Will Louisville’s Lamar Jackson win the 2016 Heisman Trophy?
Before the Louisville University football team obliterated their Florida State University opponents last Saturday, they honored the late Muhammad Ali — a son of Louisville himself — by emblazoning butterfly decals on their helmets, and painting a butterfly with Ali’s name in a patch of grass behind the north end zone of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
The butterflies, of course, were a nod to Ali’s famous catchphrase of: “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
But amidst the Cardinals thrashing of the Seminoles, it seemed as if Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson spent the afternoon paying homage to another famous Ali quote:
“I AM THE GREATEST.”
Through three games this season, Jackson had led the Cardinals offense to an average of 65 points per game. That’s a number that you’d expect Pitino and the football team to average, as opposed to Petrino and the football team.
Jackson himself has scored 18 touchdowns — eight passing and ten rushing — which is more than 120 FBS teams. He’s singlehandedly averaging 459 yards of offense per game and 154.7 rushing yards per game, which both rank second in the entire nation.
He’s well on his way to becoming the fourth player among the Power 5 conferences to accumulate 20 touchdown passes and 20 touchdown runs in one season. The three other players to accomplish this — Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel — all won the Heisman Trophy.
More importantly: Jackson’s dispatching of the previously second-ranked Seminoles now puts him squarely in the national spotlight, which remains an unwritten criteria for the winner of the trophy. Louisville is all but in the driver’s seat for an appearance in college football’s “Final Four;” that talk is only going to increase exponentially if the Cardinals defeat the Clemson Tigers, whom they’ll play in Death Valley in less than two weeks.
If Jackson bests Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, who entered the season as one of the favorites for the trophy himself, and the Cardinals finish the season with an ACC championship, it’s very difficult to imagine a scenario where another player leapfrogs him as the Heisman favorite.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette might be the most singularly dominant (non-quarterback) offensive force in the entire country, but his candidacy will be marred by the awful quarterback play the Tigers had early in the season. Christian McCaffrey from Stanford University might be the most prolific (non-quarterback) dual threat in the nation, but he hasn’t put up the eye-popping numbers like those on Jackson’s resume, and will always have to fight against the infamous “east coast bias.” And Jackson basically eliminated any hope that Florida State running back Dalvin Cook — who needed a monster game of his own to help his candidacy — remains the in the race.
Heisman Trophy winners are never anointed in September, and Jackson winning the trophy is far from a foregone conclusion.
As mentioned, Louisville still has to play two games with enormous implications, both on the road: on October 1st against Clemson, and then against the very potent sixth ranked University of Houston Cougars as well (in a nationally televised match up on Thursday, November 17th).
But at least through the first month of the college football season, so far, the Heisman Trophy is Lamar Jackson’s to lose.