Over the course of the college football season, a few certainties emerged. One, Alabama was darn near invincible. Two, Jim Harbaugh was likely to say or do something crazy every time he was in front of a camera. And three, Lamar Jackson was going to win the Heisman. Those were the “death and taxes” of college football this year. They weren’t even up for debate.
Yet while Alabama is still a juggernaut and Jim Harbaugh is still out of his mind, a quiet little narrative has begun to emerge: Could Lamar Jackson really lose the Heisman? It might not be likely, but it is at least possible, with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson the most likely to sneak in and take the award.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s absolutely preposterous; the idea that anyone other than Jackson can win the Heisman is insane and just flat-out wrong. Don’t believe me? Here are five reasons why Jackson has to win the Heisman and why voting for anyone else is absurd.
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It’s a season-long award
So much of the focus has been on Jackson’s last two games, which admittedly weren’t pretty. He was sacked 11 times – and only put up 10 points – in a Thursday night showdown against Houston. And he followed it up with a two-touchdown, three-interception clunker against Kentucky. That’s bad, I get it.
But this is a season-long award, so why are we valuing Jackson’s last two games any more than we are Watson's or Baker Mayfield’s first two or three (especially in a sport like college football where every game truly does matter)? As you may remember, Mayfield and Oklahoma lost two of their first three games, while Watson and Clemson limped out of the gate, beating Auburn and Troy by six points each, with Watson personally struggling. He threw a total of four touchdowns and three interceptions in those first two games.
So how did Jackson start the year? Oh, with just a ho-hum eight touchdown performance against Charlotte in Louisville’s opener (he was pulled shortly after halftime). He followed it up with five more touchdowns against Syracuse a week later. No one had a better season than Jackson.
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Jackson’s struggles at the end of the season weren’t all his fault
If you want to say that Jackson didn’t play his best football down the stretch, that’s fair. He didn’t. But how much can you really blame him?
Apparently I’m the only one who remembers that Houston game, when Louisville’s offensive line allowed 11 sacks -- ELEVEN!!!! -- and probably would have given up more if not for Jackson’s athleticism and escapability. And even in a loss to Kentucky a week later, Jackson and the offense put up 38 points. How much of the burden can you place on his shoulders when the defense gave up 41?
Point being, a player -- even a star -- is only as good as the guys around him. And Jackson was hurt more by the guys around him than by his own play late in the season.
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Jackson and Watson played head-to-head … and Jackson outplayed him!
It’s not often that when the Heisman ultimately comes down to two guys, we get actually head-to-head, on-the-field data to break a tie. But we do in the case of Jackson and Watson. The two played in Death Valley in October. And Jackson was the better player.
Ironically, I actually wrote an article on this subject the night of the game and explained how Jackson only strengthened his Heisman case in a loss. And the numbers back it up. On that night, Jackson threw for 295 yards and rushed for a game-high 162, bringing Louisville all the way back from a 28-10 halftime deficit to a late, second-half lead. Had James Quick gotten a couple more yards on Louisville’s final play, the Cardinals may have won the game.
No one else had a “Heisman moment” this season. Jackson had 2-3 per game
Again, part of the Heisman discussion isn’t just how good you are, but how good the competition is. To which I ask: What was your favorite Deshaun Watson “moment” of the season? Or Baker Mayfield? They don’t one. They doesn’t exist. They were good and productive throughout the season, but when you think back on the 2016 campaign are you going to say “Oh man, that was the year Deshaun Watson put up 35 on Wake Forest!” Of course not, that’s preposterous. But you will remember Lamar Jackson.
For basically 10-11 weeks throughout the season, he was must-watch TV, the guy whose game you instinctively flipped on every time he played. From the moment he leapt over a Syracuse defender, and then ran over, around and through Florida State’s defense, he was the most exciting and entertaining player in college football.
When you think back to the 2016 season, you won’t remember Watson (unless he leads Clemson to a title) or Mayfield. But you will remember Jackson.
He’s the most “valuable” player in the sport, too
Yes, I know that the terminology that the Heisman committee uses is “Most Outstanding Player” in college football, but I like to think of it this way: If you removed fill-in-the-blank player from his team, who would be impacted the most? Looking back on previous Heisman winners like Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Robert Griffin III, the answer is obvious. Heck, it even was obvious last year with Derrick Henry, who quite literally put Alabama’s offense on his back.
So I ask: How much would Clemson really have been impacted if it lost Watson? Yes, he’s an incredibly gifted player. But the Tigers have had 1,000-yard receivers and explosive offenses before Watson arrived and will after he leaves. Mayfield and Dede Westbrook needed each other much more than they had singular impact. Jabrill Peppers was fun, but how much impact did he really make?
But Jackson? He was the difference-maker in college football this year. Even a quarterback of average athleticism would have been killed behind Louisville’s offensive line, and the defense did him no favors, either.
At the end of the day, Jackson was the best and most valuable player in college football. And the only person deserving of winning this year’s Heisman Trophy.