In two-player Heisman race, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray wins in veritable rout

Kyler Murray made Oklahoma the fourth school to win Heisman Trophies in back-to-back seasons.
Heisman Trust/Todd J. Van Emst

The suspense, it appears, was all in our heads.

In the end, the Heisman Trophy vote turned into a comfortable win — just not for the player that had carried the favorite status for much of the season.

Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray beat out Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, as the Sooners quarterback rode his impressive closing stretch to win the 84th award Saturday night by 296 points.

“This is crazy. This is an honor,” said Murray from the podium. “It’s something I’ll never forget. Something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

While Murray’s win is under the average win of 665 points, it still represents a voting total that’s been beat by 32 other years. Considering the build up that had many expecting a close vote between the two QBs — who will meet in the Orange Bowl semifinal on Dec. 29 — this was a veritable rout.

And it spoke to what ultimately mattered most to voters in this race as Murray was named on 92.03 percent of all ballots — the third-highest figure ever — and received 78 percent of the possible points (eighth-most).

While the debate hinged on Murray’s prolific stats vs. Tagovailoa dominating in limited snaps as the Crimson Tide rolled over opponents, it was ultimately closing that mattered, not the rewriting of a team’s offensive identity.

Murray claimed 517 first-place votes to Tagovailoa’s 299 and won five of the six regions, with only the South siding with the Alabama QB.

While Tagovailoa did set a record for the most points by a second-place finisher at 1,871, it also speaks more to the race itself. Haskins, fishing a distant third with 783 points, drew just 46 first-places, and Washington State’s Gardner Minshew was the only other player who had more than four, receiving six No. 1s on ballots.

This was a two-player race, and in putting a team on his back and lifting into the playoff, Murray hoisted the Heisman. Alabama reached the playoff not only without Tagovailoa, but by weathering his worst game of the season.

As Murray joins last year’s winner, Baker Mayfield, this is the fourth time a school has claimed back-to-back awards, following Army with Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis in 1945 and ’46, Ohio State with the only two-time winner in Archie Griffin in ’74 and ’75 and Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush’s since vacated win in 2004 and ’05, respectively.

Here’s a look at this voter’s ballot, where per the Heisman Trust, had to remain under wraps until after the ceremony.

1. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma QB

In more than a decade of voting, this was the most difficult decision I’ve faced. It’s also the only time I can remember completely reversing course in the last 48 hours of voting, as I was dead set on putting Murray second before championship weekend. Granted, Tagovailoa getting knocked out against Georgia, and struggling before he the ankle injury, helped Murray. But chalking his being atop my ballot would be a disservice to how spectacular he was in leading the Sooners to a Big 12 crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. The difference between Murray and Tagovailoa to me was this: Alabama not only could have made the playoff without Tagovailoa, but when it came down to crunch time in the biggest game of the year, that’s exactly what happened. The same couldn’t have been said about Murray, who carried Oklahoma into the CFP in spite of a 108th-ranked defense.

2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama QB

What Tagovailoa meant in transforming the Crimson Tide’s offense can’t be understated. Before this season, Nick Saban had never had an unit ranked higher than 15th in total offense (2014 and ’17) or better than 12th in scoring (2012). Behind Tagovailoa, Alabama is second in points per game (47.9 points per game) and generating 527.6 yards per (seventh). It’s made all the more impressive that the sophomore QB has done it while completing all of eight four-quarter passes. If Murray overcame a lackluster defense, Tagovailoa succeeded in spite of the Tide’s dominance. While the Sooners QB had 698 yards in the final 15 minutes of games this season, Tagovailoa had just 69. Just imagine what the stats would have looked like if Alabama had not won its first three Top 25 games by an average of 25 points. The SEC Championship Game was his chance to leave no doubt the’s pick, but he threw as many picks (two) as he had all season and hit on a season-low 40 percent of his passes before the injury. Expect him to be the runaway favorite to open 2019.

3. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State QB

Even getting a seat at New York should be seen as a win for Haskins. He was lackluster in back-to-back games after the loss to Purdue on Oct. 20, with a season-low 56.3 completion percentage against Nebraska, then had his worst efficiency rating of the year (118.9) against Michigan State. That closing stretch, though, was a thing of beauty as Haskins racked up 1,300 yards through the air agents Maryland, Michigan and, finally Northwestern in the Big Ten title game, to go with 14 TD passes in that span. That he threw for six scores against a Wolverines defense that came into Columbus as FBS’ top-ranked D only magnified things. So did his taking down Drew Brees’ single-season TD record with 47. Like Ohio State’s season, you have to wonder what this vote would have looked like if the Buckeyes hadn’t fallen to Purdue and it was Haskins, not Murray, that led his team into the playoff.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.