On Saturday, Lamar Jackson deservedly won the Heisman trophy over Deshaun Watson and company after an absurd first half of the season. Last year, however, the decision was much closer; Derrick Henry was a workhouse at Alabama, and Christian McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ long lasting record. What if McCaffrey had competed against Jackson as a sophomore? Would Jackson have to hand over the trophy to McCaffrey?
Lamar Jackson, a sophomore from Louisville, dazzled fans with his legs and arm, and like McCaffrey, he is a versatile player; both players can irritate defenses through multiple aspects of the game. In the first half of the season, Lamar Jackson had an insane number of touchdowns through the air and the ground, but by the end of the season, Jackson cooled off and even struggled in his last two games. Louisville finished the year on a two game losing streak, and Jackson was responsible for four total turnovers in his final game against Kentucky. Midway through the season, the Heisman trophy was Jackson’s trophy to lose, and he almost did that. Still however, Jackson’s first half dominance was not ignored, and he came home from New York with hardware.
Lamar Jackson’s Heisman season compares to Cam Newton’s. Both players threw for thirty touchdowns and for give or take 3000 yards. Furthermore, both players ran for roughly 1500 yards. Their stats similarly compare, but how many people remember Cam Newton’s Heisman year? Auburn fans probably remember it like it was yesterday. Stanford fans probably remember Cam Newton beating out Andrew Luck. But the nation probably remembers very little. Cam Newton’s season was nothing out of the ordinary. It was a great season but nothing special; Lamar Jackson’s season will hardly be remembered five years from now.
In 2015, Christian McCaffrey started the year off slowly but finished the year off on a high note. Unlike Jackson, McCaffrey’s best game of the year was against USC, and he helped Stanford win the PAC-12 Championship. However McCaffrey’s dominance goes beyond one game, he was outstanding for almost the entire year. Throughout the season, McCaffrey broke Stanford records left and right, and he broke the single season all purpose yards record in the process. McCaffrey had one of the most legendary college football seasons of all time but left New York empty handed.
Christian McCaffrey’s sophomore season compares with college football legends. He averaged 6.6 yards per touch from scrimmage, which is the same number Bo Jackson averaged in his 1985 Heisman season. Compared to Reggie Bush in 2005, Christian McCaffrey averaged more yards per game rushing and returning while having almost identical yards per game receiving. Lastly, Christian draws comparisons to Barry Sanders after breaking his record, but both players picked up yardage in different facets of the game. Both players, however, did a little bit of everything. Christian McCaffrey’s sophomore season compares to college football legends, who all had historical seasons.
Undoubtedly, McCaffrey would have won college football’s biggest prize if he competed against Lamar Jackson. First of all, in the past, voters tend to pick the hottest player, and Jackson won after his worst game of the year. Meanwhile, McCaffrey lost the Heisman after his best game of the year. Secondly, in tight Heisman races, voters tend to pick the player with the more successful team. In 2009, Toby Gerhart lost the Heisman despite better stats than Mark Ingram, but Stanford’s poor record ultimately hurt his chances. Meanwhile, Ingram led Alabama to the national title game. With this voting tendency in mind, Christian McCaffrey clearly has the advantage. In 2015, McCaffrey was the best player on the PAC-12’s best team and was ready to take on Iowa in the Rose Bowl. On the other hand, Lamar Jackson and Louisville couldn’t even make it into the ACC title game and are playing in the Citrus Bowl, which isn’t exactly the most prestigious game. Lastly, Christian McCaffrey had a season that people will remember for years to come. He broke Barry Sanders’ twenty six year old record, and it was truly a special year. Where as, Lamar Jackson had just another great year; it wasn’t historical.
Ultimately, McCaffrey finished second in 2015, and Jackson won this year. In 2015, the competition was much better. McCaffrey was up against Derrick Henry, and in a close race, Henry had the advantage based off the three points above. Henry had his best game of the year in the SEC championship game, led his team to the national title, and had one of the greatest rushing seasons of all time. This year, the competition was much weaker. Lamar Jackson’s biggest challenger was Deshaun Watson, who finished third in 2015. In fact, Watson actually had a better season in 2015 compared to 2016; he threw for more yards and fewer interceptions. Lamar Jackson was in a one way race by himself and still came close to losing.
Will we have a chance to see Christian McCaffrey win the prestigious trophy against the reigning Heisman winner next year? No. The McCaffrey era is coming to an end, and Lamar Jackson should be grateful he’ll never face sophomore Christian McCaffrey or future Christian McCaffrey.