Would Tua Tagovailoa Have Won the Heisman If He Hadn’t Gotten Injured?

Despite the final tally not being nearly as close as anyone predicted, Tua Tagovailoa earned the most points ever for a Heisman runner-up.
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NEW YORK — Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won the 84th Heisman Trophy on Saturday night and it wasn’t even close, contrary to the overarching pre-ceremony story line.

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was the frontrunner all season. But Murray ran away with college football’s most coveted prize, earning 517 first-place votes (2,167 total points) to Tagovailoa’s 299 (1,871).

Now the question has to be asked: Would Tagovailoa have won if he hadn’t gotten hurt in the SEC championship game?

Would Texas have beat Alabama to win the 2009 national championship if Colt McCoy didn’t get hurt? There’s no conclusive way to determine these things. But there are some interesting statistics compiled by Deloitte, the independent accounting firm that tabulates the Heisman ballots, which show how much the SEC and Big 12 championship games may have affected the final 2018 votes.

According to a graphic provided by Deloitte, Tagovailoa had a slim 294–215 edge over Murray before conference championship weekend when only 13% of voters had cast their ballots. The Alabama quarterback held a wider margin as more votes came in during the title games, 336–257. But after the games were finished, Murray took over the lead. Despite the final tally not being nearly as close as anyone predicted, Tagovailoa did earn the most points ever for a Heisman runner-up.

Murray’s win was the first time in Heisman history that quarterbacks from the same school won in consecutive years (Baker Mayfield won last year). Oklahoma now has seven winners, pushing them into a three-way tie with Notre Dame and Ohio State for the most all-time. Tagovailoa would have been Alabama’s first quarterback and only the program’s third winner.

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Murray, who plans to pursue a Major League Baseball career with the Oakland Athletics after he leads Oklahoma as far as he can in the College Football Playoff, has had a historic season. He’s completed more than 70% of his passes and has the nation’s highest passing efficiency rating. And he’s also the first player in FBS history to average 300 yards passing and 60 yards rushing, while leading Oklahoma to its fourth Big 12 title and its second consecutive playoff berth. His Heisman stock rose even more earlier this week when he was named the Associated Press player of the year and won the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s best quarterback. So, it’s not like he wasn’t deserving.

Tagovailoa has owned headlines all season by revolutionizing Alabama’s offense. He put together one of the finest seasons in program history—despite never playing a full game—completing 67.7% of his passes and throwing for 3,353 yards with 37 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The first-year starter powered the Tide to score 47.9 points per game. But what’s made Tagovailoa most dangerous and Alabama’s offense so intimidating is the frightening pace at which he can score. This season Alabama scored a touchdown on its opening drive in 10 of 13 games, and those possessions averaged 1:55 in length.

In the SEC championship game though, Tagovailoa actually looked human. He completed 10 of 25 passes for 164 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a high ankle sprain. Backup Jalen Hurts replaced him and saved the season. During his weekend in New York City, Tagovailoa wore a walking boot to protect his recently surgically repaired left ankle. Alabama trainer Jeff Allen even taped him up before the ceremony so he wouldn’t have to wear the bulky brace. Had he won, it likely would have been the first time a Heisman winner hoisted the trophy with a taped ankle.

The best part about this outcome, whether the national majority agrees with the voters or not, is that Murray and Tagovailoa will get to face off in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29. That’s something Tide players and coaches can get behind.