It may seem counter-intuitive to have a running back run loose in a quarterback’s campaign for the Heisman. But try telling that to quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota and Robert Griffin in their Heisman seasons.
After being snubbed of a bid for the Heisman last season, Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield comes into the season as the Big 12’s best bet at being honored in Times Square this season. That’s especially true if Samaje Perine has an equally impressive campaign in the backfield for Oklahoma.
For the most recent basis of comparison turn to Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, who placed third for the Heisman last season. Watson and Mayfield had very similar stats overall, both on playoff teams. Watson took third and Mayfield placed fourth.
This is where the meaning of the Heisman comes into play. Is it who’s the best or the most valuable to his team? It’s really a mix of both, but the former is more widely accepted, particularly when playing for a top-tier team.
That’s where Watson was favored over Mayfield, who was more so considered Oklahoma’s heart. Watson was working in the backfield where Wayne Gallman totaled 1740 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns.
Similarly was Perine in the Sooners backfield with 1456 yards and 17 scores. Watson’s ability to outshine Gallman’s numbers that were only a notch below consideration for a Heisman ballot may have been the deciding factor.
In 2014, Mariota was blessed with Royce Freeman busting loose for 1,523 total yards and 19 touchdowns. Jameis Winston had two partners in crime that totaled over 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. Griffin III’s Heisman that launched Baylor to new heights was helped by Terrance Ganaway rushing for 21 touchdowns as well.
The list goes on even to Sam Bradford’s trophy in 2008 where he beat out Texas’ lone star in Colt McCoy. It could be simplified in saying that a balanced attack thanks to a next-level running game simply helps the team, and by proxy, builds the brand of the quarterback. But cases like Baylor winning just nine games with Griffin show that, though important and not untrue, it’s not the only thing weighing in on the decision.
That said, were Perine able to produce at the same level his sophomore season as he did as a true freshman, it wouldn’t be a surprise to have seen Mayfield at the ceremony at the very least.
This year, it’s even more true, considering what lies ahead of the Sooners in the first few weeks of the season. Primarily, OU has two premier showcases against Houston and Ohio State to open up the season in the first three weeks. The factor of having a weak non-conference schedule to boost stats are thrown out the window, and both schools are particularly strong on defense.
Last season, the Sooners were really hurt in the first few weeks adjusting to Lincoln Riley’s air raid offense, and in turn hurt Perine’s contribution. Now with the kinks out, it stands to reason that the Sooners can come shooting out of the gates.
Getting Perine to the territory of 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns may be flying a bit too close to the sun and split votes, but as the face of the program, Mayfield should only benefit from the rest of his team working at top capacity too. He wouldn’t be the first.