By Ryan Wonsowicz
Everyone’s suspicions were confirmed on the night of December 10, 2016. Lamar Jackson of the Louisville Cardinals took home the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the best player in all of college football. Jackson was the overwhelming favorite coming into the ceremony, and he emerged as an overwhelming victor. He garnered 2,114 points and finished with 526 out of 929 first place votes. Deshaun Watson finished in second and Baker Mayfield took third. Jackson made both Louisville and Heisman history by becoming the first Cardinal and the youngest ever to win the award.
Jackson’s story begins well before the 2016 college football season. Born and raised in Pompano Beach, Florida, he became a star at Boynton Beach High School, where he threw for 2263 yards and 31 passing TDs complemented with 22 rushing TDs in his career. The dual-threat was not recruited heavily out of high school due to his slim frame(180 lbs). He signed on to play at Louisville for Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals.
When Jackson arrived on campus in the fall of 2015, he had some big shoes to fill. The comparisons to former Louisville standout and current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater were a given. In his freshman season, LJ split some time with sophomore Kyle Bolin. Jackson got the majority of the playing time, appearing in all 12 games compared to Bolin’s 7, and threw for 1840 yards and 12 TDs. He completed over 50% of his passes on 247 attempts and finished with a QBR of 126.8. The Cards finished the year 8-5 and won the Music City Bowl against Texas A&M.
Lamar flew under the radar this past offseason but exploded onto the scene in 2016. On the night college football returned, Jackson blew the roof off Papa John’s Stadium. He accounted for eight total TDs and finished with a passer rating of 264.5. The Cards throttled Charlotte 70-14. He followed up with another monster performance in his second game at Syracuse. Louisville shellacked the Orange 62-28 with Jackson accounting for five total TDs, including four on the ground. He finished just shy of 200 rushing yards with a long of 72.
Louisville captured everyone’s full attention ahead of their duel with #2 Florida State. College GameDay’s presence at Louisville only increased the hype surrounding this game. Jackson did not disappoint. He fanned his own flames by dropping another five touchdown performance on the ‘Noles. He did most of his damage on the ground by running for another four touchdowns while accumulating 216 passing yards. Louisville’s 63-20 victory put him in first in the Heisman race.
Jackson and the Cardinals easily defeated Marshall 59-28 in Week 4. This set the stage for another huge test for the team in a battle that pitted #3 Louisville in Death Valley to take on #5 Clemson. The game was also a matchup between Jackson and fellow Heisman hopeful Deshaun Watson. In the end, the Tigers topped the Cards 42-36. Jackson didn’t lose the game for his team; he still managed 457 yards of total offense. Louisville’s suspect defense was exposed by Clemson. In addition, Death Valley is one of the toughest stadiums to play at in college football.
Following the loss, Jackson and the Cardinals went into a bye before rattling off five straight wins against mediocre ACC competition. These included big wins against NC State(54-13), Boston College(52-7), and Wake Forest(44-12). The legend of Lamar only continued to grow as he scored 20 total touchdowns during that stretch.
With only one stain on their otherwise perfect record, #5 Louisville’s playoff hopes remained alive. Two more wins and a little help guaranteed them a ticket to the postseason. However, the wheels began falling off the Cards’ season and Lamar’s Heisman campaign at unranked Houston. Jackson’s O-Line parted like the Red Sea all night. The stellar QB absorbed 11 sacks on his way to his worst statistical night of the year. He completed under 50% of his passes for the first time in 2016 and had only one passing touchdown. Greg Ward Jr. and the Cougars ended Louisville’s playoff dreams with a 36-10 victory. With their playoff hopes now over, some of Petrino’s players may have lost motivation. In their final game, Kentucky exposed Louisville’s defense to the tune of 41 points including the game winning field goal, which finalized an underwhelming end to Louisville’s season. In these last two games, Jackson tossed more interceptions than touchdowns. However, LJ finished his season with 3390 passing yards, 1538 rushing yards, and 51 total touchdowns.
If it were any other season, the hardware might be in someone else’s hands. However, none of the other finalists put up a fight. Therefore, in a no-brainer, Lamar Jackson became the 82nd winner of the Heisman Memorial Trophy. Along with becoming the first Cardinal and youngest ever to win the Heisman, Jackson joined Auburn’s Cam Newton and Florida’s Tim Tebow as the only players in history to record 30 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns.
All in all, Lamar Jackson deserved to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy. He had a record breaking start to the season. His losses at the end of the year were more the fault of his offensive line and defense. Lamar will play his first game as a Heisman Trophy winner against the Leonard Fournette-less LSU Tigers in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Looking to the future, Jackson will seek to join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin as a two-time Heisman winner in 2017.
*All stats retrieved from MaxPreps, Fox Sports, ESPN, and SB Nation.