To be crystal clear: Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield deserved to win the Heisman trophy.
I am also cognizant that with a shift toward the passing game the quarterback position has dominated the Heisman trophy award in the last few decades. Again to be clear, Mayfield earned his much deserved Heisman Trophy this season, and voting would have naturally leaned towards the QB anyway, but, reviewing what happened this season, Stanford Cardinal running back Bryce Love should have won the Heisman. Regardless of what Love did on the field this season the fact is he never even had a chance.
What Love Did
Love had an amazing season, finishing with 1,973 yards and 17 touchdowns despite missing a game with an ankle injury and playing through pain for most of the back half of the schedule. The Stanford workhorse averages 8.32 yards per carry, reaching the 100-yard mark in 11 of his 12 starts. He also scored in 11 of 12 games, finding the end zone multiple times in four games.
But the production from the first time lead back was not just good, it was historic. Love ran for 1,088 yards in the first five games. He joined an elite class of running backs as only the third player in college to reach 1,000 yards in just five games, the first time a Stanford player has done so. He also set the Stanford, single game rushing yards record against Arizona State, going for 301 yards.
Love has also etched his name into Stanford history, second in rushing yards in a season, sixth in career yards, fourth in touchdowns in a single season and top five in career 100-yard rushing games for career, season and consecutive. He is also first in career yards per attempt and second in a yards per attempt in a season. Keep in mind that all of these records and accolades are being collected by a player that has been buried on the bench behind Christian McCaffrey for the majority of his college career.
So while other players (like Mayfield) were playing and getting huge amounts of reps early in their college careers, Love was not. When Love finally started, he did not spend previous season building up experience and creating hype for himself with progressive improvement. He did not have the luxury of building up his repertoire in proceeding seasons, he simply stepped up to the plate (essentially cold) and knocked it out of the park. He exploded, not only playing inspired football, but reaching a level of play that elevated the team around him. He played to such an extent that he will be in the Stanford record books on almost solely the merits of a single season.
Love’s Case For The Heisman
Despite having quarterback turnover repeatedly throughout the season, despite a defense that had both good weeks and bad, despite a terrible ankle injury that could only hold him out for a week, Love carried this roster. He was the primary reason Stanford managed nine wins even with numerous major problems. The factor that kept Stanford in the winning column more often than not was Love.
Not only did Stanford rout opponents with Love, they were only capable of the feat with him. They managed a one point victory against Oregon State in his absence and lost to Washington State when they attempted to put him on controlled carries. For the Cardinal to be effective, Love was not only a necessity, they needed him in massive doses as well.
The Stanford star was never cold, never a distraction or liability and never complained. He played through horrific pain to finish the season because of his hampering ankle. He was not only there for his team but delivered at an elite level, giving his team a significant edge whenever he took the field. Love managed to keep up a tremendous pace despite the weight of carrying his team and his bum ankle.
While Mayfield was impressive, he did not carry his roster. He had players like wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews who both ranked in the top 35 receivers of the country. He had an 11 touchdown running back Rodney Anderson joining him in the backfield and outside of Ohio State, played weak defensive units. There is no defense in the Big 12 ranked inside the top 35, with all their secondaries giving up 220 passing yards or better per game. Mayfield looked good this year, but was helped because of continually facing horrid play from the back end of defenses.
Baker Mayfield opponents Avg S&P+ defensive ranking = 65.8461
Baker Mayfield opponents Avg FEI defensive ranking = 57.2307
Bryce Love opponents Avg S&P+ defensive ranking = 60.8333
Bryce Love opponents Avg FEI defensive ranking = 47.8333
Love was running hard against defenses that actually wanted to stop somebody. Love also did not exactly have the greatest passing attack to open up the box for him either meaning he faced tougher defenses and loaded defensive fronts.
Why I Am Mad
It is not just me, if you are not a Sooners fan, it is time to get riled up. The problem is not specifically that he did not win the Heisman (although he definitely should have). The problem is a top level running back on a team that finished with with nine wins in a power five conference, who practically carried the team into the Alamo Bowl, was never considered.
Mayfield was anointed the Heisman winner after his performance in the Bedlam game. It was already decided before November and players on the west coast like Love, who have few prime time slots and play at 10:30 pm for most of the voters, did not have a prayer. The entire affair is comparable to Alabama running back Derrick Henry taking home the Heisman in 2015.
Yet again, another Stanford standout should have taken home the trophy (McCaffrey) but Henry was a stud on the team that played the most prime time football. The real meat of the issue is when a player wins, it has far more to do with popularity and far less to do with talent or impact on the respective football team, an accusation that devalues the award. But the voting base already accomplished such a feat by only caring about what players on premier programs achieve throughout the season. Schools like Stanford are never on the board for the voter, with the proof as close as McCaffrey out playing Barry Sanders and failing to acquire the elusive (but for a select few) trophy.
Think I am wrong? Biased? Salty? I am absolutely all of those things, but also right. Think of the national story, it was Barkley for September, J.T. Barrett for a second and then Mayfield. Unlike Mayfield, Love was never in the spotlight or really even talked about. He was never assumed the winner or mentioned as the to be Heisman winner by the in game broadcast.
Before Love got to New York, he had already lost, which is a real bummer because he carried a team in a remarkable way all season long, but it did not matter to the voters.