There has been a lot of noise in recent weeks surrounding the Heisman Trophy race as the college football season nears its end. As usual, the conversation surrounds players that are currently on teams in the playoff hunt or close to it. That’s fine. This conversation usually follows that direction every season.
However, you don’t always have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner return to play another season. When they do return, they don’t always have a season that is equal to or better than the year in which they won the award. That is exactly what is happening now with Lamar Jackson. The Louisville quarterback is on fire and as a result, he is this week’s ACC Spotlight for Inside The ACC.
When you watch Lamar Jackson it’s hard to take your eyes off of the television because you don’t want to miss what he might do next. He can make a spectacular play on any given snap. This season, I was able to watch him from the field level and see firsthand how different he is from the other players on the field.
First, he’s bigger than you might expect. Once the skinny kid who could run; he’s now grown into a solid, do-everything quarterback. Second, he never appears to get rattled. He’s always in control and seems to have a sixth sense in knowing where the defenders are around him. Elusive isn’t a strong enough word to describe his escapability. Just when you think you’ve got him bottled up, you’ve lost him.
My final observation that day was seeing how other players look at him. Not just the opponents’ players, but his own teammates. You can see it in their eyes. Everybody knows he’s a special talent.
In this day and age the “eye test” isn’t enough anymore when you’re looking at awards and accolades in sports. It has become a data-driven world and every statistic you could want is at your fingertips the minute the game is over. So, the logical first step in evaluating whether or not a reigning Heisman Trophy winner should be in the running to repeat as the winner would be to compare this season to last season. Let’s do that.
Last season Jackson rolled up 4,476 yards of total offense through 11 games. So far this season, he has gained 4,560 yards of total offense, which puts him tops in the nation in that category. Last season at this point he had 3,109 yards of passing. Right now he has 3,273 yards of passing. He’s in the Top 10 in the nation in passing yards-per-game. He’s about 80 yards behind his previous rushing yard total at this point, but he still has one more game to catch up. Either way, he’s ranked in the Top 15 in the nation in total rushing yards, and he’s a quarterback.
How about touchdown production? Last season he was at 47 total touchdowns. This season he has 40 and only one player in the country has more. That would be Mason Rudolph, the Oklahoma State quarterback who has been mentioned in the Heisman race. He has 41 touchdowns.
So, Jackson clearly passes the eye test, and by all measurable statistics he has equaled or passed the production he had during his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign of 2016. What is he missing? Why isn’t he being mentioned as a top three candidate heading to New York for the ceremony?
The answer is simple. His team is 7-4 and in the middle of the pack in the ACC. Other candidates are playing for teams vying for championships. But wait a second. If Jackson can lead his team to a win this week over Kentucky, and then follow that up with a win in a bowl game, his team will finish with a 9-4 record. Let’s think back to 2016. What was Louisville’s final record? It was 9-4, and last season’s Cardinals team had a better supporting cast for Jackson than it does this season.
The argument doesn’t really need to get more complicated than this. Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy last season when there were other dynamic playmakers like DeShaun Watson in the race. This season Lamar Jackson is again, at minimum, one of the two best players in the country.
The argument shouldn’t be about whether or not he should get an invite to New York for the ceremony. That should be automatic at this point. The real argument should be about why he deserves to win the award for the second year in a row.
He would have my vote.