Evaluating Each Heisman Candidate & Why They Will (or Won’t) Win
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was invited to his second Heisman Trophy ceremony on Monday, alongside Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Stanford running back Bryce Love. Jackson is looking to become the second man to win college football’s hallmark award twice, joining Ohio State’s Archie Griffin (1974-75).
Here’s an evaluation of each candidate, and why they each have a shot to win (or not) the 2017 award.
Why Bryce Love Wins:
Unlike Mayfield and Jackson, Love never entered the 2017 season as a Heisman favorite. He played backup to star running back Christian McCaffrey, who had his own success as a talented back in David Shaw’s system.
Replacing McCaffrey was never going to be easy, but Love has certainly come close in doing so. In 12 of 13 games this season, Love rushed for 1,973 yards (trailing only San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny). Among eligible runners, Love is seventh in the FBS in both yards per carry (8.32) and touchdowns (17).
In terms of consistency, Love was an all-star in that aspect. The junior only had one game under 100 yards rushing, and was slowed by an ankle injury throughout it against Washington State. In their one game without him, Stanford beat Oregon State 15-14. It’d be hard to find a player that meant more to his team than Bryce Love.
Why Bryce Love Doesn’t Win:
Despite his impressive numbers as a speedy running back, Love hasn’t been used in a versatile manner like McCaffrey or Penn State RB Saquon Barkley were. Love only has six catches for 33 yards in 2017, but that does give him over 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
Stanford also has had several candidates with greater resumes come up short. Only one player from the Pac-12 has won the Heisman Trophy winner since 2006 (Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in 2014), and Stanford has had four candidates come up short in that span. That list includes Toby Gerhart (who had more rushing yards and touchdowns than Alabama’s Mark Ingram in 2009), Andrew Luck, and McCaffrey in 2015 (who broke Barry Sanders’ all-purpose yardage record).
Stanford has also lost four games, including one at San Diego State and Penny (who is the nation’s only 2,000 yard rusher as of now). Historic trends show that being a Heisman contender on a four-loss team usually doesn’t lead to winning it.
Why Lamar Jackson Wins:
The Louisville quarterback has continued to be one of the nation’s most electrifying players, as a reincarnated version of Michael Vick for the Cardinals.
If the award is supposed to go to the best player in the country, it’s hard to argue against him. He doesn’t have the 51 touchdowns from last year, but he has been more efficient as a player. Jackson is averaging almost a full yard more per carry (6.04 in 2016 to 6.9 this season), upped his completion percentage (56.2 to 60.4) and his passer rating (148.8 to 151.5).
In terms of raw numbers, though, Jackson has remained excellent. He’s thrown for 3,489 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions. With his 1,443 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns this season, he only needs three more scores to become the first player with 20+ passing and rushing touchdowns each in back-to-back seasons. He already became the first NCAA player with back-to-back seasons of 3,000+ yards passing and 1,000+ yards rushing (and only needs 57 more rushing to become the first with 3,000+ passing and 1,500+ rushing).
Like Love, he has also been more consistent as a running threat this year. Jackson only has three games under 100 yards rushing, compared to five last year. And unlike last season, Jackson finished 2017 on a tear. In his final three games, Jackson rushed for 414 yards and three touchdowns, while throwing for 681 yards and seven touchdowns with zero turnovers.
Why Lamar Jackson Doesn’t Win:
Despite his legendary 2016 season, Jackson never really got the buzz a typical Heisman Trophy winner gets. The lack of buzz on his campaign may result in Jackson’s numbers being underappreciated, and thus have him fall short on Saturday.
Aside from that, Jackson didn’t have a blazing start compared to last year’s Heisman Trophy run. To repeat as a two-time Heisman Trophy winner, he was arguably going to need bigger numbers than last year. While he has been more efficient, he doesn’t have the eye-popping TD numbers from 2016.
Louisville also didn’t have as many high-profile games, compared to Stanford and Oklahoma. The Cardinals had two games against top 25 opponents (Clemson and NC State), and each time came up short. Jackson had a pick in each game.
History is also in play against Jackson. The Heisman hasn’t named a two-time winner since Archie Griffin in 1975. Since 1970, only three players (Steve Owens, George Rogers, Bo Jackson) have won the Heisman from an unranked team.
Why Baker Mayfield Wins:
After Penn State running back Saquon Barkley led the majority of the Heisman race, the momentum shifted to Mayfield in late November.
Of all the candidates, Mayfield has a solid resume on-the-field. The senior led the Sooners to a Big XII Championship, and he will be playing in his second College Football Playoff. He also has four wins over ranked opponents, including on the road against Big Ten champions Ohio State. Mayfield also threw for 598 yards and five touchdowns at Oklahoma State, which put him ahead in the Heisman race in early November.
This season, Mayfield has been the best passer of any quarterback this season. He ranks second in yards (4,345), only behind Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. Mayfield is also second in touchdowns (41), and leads the country in both completion percentage (71%) & passer rating (203.76), the latter currently an FBS record.
Why Baker Mayfield Doesn’t Win:
Mayfield is the favorite heading into Saturday night’s ceremony, but even he has flaws.
Some of Mayfield’s antics have made him a polarizing figure in college football this season, which may cost him some voters. The senior was arrested in February for disorderly conduct and public intoxication. In early September, Mayfield planted the Oklahoma flag at midfield after beating the Buckeyes in Columbus. There’s also the handshake fiasco at Baylor in September, and taunting the Kansas bench with a crotch grab in mid-November. It will put a test on how much the Heisman voters emphasize character as one of their tenants.
In terms of performance, it’s hard to find negatives in Mayfield’s overall performance. Even in Oklahoma’s only loss to Iowa State, he did throw for 306 yards and two touchdowns. Mayfield has been an elite passer, but doesn’t boast the gaudy rushing numbers in comparison to Jackson. If voters are swayed by Jackson’s more efficient passing numbers while posting similar rushing stats, that could lead to an upset on Saturday.