards passing while essentially only playing three quarters of football. That amounted to over 13 yards per pass attempt, which is astronomical.
There was no real case to be made for anyone else in the country. The game is scattered with amazing players, but nobody was displaying both the brilliance and efficiency like the kid from Ewa Beach.
Yet, down the stretch, there was a growing case to be made for Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. The Sooners had an explosive offense, but they weren’t clicking on all cylinders early in the year. They had to survive a slugfest against then-winless Iowa State, needed overtime to take down Army and lost to Texas in the Red River Shootout. Murray was mostly stellar, but he didn’t appear to be a serious threat for the top spot before Oklahoma pulled out a 59-56 win at West Virginia to end the regular season.
It wasn’t until Championship Week that things took a major turn. Oklahoma avenged its one defeat by beating Texas, 39-27, with Murray going for 379 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions to win the Big 12. That occurred on the same day that Tagovailoa had to exit the SEC Championship with an ankle injury after having thrown two interceptions and his team trailing Georgia, 28-21. Jalen Hurts came on and made the amazing comeback in what was a storybook role reversal, leading Alabama to the 35-28 win in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps there was a bit of “Tua fatigue” that went into the voting, as well. When one player is so clearly on top week after week, voters can subconsciously knock that person down more than they deserve when given the opportunity. Murray picked up so much steam during that final day, which did ultimately propel him to the Heisman win this past Saturday in a very close vote.
After being a 1:10 favorite early in November, Tua was close to a 2:1 underdog by Saturday morning. That shift in public perception ended up being mirrored in the voting patterns. Before each title game, Tua received 294 points from total votes to Murray’s 215. During those games, Tua was still holding a lead with 336 points to Murray’s 257. But that was still only from 15 percent of respondents. Once the SEC title game had concluded, with Alabama rallying after Tua’s departure, the remaining 85 percent came in. Of that group, Murray earned 1,910 points to Tua’s 1,535.
That huge swing ended up being the difference, as Murray won Oklahoma’s second straight Heisman after Baker Mayfield took last year’s honor.
The statistics are close. Tagovailoa threw for 3,353 yards, 37 touchdowns and four interceptions, going unbeaten in the process. Murray threw for 4,053 yards, 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But Murray also ran for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s a huge resume boost and was likely the reason that he was able to trend upwards and ultimately surge into the lead.
It’s hard to fault any voter for going in either direction. I would have stuck with Tagovailoa in the top spot, mostly because of his sheer dominance in so many contests. Given the opportunity to play deeper into games, his numbers would have been much higher. Doing what he did in the more defensive minded SEC, as opposed to the shootout style of the Big 12, also plays into my decision.
Was he robbed? No, certainly not. It feels a little more like a boxer getting the decision for being more active in the late rounds, despite never really hurting his opponent. It could have gone either way and in the end, recency bias played a huge role and the voters went with the sizzle instead of the steak.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island