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OU football: Why Jalen Hurts losing the Heisman Trophy will put him in a fraternity of Sooner stars

Jalen Hurts won’t win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night.

Of that, there is little doubt.

Two years ago, I wrote similar words about a different Sooner and a different outcome. Baker Mayfield was the subject of Heisman hype in those days, and by season’s end, we knew the Oklahoma quarterback would be a runaway winner.

So, I wrote as much when the day of the ceremony rolled around.

Baker Mayfield will win the Heisman Trophy …

Now, Hurts’ Heisman fate is every bit as certain — he isn’t going to win.

Joe Burrow is.

The LSU quarterback has been the prohibitive favorite for nearly two months, and he did nothing down the stretch to hurt his chances. If anything, he got better since the start of November, averaging 382 yards and throwing no less than three touchdowns in any game.

But don’t cry for Hurts, Sooner Nation. Even if he is on the wrong side of one of the most lopsided Heisman votes ever, there is no shame in not winning the little bronze statue. No shame in not joining the fraternity of Heisman winners.

At Oklahoma, being a Heisman loser puts you among some of the most beloved and talented players to ever wear the crimson and cream.

Let's start with recent history. The Heisman started naming finalists in 1982, and in the years since, OU has the most finalists of any program. Eleven Sooners have gone to New York City for the ceremony, and four have walked away with the trophy.

Among those who didn’t — Brian Bosworth (1986), Josh Heupel (2000) and Adrian Peterson (2004).

In that group, you have the face of the Sooner swagger of the 1980s, the quarterback who ushered in this current era of excellence and the most dynamic player to ever suit up for OU. I know the Sooner shine has gone off Heupel because of his rocky years as OU’s offensive coordinator, but if you just consider what those three did during their playing days, they are three of the most important players in program history.

Want to take a longer view? Go back in Heisman history before finalists were named and look at the top 10 vote-getters, and you’ll see more program pillars.

Leon Heath. Kurt Burris. Tommy McDonald. Jerry Tubbs. Clendon Thomas. Granville Liggins. Greg Pruitt. Jack Mildren. Lucious Selmon. Joe Washington. Rod Shoate. Lee Roy Selmon.

In total, OU had 23 top-10 finishes in the pre-Heisman-finalists era. Three were winners — Billy Vessels, Steve Owens and Billy Sims — but the rest were still wonderful and impactful talents who left marks still seen all these years later.

"It's all in the complex," Hurts said of the history celebrated inside the Switzer Center. "It's all on the walls of the facility and stuff, so you see it. But at the end of the day ... I didn't come here for that."

But great players earn lofty status.

Earlier this year, my buddy Berry Tramel ranked the 150 best Sooners to celebrate 150 years of college football. His top 10 included three Heisman winners — Mayfield at No. 1, Sims at No. 3 and Vessels at No. 5 — but six of the other seven were Heisman losers, guys who got votes but didn’t win the trophy.

It's impossible to think of players such as Lee Roy Selmon or Roy Williams, Jerry Tubbs or Tommy McDonald as losers.

So it will be with Jalen Hurts.

The transfer from Alabama was manna from heaven, dropped down into Norman at a time of Sooner need. OU had options at quarterback but not great ones. Without Hurts, the Sooners probably don’t win the Big 12 title. They definitely don’t make the College Football Playoff.

Sure seems unlikely Austin Kendall or Tanner Mordecai would’ve gotten them there. Would Spencer Rattler have been able? Folks are high on him, but true freshmen quarterbacks don’t often maneuver teams unscathed through the Power 5 pitfalls.

Hurts has been a Sooner savior.

He deflects such talk, even as it relates to the Heisman.

"Any individual award is a direct reflection of the team," he said. "To even be a finalist here goes to show the hard work that we put in as a team, how we execute together.

"I'm just a representation of my team."

But he will be remembered as way more than a crimson-and-cream representative — and that won't change after he leaves the Heisman ceremony empty handed.

Hurts winning the award would've been a grand tale. Benched at Alabama in the national title game. Relegated to reserve after starting for two seasons. Resurrected at Oklahoma to become the third consecutive Sooner to win the Heisman.

But that fairy-tale ending wasn't to be, not because of Hurts' shortcomings but because of Burrow's supremacy.

Even though Jalen Hurts won't be ushered into the Heisman fraternity Saturday night, he will still join some stellar company in Sooner lore.

Not a bad consolation prize.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

***

Final countdown

The Heisman Trophy started naming finalists in 1982, though it's never been a set number each year. There have been as many as eight and as few as three.

Oklahoma has the most finalists during this era. Here's a look at the top three programs:

11: Oklahoma — Brian Bosworth (1986), Josh Heupel (2000), Jason White (2003*, 2004), Adrian Peterson (2004), Sam Bradford (2008*), Baker Mayfield (2016, 2017*), Dede Westbrook (2016), Kyler Murray (2018*), Jalen Hurts (2019)

9: Miami — Bernie Kosar (1984), Vinny Testaverde (1985, 1986*), Steve Walsh (1988), Gino Torretta (1992*), Warren Sapp (1994), Ken Dorsey (2001, 2002) Willis McGahee (2002)

8: Alabama — David Palmer (1993), Jay Barker (1994), Mark Ingram (2009*), Trent Richardson (2011), AJ McCarron (2013), Amari Cooper (2014), Derrick Henry (2015*), Tua Tagovailoa (2018)

*-Won the award

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts (1) gets by TCU's Vernon Scott (26) in the fourth quarter during an NCAA football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. OU won 28-24. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts (1) gets by TCU's Vernon Scott (26) in the fourth quarter during an NCAA football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. OU won 28-24. [Sarah...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-95fa462f4769ac880183f54975e73c11.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts (1) gets by TCU's Vernon Scott (26) in the fourth quarter during an NCAA football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. OU won 28-24. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts (1) gets by TCU's Vernon Scott (26) in the fourth quarter during an NCAA football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. OU won 28-24. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts (1) gets by TCU's Vernon Scott (26) in the fourth quarter during an NCAA football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the TCU Horned Frogs at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. OU won 28-24. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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