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How Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray Won the 2018 Heisman Trophy

Kyler Murray
Kyler Murray has won the highest individual honor available fro each level of football he's played in. Photo by ABC/Disney [CC License].
  • Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray won the 2018 Heisman Trophy.
  • His victory over Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa was an upset, even if Murray entered the ceremony as the odds-on favorite.
  • How did Murray become the second straight Sooner to win the award?

Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, a result that online sports betting sites had favored in the week leading up to the ceremony. Here, we’re taking a look at what made Murray’s season so special, and what made his run to the Heisman so interesting.

Kyler Murray was the Heisman favorite for just one week

The most interesting thing about Murray’s run to college football immortality is how well-timed it all was. Murray was the betting favorite to win the Heisman Trophy for exactly one week: the week before the award ceremony. That is, of course, the only week that matters, but we’ve been tracking the 2018 odds since January.

Here are the three weeks in which Kyler Murray had the shortest odds to win the statue:

Date Murray’s Average Heisman Odds
Pre-Heisman Ceremony (Dec. 7) -160
Before TCU (Oct. 20) +280
After Baylor (Sep. 30) +330

See the full history of line movement over at the 2018 Heisman Trophy Odds Tracker.

The week before the ceremony was also the first time his odds were anywhere close to even money. The shortest they’d been all season was before the TCU game, which (strangely enough) came after a bye week and the loss to Texas.

If there’s any such thing as a “quality loss” in college football, it was Kyler Murray’s first game against Texas. The game made absolutely plain Oklahoma’s whole dynamic: the defense was bad, but Kyler Murray and the offense were almost unbeatable. Almost.

Kyler Murray odds weren’t available until late July

When Heisman futures first opened, Murray wasn’t even available. It wasn’t clear who the quarterback at Oklahoma would be, and since Murray was rumored to be a pretty hot MLB prospect, it wasn’t clear that he’d be returning to Norman at all. It was only in late July that we started seeing Murray pop up on odds sheets, after he’d worked everything out with the Oakland A’s and found an insurance underwriter willing to let him play the country’s most dangerous team sport.

With that cleared up, it became obvious that Murray would be stepping into Baker Mayfield’s 2017 Heisman-winning shoes. If he could fill them, there’s no job in the country better for someone wanting to put up huge numbers than QB in Lincoln Riley’s offense.

But could he fill them? The betting market tried to balance those probabilities, and he was listed at an average of +2300 in late July.

Kyler Murray was the most productive passer in the history of the sport

If we measure passing efficiency by Passing Efficiency Rating and Adjusted Yards/Attempt, Kyler Murray’s 2018 season was the best in history.

Rank Passing Efficiency Rating Adjusted Yards Per Attempt
1 Kyler Murray, 2018 (205.7) Kyler Murray, 2018 (13.3)
2 Tua Tagovailoa, 2018 (202.3) Tua Tagovailoa, 2018 (13.3)
3 Baker Mayfield, 2017 (198.9) Baker Mayfield, 2018 (12.9)
4 Baker Mayfield, 2016 (196.4) Baker Mayfield, 2017 (12.3)
5 Russel Wilson, 2011 (191.8) Robert Griffin III, 2011 (11.8)

Murray threw 40 touchdowns and ran for 11 more, clearing the magical 50-touchdown mark. Of the 21 people who have accounted for 51 or more touchdowns, six have gone on to win the Heisman Trophy.

Obviously a lot of Murray’s stats come down to scheme. It’s not a coincidence that three of the top-five seasons in both categories are consecutive seasons at one school by two players. Oklahoma’s scheme creates a lot of opportunities for talented passers and relies on them capitalizing. But Oklahoma’s scheme isn’t unique. There are plenty of quarterbacks at schools like Texas Tech and Washington State with a similar playbook to draw on, and none of them have ever been quite as good as Kyler Murray.

Kyler Murray needed it all

Nobody did more on the football field than Kyler Murray. In any other year, he would have been a runaway favorite and the betting line would have closed in November. It’s both a blessing and a curse that this year was unusually competitive.

This was the first year since — what, 2009? — that we haven’t already known who was going to win the Heisman when the ceremony started. There was some speculation in 2016 that Deshaun Watson could get it from Lamar Jackson, and in 2012 the voting total was actually pretty close, but not since Ingram/Gerhart/McCoy have we seen the Heisman race come down to the wire.

Dwayne Haskins and Tua Tagovailoa could both have been very deserving Heisman winners in any other year. Tua was actually winning with voters that cast their ballots before the Big 12 Championship game.

In a fiendishly competitive year for quarterbacks, one of the three finalists had to separate himself in the last week to win. Tua struggled against Georgia and was pulled with an ankle injury. Murray torched Texas and avenged what was just his second loss since ninth grade. Congrats to him, and I hope he makes a billion dollars playing baseball.

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