J. Brady McCollough looks at the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the season. Will Oklahoma produce another Heisman Trophy winner?
Entering the 21st century, uncontrollable laughter would have spread from coast to coast if someone had predicted that the Oklahoma starting quarterback would become college football’s glamour position.
The Sooners were known for hard-nosed, wishbone football before Bob Stoops took over in Norman and hired Mike Leach as his offensive coordinator. Leach was only there for one season before being poached by Texas Tech, but that one year was enough to install “Air Raid” principles at Oklahoma that have only flourished more under Stoops’ replacement, Lincoln Riley.
With Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray the last two seasons, the Sooners have produced consecutive Heisman Trophy winners and No. 1 overall NFL draft picks. Now it’s Jalen Hurts’ turn to drive Riley’s crimson-and-cream Ferrari, and wouldn’t it be something if Hurts — who lost the Alabama starting job to Tua Tagovailoa entering 2018 — is the guy who leads Oklahoma to a historic third straight Heisman winner?
The Sooners would also overtake Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC (if you’re one to count Reggie Bush’s Heisman) as the only school with eight bronze stiff-arming statues.
This is fun to think about, but we’ve got a long way to go. First off, the oddsmakers see this as a two-man race between Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Tagovailoa, who was usurped at the last minute by Murray once the Sooners played their way into the College Football Playoff thanks to his simply ridiculous output. There are many who still believe Tagovailoa was the best player in college football last year.
Of course, it’s a purely subjective process trying to determine whether the most productive player is actually the best, and every voter has their own spin on what the award is supposed to honor. It is highly likely that Hurts — by playing in Riley’s system and in a conference, the Big 12, that features little defense (including Oklahoma) — will put up gaudier stats than Lawrence or Tagovailoa.
Hurts also has the personal touch, as the whole country watched him say all the right things all season as Tagovailoa’s backup and then come off the bench in the Southeastern Conference championship game to lead a spirited Crimson Tide comeback that saved Alabama’s season.
If the resumes are close at season’s end, wouldn’t Hurts’ heart win out?
The senior has a ton to prove this year. There are doubts about his accuracy, which is one of the reasons Tagovailoa beat him out at Alabama, and he does not have the speed of Murray.
Compared with Oklahoma predecessors Mayfield and Murray — and Heisman competitors Lawrence and Tagovailoa — Hurts is not going to win any beauty pageants. But he’s now at the school that knows the formula better than any other.