(Via Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Heisman voters made a mistake.
I know, that sounds brash. How dare I insult our beloved Heisman Trust, right? But it's true. Kyler Murray is outstanding- but he's not the nation's most outstanding college football player in 2018. That player is Tua Tagovailoa.
How can I reasonably say this? Let's look at the numbers.
Kyler Murray: 70.9 completion %, 4,053 yards, 40 TD, 7 INT, 123 rushes, 892 yards, 11 TD
Tua: 67.7%, 3,353 yards, 37 TD, 4 INT, 48 rushes, 190 yards, 5 TD
On the surface, this isn't close. Murray blows him out. But Tua rarely played into the 4th, unlike Murray did. So, let's look at Tua's stats assuming he played into the 4th during every game where he didn't (and some games where he only played a few snaps)
Tua's new numbers look like this: 67.7 completion % 4,471 yards, 49 TD, 5 INT, 64 rushes, 253 yards, 7 TD
Ignoring that nearly 10 to 1 TD/INT ratio, keep in mind that these are just projections. Tua could've underperformed, or he could've overperformed. But given what we have, assuming Tua played into the fourth, he manages to throw for more yards, more touchdowns, and still fewer interceptions than Murray did. Now, Murray is still a better number, even adjusting for Tua's projected 4th quarter performance. But no award, in any sport, has ever been decided purely based on one or two stats.
But it is based on performance, and Tua laid an egg against Georgia, so that has to count for something. That's true. Kyler Murray was better than Tua for that week. But you know what? For the first 13 weeks, Tua was much better. Let's look at their conferences. Tua is in the SEC, the best football conference in the nation. Not only that, he's in the SEC West, the best division in the nation. Not even including Alabama, the SEC West also is home to Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. Remember A&M, by the way. Even though Ole Miss is coming off NCAA Sanctions, all six teams in that division are great almost every year. (I said almost, because Auburn was hilariously bad this year.) While Steve Spurrier's assessment that even SEC waterboys are fast is very true, the SEC is known for their defense. And Tua went up against SEC defenses every week in conference play. Murray? Well, let's put it this way. Tua plays the best defenses in the best defensive conference in the country. Murray plays in the Big 12, where defense is entirely optional. The Big 12 has no defenses ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Or the top 20. Or the top 30. The highest ranked defense in the Big 12 was #36, belonging to Iowa State. To be fair, Murray had no control over the quality of defenses in his conferences. It's not like he had a job at QB in the SEC West or anything like that.*
*except he did. Murray was at Texas A&M in 2015, he transferred to Oklahoma the following year. This has almost nothing to do with the rest of this, but I want to bring up that Kyler Murray left the SEC because he was too scared to face SEC defenses week in and week out so he ran to a no-defense conference to back up an NFL star.
Let's talk other awards. Murray won the Davey O'Brien Award, which is given to the best quarterback in the nation. In recent years, winning the O'Brien does not necessarily mean you win the Heisman. From 2013-17, only three of the five winners also won the Heisman. But, in fairness, one of those years had a non-quarterback win the Heisman. That year was 2015, when Deshaun Watson took home the O'Brien while Derrick Henry won the Heisman. And still, Deshaun Watson won two of those awards in that span. Only Archie Griffin is winning two Heismans. Let's look at more broad awards then. The Walter Camp Award goes to the college football player of the year, as voted by the coaches. The 2018 winner? Tua. The Maxwell Award is also one for every position. It's for the best all-around college football player in the nation, as voted by the writers and the coaches. Tua won that too. But what do coaches know about college football, right? Every Heisman winner between Mariota and Jackson also won these two awards. To that, I raise this question to anyone still reading this: how can a player be voted the player of the year and the best all-around player but not the most outstanding? Could it be because our sacred Heisman Trust is not actually as good as we project it to be?
Mack Wilson said it best:
When Murray faces a real defense for the first time come New Year's, he'll prove my point right. Until then, just remember that the Heisman voters got it wrong.