When the Louisville Cardinals take the field against Purdue on September 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium, Lamar Jackson will become the 15th Heisman winner to return to college. Not that he had a choice, as this will only be his third season out of high school. It is obviously difficult to win the Heisman trophy. But to win two? Almost unheard of. Seven percent of Heisman winners that have returned have gone on to win it again. That is 1 out of 14, with the one being Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975.
The most recent award winner to return is Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman in 2013 when he threw for 4,057 yards, 40 TDs, 10 INTs, and rushed for 219 yards and four touchdowns. His 2014 numbers dipped a bit as he threw for 3,907 yards, 25 TDs, 18 INTs, and rushed for 65 yards with three touchdowns. Those are still good numbers, except the interceptions, and he only finished 6th in the Heisman race that year, losing out to Marcus Mariota.
Johnny Manziel finished 5th in the season after he won the Heisman, seeing his numbers fluctuate from the year before. His passing yards and touchdowns increased, but so did his interceptions. And he rushed for over 600 yards less and had 12 less rushing touchdowns. That is also the year that Jameis won.
In fact, there has only been one player to finish 2nd in the voting the following year, and that was Billy Sims in 1979. The running back out of Oklahoma rushed for over 1,500 yards and had 22 TDs, but lost out to running back Charles White out of USC. Every other Heisman winner (except Griffin) finished 3rd or lower in the race in the year after they won the trophy.
Only one player has won the Heisman and then come back to win the National Championship in the following season, and that is Tim Tebow. Tebow won the award in 2007 and finished 3rd in 2008. Sam Bradford won the Heisman, but Tebow hoisted the National Championship trophy after Florida beat Bradford’s Oklahoma Sooners, a pretty nice trade if you ask me.
One of the mysteries this off-season for Louisville fans has been the lack of hype surrounding Lamar Jackson on the national stage. We know what he can do and we are as excited as ever for football to start. But you see pre-season Heisman lists or “Top 5 players in the country” lists, and Lamar is either behind a few people or not even on the list at all, which just seems absurd.
But maybe people are sleeping on him because he had a quiet off-season off the field. He wasn’t cited for walking out of a supermarket with crab legs. He wasn’t spotted by TMZ popping bottles of champagne. He didn’t tweet how he can’t wait to get out of Louisville. He didn’t sign memorabilia for money. If you see anything with him on social media, he is either hanging out with friends or listening to music. So is it possible that people just...forgot?
Louisville’s lackluster finish to the 2016 season doesn’t help. It gives the critics the ammo that they think proves them right. They don’t realize that it makes his stats even more impressive when you figure that he was getting next to no protection for most of last season. They see it as when he faced better teams, he struggled. Nevermind the Florida State game early on. Apparently, that didn’t count.
Can Lamar win the Heisman again? Of course he can. I don’t even think he has to put up the video game-like numbers early on. For one, Louisville needs to win. The end of last season needs to be erased from people’s minds. Lamar just needs to take care of the ball and limit his turnovers. If his accuracy improves, which we all expect it will after working with Bobby Petrino for another full season, then his passing numbers will obviously get better. And he can still run the ball as good as anyone in the country. The stats should be there. The wins need to be as well.
He will get his chance to be seen on TV. The first three games are on national television, with that third one being against Clemson at 3:30. The video game numbers can come in the next two against Kent State and Murray State (so can our glimpse of Jawon Pass hopefully). Then you get another game in the national spotlight against NC State on a Thursday night. Combine all of those with the trip to Tallahassee, and there will be plenty of opportunity for Lamar to make his case for the Heisman again.
People around the country are ready to move on to the next big thing. Who will leap onto the scene and take the college football world by storm? Everyone wants to predict who it will be and pick someone new. Sorry people, Lamar is still in the building.
However, if he takes the same path as Tim Tebow and trades in a back-to-back Heisman for a National Championship, I think Cards fans would be just fine with that.