Lamar Jackson will probably win the Heisman.
That bears stating before you read any further.
Jackson’s overall statistical body of work is far superior to that of any other player in college football this year. He set the ACC single-season record for touchdowns responsible for. He set the single-season school record for rushing. He became the sixth player in FBS history with 20 passing TDs and 20 rushing TDs in a season. And there are probably several other records not mentioned here.
He’s a damn good player and he’s had the benefit of a fairly easy schedule.
However, Louisville’s 41-38 loss to Kentucky on Saturday did him no favors.
Yes, Jackson had 281 yards passing and two touchdowns, and 171 yards rushing and two scores, but he also had four turnovers. Kentucky turned two of those turnovers into 10 points, including the game-winning field goal with just seconds remaining. In the eyes of some voters, that might render the good stats useless.
This is the second consecutive game Jackson has struggled. Against Houston last week, Jackson had the worst game of his season, completing 46.5 percent of his passes for 211 yards and a second-half touchdown. He was limited to a season-low 33 rushing yards and was sacked 11 times.
Heisman ballots went out last week and many voters were waiting to see how Jackson would respond. While Jackson’s stats will wow, his turnovers, especially the fumble with 1:45 remaining in a tied game, doomed his team.
The Wildcats are 78th nationally in total defense and 81st in scoring defense. Kentucky lost to a Southern Miss team that just earned its sixth win this weekend. This was not a good Kentucky team.
And it was an opportunity missed against another weak opponent in a series of weak opponents on Louisville’s schedule.
Yes, Jackson’s stats are great, but there are many quarterbacks every year that put up great stats and don’t get Heisman love. Usually that’s because of the competition. Louisville has beaten just one team with a winning record — Florida State (9-3). Boston College, which has just one conference win, has the best total defense the Cardinals faced, but one of the nation’s worst total offenses to balance it out. NC State also is up there in total defense, but it ended the season losing five of its final seven.
It’s difficult to find a Heisman winner who faced a similarly weak schedule and had three losses. Even Baylor’s Robert Griffin, whose Baylor team also finished 9-3 in the regular season, had wins against ranked TCU, Oklahoma and Texas teams.
However, this might also be the weakest field of Heisman contenders.
Unlike past years, there isn’t a strong No. 2 candidate. If something like this had happened to Derrick Henry last year, Christian McCaffrey probably would have been the Heisman winner with no questions asked. Unfortunately, with Jake Browning and Donnel Pumphrey both struggling in recent weeks, and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Dede Westbrook essentially splitting the vote, a legitimate challenger hasn’t emerged.
Jackson started his momentum from the first game of the season and gained national attention after the win against a Florida State defense that was really bad early in the season and got better late. From there, he was consistently good against bad competition (until the Kentucky game) and uneven against the better competition he faced.
Still, no other Heisman contender exploited Jackson’s bad competition by playing consistently well against good competition in an effort to make the Heisman race a real race. So Jackson, despite two poor games to end the season, likely will join an elite group of players as a Heisman winner, but you can definitely argue whether his resume actually stacks up.
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