My 2018 Heisman Trophy ballot: Why I voted for Kyler Murray to win over Tua Tagovailoa

I've only been a voter for the Heisman Trophy the last three years, but this season's ballot was the most difficult one for me to fill out, and I suspect this may still be the case for the foreseeable future. The reason for this was because, while there are always a number of worthy candidates, the two obvious choices this year were so similar. Both Oklahoma's Kyler Murray and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa had amazing seasons that were near mirror images of one another.

In the end, I opted to go with Murray over Tagovailoa, and in the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to explain what led to my decision.

If you look at their raw stats, Murray had the more impressive totals. He finished the season with 4,053 yards passing, 892 yards rushing, 51 total touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and a passer efficiency rating of 205.72. Tagovailoa threw for 3,353 yards passing, rushed for 190 yards, had 42 total touchdowns and only 4 interceptions with a passer efficiency of 202.30. While Murray's total yardage numbers dwarfed Tagovailoa's, it's not as simple as just looking at the total yards. It's important to remember that Tagovailoa and Alabama were involved in a lot of blowouts that saw the quarterback spending a lot of time on the bench during the second halves of games. Tagovailoa didn't play in the fourth quarter until Alabama's ninth game of the season.

So while Murray had 1,402 more total yards than Tagovailoa, he did so because he threw 46 more passes and carried the ball 75 more times. That's why when you look at their yards per attempt numbers as passers, you see that Murray averaged 11.9 yards per attempt to Tagovailoa's 11.4. So I decided to dig deeper to see if I could find if one had a clear advantage over the other in the numbers department. Rather than look at raw totals, I decided to break things down into rate statistics.

I broke it down like this: I took their total yards passing and rushing and averaged them out based on total "plays" (pass attempts + rush attempts). I then broke them down into three major categories: Yards per play (total yards/total plays), touchdown rate (total TD/total plays) and turnover rate ((Interceptions + Fumbles)/total plays). And this is what it looked like in the end.

QBTotal PlaysTotal YardsYards Per PlayTD RateTurnover Rate

Kyler Murray

463

4,945

10.68

11.02

1.73

Tua Tagovailoa

342

3,543

10.36

12.28

1.75

As you can see, even when I broke it down this way, they were incredibly similar. Murray had a slight edge in yards per play, while Tagovailoa's TD rate was better, and their turnover rates were nearly identical.

So that wasn't much help!

In the end, I had to look for other deciding factors, and while I've felt recency bias plays too large a role in Heisman balloting (and many other awards as well as rankings), the one significant distinction between the two came down to how they performed at the biggest moments.

I did the same math for Murray in his two games against Texas, as well as the West Virginia game. For Tagovailoa, I looked at his performances against LSU, Auburn, and Georgia in the SEC Championship. This is where the clear separation became evident.

QBTotal PlaysTotal YardsYards Per PlayTD RateTurnover Rate

Kyler Murray

117

1,292

11.04

10.26

1.71

Tua Tagovailoa

109

837

7.68

9.17

2.75

Essentially, the one thing that sunk Tagovailoa's case compared to Murray's was his performance against Georgia in the SEC Championship. In a race this tight, between two incredible players, one had a great performance when his team needed him the most, and the other struggled.

That was the deciding factor in my ballot.

Of course, I had three spots on the ballot, and my third-place vote went to Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, who had a season that would have been worthy of a first-place vote most years. I wanted to be sure I wasn't overlooking his numbers, however, and compared his rate statistics to both Murray and Tagovailoa, just in case I was missing something. After doing so, it was clear that while Haskins deserved the spot on my ballot, third-place was as high as I could go.

QBTotal PlaysTotal YardsYards Per PlayTD RateTurnover Rate

Kyler Murray

463

4,945

10.68

11.02

1.73

Tua Tagovailoa

342

3,542

10.36

12.28

1.75

Dwayne Haskins

569

4,702

8.26

8.96

2.11

As for the players I left off my ballot, while the Murray-Tagovailoa debate was difficult, the one I had between Haskins and Memphis running back Darrell Henderson wasn't much easier. Henderson finished second in the nation with 1,909 yards rushing and was tied for first with Florida Atlantic's Devin Singletary in rushing touchdowns with 22. Henderson did all this while averaging a ridiculous 8.92 yards per carry.

I used the College Football Reference database to find out how many running backs had averaged that many yards per carry while carrying the ball at least 200 times (Henderson had 214 carries). It only goes back to the year 2000, but since the 2000 season here's a complete list of running backs to average more than 8.5 yards per carry with at least 200 carries:

RusherSeasonCarriesYards Per Carry

Darrell Henderson, Memphis

2018

214

8.92

Reggie Bush, USC

2005

200

8.70

Devon Johnson, Marshall

2014

206

8.58

As you can see, it's a rare feat, and one Henderson deserves to be recognized for. Unfortunately, I'm only allowed to put three players on my ballot, and like Haskins, Henderson had a fantastic year in a season with other amazing performances.

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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