NORMAN — The 84th Heisman Trophy is officially a three-man race.
With all the games finished, three quarterbacks — Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa — are the finalists who have been invited to Saturday’s crowning moment in New York City, the Heisman Trust announced Monday.
All three are first-year starters and all three essentially spent this season trying to live up to or outdo their talented predecessors’ accomplishments.
The winner will be announced at the Marriott Marquis on Saturday night in Times Square during a 7 p.m. national broadcast on ESPN.
For Murray, that means finally stepping out of Baker Mayfield’s shadow.
“I thank Baker for sure,” Murray said. “He doesn’t know it, but I thank him. … No competitor wants to sit for the time that I did but I don’t think I would be here right now or playing the way that I am if I didn’t get to see how it’s done and watching him doing his thing. … Just competing against him every day, whether he knew it or not, practices were my game day. I’m thankful to have Bake in my corner.”
After some two months of talking heads assuring the college football world that Tagovailoa had already clinched this year’s award, Murray has steadily cut into Tagovailoa’s perceived “lead” and this week, after a stellar performance against Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game and an uneven performance by Tagovailoa against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, seems to have emerged as a strong frontrunner to become OU’s seventh Heisman winner and second in a row.
Which would be rare.
In the 83-year history of the award, only four schools have produced back-to-back winners. The first was Yale in 1936-37 (Larry Kelley and Clinton Frank), followed by Army in 1945-46 (Doc Blanchard and (Glenn Davis), Ohio State in 1974-75 (the only two-time winner, Archie Griffin), and USC in 2004-05 (Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, though Bush’s win was later vacated). No school has produced back-to-back quarterback winners.
There are officially three finalists this year, but it is widely believed that Murray and Tagovailoa have separated themselves for first and second, in one order or another.
Murray said Monday he has been dreaming of winning the Heisman since he was a child, watching the ceremony on television each December as the candidates squirm and exhale and fake-smile.
But his waiting — his patience — has really grown since he’s been at OU.
Murray signed with Texas A&M out of Allen High School, arguably the greatest or at least most accomplished schoolboy in the history of the Lone Star State. But his experience at his father’s alma mater turned sour, and he bailed.
He chose OU, thinking Mayfield would be the Sooners’ starter for two seasons and that after redshirting per transfer rules and operating the Sooner scout team, Murray would have a chance to replace Mayfield in 2017.
But then Mayfield — himself a transfer from Texas Tech — got his transfer year reinstated, and Murray was made to wait one more year behind Mayfield.
“It was unexpected,” Murray said Monday night after practice. “When (Lincoln Riley) recruited me to come, that was the plan. Bake had one year and I sit down and get better on and off the field and then be ready for my opportunity. But that didn’t happen, and things happen. It was obviously an adjustment.
“But for me, being the competitor that I am, I wasn’t going to sit back and let it kill me or anything like that. I just had to work. And here we are.”
Meanwhile, Mayfield went and got a statue erected of himself, winning last year’s Heisman and securing his place in Sooner lore forever.
It’s safe to say that when Murray’s number was finally — finally — called, he was ready.
Murray leads all of major college football with a 205.7 passer efficiency rating (which would top Mayfield’s back-to-back NCAA records), and his QBR rating of 96.0 would also be an all-time record.
Murray also leads the nation in total touchdowns (51), total offense (4,945 yards) and yards per attempt (11.9) and ranks second in completion percentage (70.9) and third in passing yards (4,053).
Haskins leads the nation in passing yards (4,580) and touchdown throws (47) while completing 70.2 percent of his throws with a 175.8 efficiency rating and a QBR of 86.9.
Tagovailoa ranks second behind Murray at 11.4 yards per completion, 202.3 efficiency rating and a 94.2 QBR. Tagovailoa has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 3,353 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Murray has set himself apart with 892 rushing yards and another 11 TDs. He needs 108 rushing yards to become just the second player in FBS history (with Clemson’s DeShaun Watson) to throw for at least 4,000 and run for at least 1,000 in a season.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.