By Jeff Milby —
When Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the 2017 Heisman Trophy, the first person to congratulate him was Lamar Jackson.
Sitting side-by-side in the front row of the Playstation Theater in New York City, Jackson embraced Mayfield in the first moment after his name was announced.
There is no shame in winning the Heisman trophy just once. Jackson always had an uphill battle to repeat as winner in 2017. Archie Griffin remains the only college football player to win the prestigious award twice.
As great as Jackson is, he wasn’t great enough to do that.
The Heisman Trophy is not a most valuable player award. According to the trophy’s official website, it is awarded to the most “outstanding” player in college football.
Interpret that at your own discretion.
There’s no question that Jackson is as outstanding in 2017 as he was a year ago.
In Jackson’s 2016 Heisman-winning campaign, he accumulated 4,928 total yards. It is the second-highest total by Heisman winner ever. This season Jackson finished with 4,932.
If there’s a noticeable difference in Jackson’s production the last two seasons, it is scoring. Jackson scored nine fewer touchdowns this year than last, finishing with 42 touchdowns as compared to his 51.
Still, that quibble is superficial at best. It’s Louisville’s win-and-loss record where most founded arguments against Jackson’s viability lie.
In Jackson’s 2016 Heisman-winning season, Louisville finished with three regular season losses. Of the 83 times the Heisman Trophy has been awarded, Jackson was only the 11th player to win the award with exactly that number.
In 2017, Jackson’s Louisville finished with four regular season losses. Only three winners finished with as many losses. The last came in 1969.
Jackson and Louisville lost that fourth game on October 28. If there’s been anything Heisman history has taught, it’s that four losses before November is a certain way to lose the award.
In 2017 it seemed that Mayfield was always going to win the Heisman. On Nov. 13, the final week that Las Vegas gambling outfits were allowed to take wagers on the ceremony, the Westgate Sports Book listed Mayfield as an overwhelming 1/20 favorite. He was also the preseason favorite, just ahead of Jackson.
Mayfield is a special story. Twice a walk-on, at Texas Tech and then Oklahoma, Mayfield was in New York to witness Jackson’s triumph a year ago. He finished in the top-four of the final Heisman ballot each of the last three seasons. Certainly a special player, Mayfield is more than deserving to join the most elite club in college football.
Jackson was the first member to welcome him.
You can follow Jeff Milby on twitter @j_milbz.
Photo by Laurel Slaughter / The Louisville