Which quar­ter­back will take home Heis­man?

Ok­la­homa could have back-to-back win­ners

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - NEW YORK TIMES By far the most touch­downs in the FBS, with 47 (next is Mur­ray, with 40), and that is not count­ing four more on the ground. One of just six el­i­gi­ble quar­ter­backs with a com­ple­tion rate above 70 per­cent. Like Ok­la­homa, Ohio State went 12-1

For the past sev­eral years, the Heis­man Tro­phy race has not been par­tic­u­larly close in its fi­nal week. Ok­la­homa quar­ter­back Baker May­field was con­sid­ered a cer­tain win­ner last year, much as Louisville quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son was the year be­fore.

This year is dif­fer­ent. Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa, a sopho­more and the front-run­ner for much of the sea­son, has slipped to sec­ond place be­hind Ok­la­homa quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray, a red­shirt junior, if the Bo­vada bet­ting odds are to be be­lieved.

Two fac­tors make this such a con­found­ing guess­ing game.

One is that these two gen­er­ally sim­i­lar play­ers have some statis­tics that are strik­ingly dis­parate. Ok­la­homa’s of­fense – the same Air Raid vari­ant that saw May­field win last year un­der coach Lin­coln Ri­ley – had Mur­ray throw­ing early and of­ten, while the Alabama of­fense still re­lied heav­ily on the run, as is the tra­di­tion for Nick Sa­ban-coached teams. (The dom­i­nant Crim­son Tide also sat Tago­v­ailoa dur­ing many fourth quar­ters.)

As a re­sult, Mur­ray threw for 700 more yards than Tago­v­ailoa, al­though he also did it on 46 more at­tempts. In­deed, Mur­ray av­er­aged just 0.5 yards more per at­tempt than Tago­v­ailoa, and their yards-per-at­tempt fig­ures topped the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion.

The other fly in the oint­ment is what hap­pened last week­end. Mur­ray turned in an­other spec­tac­u­lar game – 379 yards, three touch­downs – in the high-stakes Big 12 cham­pi­onship game ver­sus Texas.

Tago­v­ailoa, lim­ited by an in­jury on the first drive of the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence ti­tle game against Ge­or­gia, threw two in­ter­cep­tions (the same num­ber he had thrown over the prior 12 games) and left in the fourth quar­ter with Alabama trail­ing by 7 points, only to watch his backup, Jalen Hurts, lead the Tide to vic­tory. Tago­v­ailoa un­der­went an­kle surgery last Sun­day and is ex­pected back in a cou­ple of weeks, in time for the col­lege play­off games.

So how will vot­ers make sense of that late turn of events, which came in the fi­nal week­end of bal­lot­ing? We will find out Satur­day night (8 p.m., ESPN).

One thing we do know is that the win­ner will be a quar­ter­back – the 16th sig­nal-caller to be hon­ored in the last 19 sea­sons. Here is a look at the can­di­dates.

Kyler Mur­ray

His case by the num­bers: Mur­ray led the FBS in yards per at­tempt (11.9) and ESPN’s passer ef­fi­ciency rat­ing. He was sec­ond in com­ple­tion per­cent­age (70.9 per­cent) and in pass­ing touch­downs (40), adding 11 on the ground. He had a bril­liant 65-yard run on the first drive of Ok­la­homa’s penul­ti­mate game ver­sus West Vir­ginia. The Soon­ers went 12-1, again, and won the Big 12, again, and will go to the play­off, again.

Scout­ing re­port: Could those “agains” hurt Mur­ray’s case? This is very sim­i­lar to what May­field did at Ok­la­homa a year ago. Of course, May­field went on to be the No. 1 over­all draft pick and is now start­ing in the NFL. But one could fore­see some vot­ers ar­gu­ing that Mur­ray merely thrived in a sys­tem de­signed to boost quar­ter­back statis­tics. Do not be­lieve it, though. When you con­sider Ok­la­homa’s 108th-ranked de­fense, Mur­ray’s case as col­lege foot­ball’s ex­em­plary player this sea­son be­comes much clearer.

Tua Tago­v­ailoa

His case by the num­bers: Sec­ond in passer ef­fi­ciency and yards per at­tempt. Third in touch­downs – he threw 37 touch­down passes against four in­ter­cep­tions, which is the kind of thing Tom Brady does. Al­though his Alabama coaches likely lived in con­stant fear that he would get in­jured, he still man­aged five touch­downs on the ground. Other im­por­tant num­bers are 13 and 0 – as in, Alabama went 13-0.

Scout­ing re­port: Re­mem­ber last sea­son’s na­tional ti­tle game and the 41-yard ver­ti­cal pass Tago­v­ailoa hurled to end it in Alabama’s fa­vor? He has been do­ing that same play all sea­son, deep ver­ti­cal routes to speedy re­ceivers that blow games open for the Tide. It has pro­duced ex­cep­tion­ally ex­cit­ing of­fense at a pro­gram and for a coach not known for it. Tago­v­ailoa would be­come the first Alabama quar­ter­back and the first Nick Sa­ban quar­ter­back to win the Heis­man.

Dwayne Hask­ins

His case by the num­bers:

Getty Im­ages

Ok­la­homa went 12-1 again this sea­son, but this time the quar­ter­back and Heis­man hope­ful is Kyler Mur­ray.

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