The first player to go from walk-on to walking off with the Heisman Trophy, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield was named the 83rd winner in a landslide.
But in a season he clearly dominated in leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoff, the senior could only flirt with voting history.
Mayfield won Saturday night by 1,098 points over Stanford’s Bryce Love, while Louisville’s Lamar Jackson — the returning winner — was third, 1,605 points behind. The QB claimed 732 first-place votes and swept all six regions.
He received 86 percent of the possible points, which kept him behind Troy Smith (91.6) and Marcus Mariota (90.9), who have the record among recognized winners (Reggie Bush was higher at 91.7 in his since-vacated vote). But on the 898 ballots (out of 929) that were returned, Mayfield was missing from 51 of them.
That’s a possible 153 points he missed out on, with three points going to players listed first on a ballot, that would have lifted him to over 94 percent of the possible points, a new record.
This is in no way an indictment to those who had player who finished outside the top three on their ballots. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley (15), San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny (seven), UCF’s McKenzie Milton (four), Georiga’s Roquan Smith (three) and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph (two each) all received first-place nods, and the beauty of the Heisman vote is that what is “Heisman” is truly in the eye of each voter. There are no watch lists, no semifinalist votes.
Who makes up the ballot is up to each voter, and those four who thought Milton was worthy of a first-place in leading UCF to an undefeated season and place in the Peach Bowl were entitled to that stance.
But it’s not a stretch to think that Mayfield was hindered by what comes along with his sometimes emotional play. His main competitors fell off and by November, the rest of the season felt like a victory lap for the Sooners passer. The Ohio State flag-plant, the trash talk vs. Baylor, and most egregiously, the incident on the sideline against Kansas all hung over Mayfield, though, serving as “yeah, but that’s not Heisman-worthy,” asterisks to go with his 4,340 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and NCAA-record 203.8 pass efficiency rating.
In winning by a margin of 1,501 points in 2013, Jameis Winston was kept off 10 percent of ballots in a season in which he faced sexual assault allegations. Mayfield was kept off nearly six percent, with a distinct possibility it was for letting his emotions get the best of him on the field.
The idea of a unanimous winner isn’t happening in the Heisman vote, and just like the All-Big 12 first-team vote, where Mayfield was two votes from being a consensus pick, there are likely those who go elsewhere, believing the majority will get the trophy and the accolade to the right place.
Their vote is their own.
Nonetheless, Mayfield is the seventh player to win the award a year after coming in third, with the last sitting squarely behind Mayfield while he gave his acceptable speech: Florida’s Danny Wuerffel in 1996. In coming in fourth in 2015, he’s also just the fifth player with three top-four finishes, joining a legendary list of Army’s Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, SMU’s Doak Walker and Georgia’s Herschel Walker.
Mayfield gave Oklahoma a sixth Heisman — tying USC for second all-time — and that piece of history will have its place in Norman. But it could have been more. It could have been the new bar in terms of voting.
The moment, though, was still Mayfield’s, cast in bronze as everyone expected it would be.
INSIDE MY BALLOT
With the Heisman Trust asking all voters to keep their ballots under wraps until the winner has been announced, here’s a look at how I voted.
1. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma. Love him or hate him for playing with his emotions on his sleeve, Mayfield was college football in 2017, headlining the most explosive offense in the nation (583.3 yards per game).
2. Bryce Love, RB Stanford. He finished shy of 2,000 yards — 1,973 to be exact — despite playing through injury for much of the season and gives the Cardinal a record sixth runner-up (John Elway, Toby Gerhart, Andrew Luck — twice — and Christian McCaffrey).
3. Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville. It’s no secret a Heisman winner faces an unfair set of expectations as they try to one-up themselves. He couldn’t get the Cardinals into the playoff or keep them in contention, but Jackson was spectacular in averaging 411 yards of offense, making him deserving of the best finish for returning winner since Tim Tebow in 2008.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.