As recently as a month ago, I would have told you that you were crazy if you had suggested that anybody other than Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa had a legitimate chance at winning this season’s Heisman Trophy. Now, I am here to tell you that I was very, very wrong.
It was announced Monday that Tagovailoa, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins are the 3 finalists to win this season’s Heisman. The trophy for college football’s most outstanding player will be awarded this Saturday night in New York City.
Both Tagovailoa and Murray will represent teams that will square off in the College Football Playoff later this month. Haskins, meanwhile, will lead Ohio State into the Rose Bowl, where they’ll face the University of Washington.
Murray and Tagovailoa will square off when the Sooners face the Crimson Tide in the Capital One Orange Bowl on December 29. Ohio State, who just missed out on a playoff appearance, will be in action on New Year’s Day.
A strong late-season run has pushed Murray into the driver’s seat. According to MyBookie, the odds to win the 84th Heisman Trophy are as follows:
- Kyler Murray -125
- Tua Tagovailoa +105
- Dwayne Haskins +1600
Tagovailoa burst onto the scene during last year’s National Championship Game. With starter Jalen Hurts struggling against Georgia, Alabama head coach Nick Saban made the bold decision to put Tagovailoa into the game at halftime.
Despite having played sparingly during the regular season as a true freshman, the Hawaii native completed 14 of his 24 throws for 166 yards with 3 touchdowns on his way to leading the Crimson Tide to a come-from-behind 26-23 victory in overtime.
Tagovailoa and Hurts competed with one another for the Crimson Tide’s starting job during the summer, with Tagovailoa ultimately winning the job. The decision proved to be a good one, as Tagovailoa helped lead Alabama to the most dominant regular season of any team in the country. The southpaw completed 199 of his 294 attempts (67.7 percent completions) for 3,353 yards with 37 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
Alabama finished the season 13-0 with another win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game this past week. However, Tagovailoa struggled quite a bit in that game, and he was ultimately replaced by Hurts, who helped lead the Tide back from a halftime deficit to win. One would imagine Tagovailoa’s late-season struggles may negatively affect his Heisman hopes.
The Allen, Texas, native was the top-ranked quarterback recruit out of high school several years ago. He ultimately decided to join head coach Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, but he wound up playing sparingly. Murray ultimately made the decision to transfer to Oklahoma after the 2015 season. He served as the backup to Heisman winner Baker Mayfield last year before taking over as the starter this season.
Due to his small stature – Murray is quite generously listed at 5’10” – he made the decision to sign with MLB’s Oakland Athletics after the A’s drafted him with the No. 9 overall pick in the draft back in June. The A’s agreed to let Murray play one more season of college football before he would join their minor league system.
Murray has made the most of his chance, as he finished the season with a completion percentage of 70.9 percent. He amassed 4,053 yards through the air and finished with 40 touchdown passes along with 7 interceptions. The little guy also proved to be quite tough to tackle in the open field, rushing for another 892 yards on just 123 attempts (7.3 yards per carry) with another 11 touchdowns on the ground.
The Sooners didn’t finish the regular season undefeated, with their lone loss coming at the hands of Texas in the Red River Showdown back in October. Oklahoma did get its revenge on the Longhorns with a 39-27 win in the Big 12 Championship Game, which ultimately propelled OU into the College Football Playoff.
Tagovailoa was the heavy, heavy betting favorite to win the Heisman for the vast majority of the season. Murray just kept putting up numbers, though, and a late-season slump from the Alabama signal-caller effectively cracked the door for Murray.
What About Haskins?
Frankly, this year’s Heisman battle is a 2-man race. However, that’s not meant to be a jab at Haskins. After throwing just 40 passes in limited duty last year, the sophomore finished his first season as the starter having completed 348 of his 496 passes (70.2 percent completions) for 4,580 yards with 47 touchdowns and 8 picks.
There’s no disputing Haskins’ numbers. They’re right there with Tagovailoa’s and Murray’s on the season. Ohio State also rebounded from a rocky mid-season slump to finish the year 12-1. Haskins absolutely obliterated rivals Michigan to the tune of 396 yards with 6 touchdowns and no interceptions in the Buckeyes’ 62-39 thumping of the Wolverines a couple of days after Thanksgiving.
Haskins followed that up by throwing for a whopping 499 yards with another 5 touchdowns in Ohio State’s Big 10 Championship Game triumph over Northwestern.
The future is incredibly bright for this young man, and you can bet he’ll be right back in the Heisman conversation again next year assuming he puts up comparable numbers. Ohio State’s season was somewhat marred by the scandal involving Urban Meyer earlier in the year, and an ugly loss against Purdue earlier in the year definitely hurts Haskins’ Heisman case.
However, is strong late-season surge managed to help him beat out West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew II as the third Heisman finalist.
I don’t think there is much merit in betting on Haskins to win it this year at +1600. The profit potential is obvious, but Haskins’ inclusion among the Heisman finalists is merely a formality. Maybe he’ll win it next season, but there is about a zero percent chance Haskins is your Heisman winner this season. Pass on the temptation to bet on him at +1600.
Kyler or Tua?
Murray and Tagovailoa are essentially co-favorites at this point. Murray may be the odds-on favorite by a hair, but I don’t think you would be wrong if you wanted to take the value that comes with betting on Tua at this point.
Murray had a QBR of 96 this season, while Tagovailoa finished at 94.2. Both players will also easily surpass the FBS passing efficiency record set by Mayfield last year.
If Murray wins, Oklahoma will become the first program in history to have Heisman-winning quarterbacks in back-to-back seasons. USC was the last school to have back-to-back Heisman winners when quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush took home the honors in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
However, Bush eventually had to vacate his Heisman victory following a scandal. Other back-to-back winners from the same school are Army fullback Doc Blanchard (1945) and running back Glenn Davis (1946) as well as Yale tight end Larry Kelley (1936) and running back Clinton Frank (1937).
Murray would be the seventh Oklahoma player to win the Heisman if he does win He’ll be the fourth Sooners quarterback to take home the honors after Mayfield, Jason White and Sam Bradford. Tagovailoa would be just the third Alabama Heisman winner, and the first to do so as a QB. Bama’s 2 other Heisman winners (Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry) were running backs.
Helping lead Alabama to such a dominant season is the best feather in Tagovailoa’s cap. Until the narrow win over Georgia in the SEC title game, the Tide had won all 12 of their games by at least 22 points.
Murray’s status as a dual threat may wind up putting him over the top. Murray was the Sooners’ offense this season, and Oklahoma just so happened to have the best offense in the country. Murray’s Sooners led FBS in total yards from scrimmage (7,513) and they averaged a whopping 49.5 points per game. Oklahoma racked up 643 total points during the season, which was tops in the nation. Alabama ranked second with 623.
As of this writing I will eat the betting chalk and side with Murray here. He has enjoyed the better overall statistical season, especially when you consider his impact rushing the football. That said, betting on Tagovailoa at +105 is an obvious value.
Voters like to reward the best player on the best team, and Tua fits the bill there. Alabama not winning the national title this season would be a massive surprise, and Tagovailoa is the main reason they are where they are.
This is truly a toss-up, so I don’t think you can go wrong betting either way. Both Murray and Tagovailoa have legitimate claims to the Heisman this season.