College Sports

Comparing Heisman Trophy finalists, the QBs from college football nobility

Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray wins the 2018 Heisman Trophy

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won the 2018 Heisman Trophy, beating out Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins and Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa.
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Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won the 2018 Heisman Trophy, beating out Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins and Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa.

The Heisman Trophy race has come down to three guys playing the glamor position at college football nobility.

For the seventh time in the award’s history, three quarterbacks are the finalists: Alabama Tua Tagovailoa, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State have put up extraordinary numbers this season.

If the season ended today, Tagovailoa’s passer rating of 202.3 would break an NCAA record set by last year’s Heisman winner, Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.

But Tagovailoa would finish second in that category. Murray, Mayfield’s successor with the Sooners, leads the nation at 205.7.

Both of those quarterbacks, who face off in the College Football Playoff semifinals in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29, trail Haskins in passing yards and touchdowns. He leads the nation at 4,580 yards and 47 scoring passes.

Total yards? Murray has 4,945 because of his dual-threat ability. He’s rushed for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Efficiency? Tagovailoa has thrown for touchdowns on 12.6 percent of his passes, compared to 11.8 for Murray and 9.5 for Haskins.

According to betting websites, this year’s Heisman chase has actually become a two-person race between Tagovailoa and Murray, with Murray making a late charge.

According to Bovada, an online wagering site, Murray has emerged as the favorite at 1/2, with Tagovailoa at 3/2 and Haskins at 16/1.

A month ago, Tagovailoa was the favorite.

Sometimes the awards leading into the Heisman provide a clue. Not this time. Murray captured the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback and Associated Press player of the year. Tagovailoa won the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards as the nation’s top player.

The split decision suggests a toss-up heading into Saturday’s reveal on ESPN. The award show begins at 7 p.m. Central. Only one race since 2009 finished with the winner receiving fewer than 100 more first-place votes than the runner-up.

This one comes with an air of mystery.

Here’s a breakdown of the candidates:

Dwayne Haskins

Why he’ll win

The numbers are eye-popping. Haskins’ passing yards and touchdowns lap the totals of Ohio State’s previous Heisman winner, quarterback Troy Smith, who threw for 2,542 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2006. Haskins’ numbers also set Big Ten standards. Record-setting quarterbacks for conference champions and historically powerful programs usually fit the profile of a Heisman winner.

Why he won’t

That profile also belongs to the other two finalists. In polls and on watch lists, Haskins couldn’t overcome Tagovailoa early. But in the final few weeks, Haskins has had some remarkable games, including a combined 895 passing yards and 11 touchdowns against Michigan and Northwestern. But it won’t be enough for Ohio State to add to its Heisman collection.

Prediction: Third

Kyler Murray

Why he’ll win

The Sooners aren’t in this position without a great offense, and Murray has delivered like last year’s winner, Mayfield, said he would. Murray’s had nine 300-yard passing games and has been terrific in the Sooners’ last two outings, at West Virginia and against Texas in the Big 12 title game. He has also been a big part of the OU running game and averages 7.3 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns.

Why he won’t

Big 12 defenses stink? TCU and Iowa State rank in the top 50 in total defense (fewest yards allowed). The SEC has nine teams and the Big Ten five on that list. Shootouts are a fact of life in the Big 12 and nobody was better in these games than Murray.

Prediction: First

Tua Tagovailoa

Why he’ll win

He started for the first time this season in Alabama’s opener and a month later he was the Heisman favorite. Tagovailoa put up big numbers early in the season and could have had more. Nick Saban pulled him from the second half of many games with the Crimson Tide comfortably ahead. Through eight games, Tagovailoa had thrown at least two touchdown passes in each game without an interception. The “most productive player on the best team” rule applies here, and Tagovailoa put up his numbers against several top-rated defenses.

Why he won’t

Tua’s latest game could sway some voters. Before he was injured and gave way to Jalen Hurts in the second half of Bama’s SEC title game victory over Georgia, Tagovailoa went 10 for 25 with two interceptions, his worst game of the season. In a close race, a bad final impression could make the difference.

Prediction: Second

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Blair Kerkhoff has covered sports for The Kansas City Star since 1989.