Unless the sky comes crashing down on the Oklahoma football season in the next two weeks, it appears almost a sure thing that the Sooners will have a finalist in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony for a fourth consecutive year.
The Heisman Trophy watch for 2018 has realistically narrowed down to four top contenders, and one of those is Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. It has become largely a quarterback competition, with that being the position of the players drawing the most attention with just a couple weeks before the Heisman voting ends.
The player considered to be the presumptive front runner in this season’s Heisman chase is Alabama sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Murray is believed to be the closest contender at this stage of the season, but West Virginia’s Will Greier and Gardner Minshew of Washington State are also in the mix.
Murray’s individual stats are slightly better than the Alabama quarterback, but when you are going up against the quarterback of the No. 1 team in the country and the reigning national champion, it’s a tough act to overcome.
Murray will get an ideal opportunity to state his Heisman case when Oklahoma goes head to head with West Virginia and its Heisman QB candidate, Grier, the day after Thanksgiving. Both teams are currently 9-1, ranked in the top 10 and on a collision course to decide the Big 12 champion. It is quite possible that the Sooners and Mountaineers will meet two straight weekends, with not only the conference championship but a possible trip to the College Football Playoff at stake.
Oklahoma has produced six Heisman Trophy winners in its history, including last year’s Heisman recipient, Baker Mayfield and two others (Jason White and Sam Bradford) since 2003. The Sooners’ six Heisman winners ranks second behind Notre Dame, Ohio State and Southern California, each with seven.
As impressive as Mayfield’s performance numbers were a year ago in winning the Heisman by more than 650 votes over second-place Bryce Love of Stanford, Murray is currently on a pace to break Mayfield’s NCAA-record passing efficiency rating, set just last season. Murray’s 212.9 passing efficiency rating through 10 games is 14 points higher than Mayfield’s record-breaking number a year ago.
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Murray’s numbers are also comparable to Mayfield’s Heisman season in a number of other statistical categories. Murray leads the nation this season in passing efficiency, passing yards per attempt and passing yards per completion and ranks in the top five in completion percentage (70.9), passing touchdowns per game (3.2), total offense per game (367.8) and points responsible for per game (23.4). He set a Big 12 and OU school record this season throwing at least three touchdown passes in eight consecutive games.
And those are just his passing statistics. Murray is the Sooners second leading rusher, totaling 640 yards on the ground, including seven touchdowns, and averaging 6.7 yards every time he carries the ball.
Murray has one more year of eligibility after this season, but he is not expected to return to play football in 2019 after signing a $4.7 baseball contract with the Oakland Athletics, who selected Murray as the No, 9 player overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft.
What a difference a year can make. Looking back at the end of last season at the players expected to be the leading candidates to win the Heisman in 2018, only one of the top 10 players projected by USA Today to be vying for this season’ top individual prize (RB Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin) received votes in the Nov. 13 ESPN Heisman Watch Experts Poll
Mayfield was a Heisman finalist all three seasons he played for Oklahoma. He was fourth in the voting in 2015, third in 2016 and took home the trophy last season. The Sooners have been represented with Heisman finalists in seven of the last 18 years. On two different occasions, two Sooners were among the finalists invited to New York City for the Heisman ceremony. White and Adrian Peterson were both finalists in 2004, and Dede Westbrook joined Mayfield at the 2016 Heisman presentation.
The last three Heisman winners from Oklahoma were all quarterbacks. Murray is hoping to make it four.