I’m a big fan of upsets.
Upsets create storylines. Upsets are entertaining. People pay attention to upsets. It took Leonardo DiCaprio about a billion years to win an Academy Award even though he probably should’ve won back in 1994. For a long time, the biggest storyline during Hollywood awards season was whether or not he’d finally get his Oscar.
Upsets are, of course, a huge part of sports, too. One of my favorite parts of March Madness is the inevitable Cinderella team, the team that surprises everyone with a couple of thrilling upsets. A few years ago, the University of Dayton Flyers went all the way to the Elite Eight before finally being knocked out by Florida.
Upsets are also interesting in the sports award world. The most prestigious award in college football, the Heisman Trophy, has seen its fair share of upsets over the years. Peyton Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, and Vince Young didn’t win the Heisman. Neither did former Notre Dame and Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, although his Heisman snub was, admittedly, less controversial. He did, however, change the pronunciation of his last name from Tease-man to Thighs-man to rhyme with Heisman. And then, after all that, he still lost. (He never went back to Tease-man, though.)
The point is, upsets make life interesting. Usually, I’m all for a tight race and unexpected results. But this college football season is different. We’re just at the beginning of the season, but I can already tell you with complete certainty that the Heisman race is over. Lamar Jackson has already won it. And that’s just fine with me.
Jackson is 19 years old, same as me, but he’s accomplished quite a bit more than I have in that same time frame. A native of Florida, he attended Boynton Beach Community High School and played quarterback for the varsity football team, the Tigers. As a senior, he passed for 1,293 yards and rushed for 1,039. Jackson threw 20 touchdowns and rushed for 19. He was the No. 30 quarterback in the country.
With stats like these, it isn’t hard to see why he got offers from a long list of some of the top names in college football. Florida, Florida State, Auburn, and Clemson all wanted Jackson. So did West Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina, among others. Jackson visited Nebraska and Florida, but in the end decided against them. On Aug. 30, 2014, he officially committed to the University of Louisville.
Jackson made a name for himself as a freshman. He threw 1,840 yards and rushed for 960. In the 12 games he appeared in, he threw 12 touchdowns and rushed for 11. Jackson had a breakout game against powerhouse Florida State, throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He helped the Cardinals beat Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl, passing for 227 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson was named Most Valuable Player in the 27-21 victory.
This year, as a sophomore, it has only taken three games for Jackson to make sure every college football fan in the country knows his name. Louisville started the season with a splash, defeating Charlotte 70-14. In that game, Jackson passed for 286 yards and rushed for 119. He accounted for eight touchdowns, passing for six and rushing for two.
That’s all well and good, you might say, but that was against Charlotte. Everyone expects Louisville to beat Charlotte. A blowout is no surprise. In fact, it would have been a bigger story had the game been close. What about another ACC team? What can Jackson do against an ACC football team?
In Week Two, Jackson and the Cardinals traveled to New York to take on Syracuse University in the Carrier Dome. The game was never close. Barely 16 seconds into the game, Jackson heaved a 73-yard touchdown pass to James Quick to open the scoring up. Louisville never looked back, and Jackson led the team the whole way. He would finish with 411 passing yards and one passing touchdown as well as 199 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. Louisville crushed Syracuse, 62-28.
All right, all right—so Jackson can beat an ACC team. Still, though, Syracuse is hardly a football powerhouse. What about one of the nation’s top programs? Can Jackson still put up astounding numbers against even tougher competition?
You can probably see where I’m going with this. The answer is yes—Jackson can still dominate against college football powerhouse programs. Just ask Florida State. When the Seminoles rolled into Kentucky last weekend, they had no idea what was waiting for them. Jackson led Louisville to a 63-20 blowout of FSU. He threw for 216 yards and rushed for 146, again contributing one passing touchdown and four rushing touchdowns.
Jackson has proved that he can lead Louisville into battle with even the toughest of teams and still put up fantastic numbers. Nobody has figured out how to stop him yet, and until someone cracks it Louisville will keep succeeding every Saturday. After the Florida State game, the Cardinals jumped seven spots in the AP Top 25 poll, settling in at No. 3. They trail only Alabama and Ohio State. (Florida State, ranked second the previous week, dropped 11 spots to No. 13. Yikes. You hate to see it.)
So let’s recap his season so far. In just three games, Jackson has thrown for 913 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s rushed for 464 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a dual-threat quarterback, Jackson is ripping through college football. If he keeps this pace up, this season could be legendary.
It’s hard to look at Louisville’s schedule and think that Jackson will slow down anytime soon. The Cardinals play Clemson in two weeks, probably the toughest game remaining on their schedule. Even so, Clemson is currently the No. 5 team in the country, two spots below Louisville. And if Jackson could bowl over Florida State, there’s no reason to believe he can’t do the same to Clemson. If Jackson isn’t able to lead Louisville past Clemson, there’s a strong point to be made that he won’t win the Heisman. I believe it depends on the rest of the season. A loss to Clemson would be a blow to his case, but not necessarily a death blow. If Jackson bounces back and dominates for the rest of the season, I don’t think a Clemson loss would kill his chances.
Other upcoming games include Kentucky and Duke. And Louisville is traveling up to Chestnut Hill to play BC. Football fans, you don’t want to miss this game—an opportunity to see Jackson in person. It’ll be worth it, even if he embarrasses the Eagles like he’s embarrassed other, better teams.
There has been a lot of attention on Jackson, especially after the Florida State game. He has been compared to Michael Vick, a trendsetting dual-threat quarterback at Virginia Tech and in the NFL. Vick himself took to Twitter to weigh in on the comparison, and said that he believes Jackson is already better than he was in college.
Vick isn’t the only one to take notice of Jackson. NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlin compared Jackson to Eagles legend Randall Cunningham. And Tyrann Mathieu, perhaps better known as the Honey Badger, also praised Jackson in a tweet.
So why is Jackson already a lock for the Heisman? Sure, he’s had impressive stats—but we’re only in Week Four. A lot can change over the rest of the season. He might slow down. He might put up lackluster numbers against Clemson and then completely drop off after that. Hell, he might even get injured.
I mean, people were saying that Leonard Fournette was a lock for the Heisman this time last year, but in the end he wasn’t even a finalist. The LSU running back put up strong stats to start the season and seemed unstoppable—right up until he met Alabama. Fournette had totaled 1,352 yards through seven games, but the Crimson Tide limited him to just 31. That game was the beginning of the end for Fournette’s Heisman campaign.
Still, I can’t see Jackson going the Fournette route. Unless he does get injured—and I certainly hope he doesn’t—I believe Jackson will keep up the pace. The Florida State game was the first real test of his skills, and he passed with flying colors. There’s a reason why everyone in the college football world is buzzing about Jackson right now. He’s already proved that he deserves to be a top contender for the award, if not the clear-cut winner. If he keeps this up, there won’t be an argument against him winning.
You might be wondering about the other potential Heisman finalists. Who might challenge Jackson for the award? He may be the biggest story in college football right now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other players making cases for themselves.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford’s all-star running back, is continuing to impress this season. Last year, he capped off an impressive sophomore campaign by being named the Associated Press Player of the Year and the Heisman runner-up. Through two games this year he’s accumulated 298 rushing yards and 106 receiving yards. Surely McCaffrey is a huge obstacle for Jackson winning the Heisman?
I don’t think he is. McCaffrey has put up 298 rushing yards in two games. Jackson has 464 through three. McCaffrey has rushed for three touchdowns. Jackson has rushed for 10. And McCaffrey’s numbers came against Kansas State and USC—hardly the most competitive of teams, unlike Florida State.
The same goes for other contenders like Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Both quarterbacks have put up strong numbers. Their names are being mentioned in the Heisman conversation. But they can’t beat Jackson. Sure, Watson led Clemson over Auburn this season—but his other wins have been against Troy and South Carolina State. Barrett, meanwhile, has led the Buckeyes past Bowling Green, Tulsa, and Oklahoma. Ohio State scored 77 points against Bowling Green. Jackson led Louisville to 63 points against Florida State. That’s only a 14-point difference. Jackson almost beat Florida State as badly as Barrett beat Bowling Green.
Meanwhile, Greg Ward, Jr., and Donnel Pumphrey are also making cases for themselves. Ward, Jr., is the quarterback for Houston, while Pumphrey is the running back for San Diego State. It’s the same old story with them, too—they’re having great seasons, but not good enough to beat Jackson out for the Heisman. Ward, Jr., is also battling a shoulder injury right now. If the injury continues to nag, it wouldn’t be surprising if his numbers drop considerably. And Pumphrey has put up impressive numbers so far, but he hasn’t exactly been challenged by a team of Florida State’s caliber. He ran for 220 yards against Northern Illinois and only managed 98 yards against New Hampshire.
And it’s not like there’s no precedent of someone being heavily favored to win the Heisman all season long. Not every race is tight. Sometimes, it’s pretty obvious throughout the season who will win the Heisman. Marcus Mariota was the preseason favorite to win the Heisman in 2014. His performance over the course of the season left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would be the winner.
Sure, upsets are entertaining. They bring an element of the unknown and the exciting. But not everything needs an unexpected twist. Lamar Jackson is rolling through college football right now. He can’t be stopped, and he won’t slow down. We may be only three games into the season, but it’s already clear what’s coming for him:
The 2016 Heisman Trophy.
Featured Image by Nick Lisi / AP Photo