NEW YORK — Kyler Murray replaced a Heisman Trophy winner by becoming a Heisman Trophy winner.
The Oklahoma quarterback won college football's most prestigious individual award Saturday night, edging Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and setting up a College Football Playoff matchup of Heisman winner versus runner-up.
The fourth-ranked Sooners play the top-ranked Crimson Tide in the Orange Bowl semifinal Dec. 29 in the seventh bowl matchup of Heisman winner and runner-up, and first since second-place finisher Vince Young and Texas beat Reggie Bush and Southern California in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
This season, Murray stepped into the starting job at Oklahoma held by last year's Heisman winner and first overall NFL draft pick, Baker Mayfield. Oklahoma is the first school with have Heisman-winning quarterbacks in consecutive seasons and the fifth overall with winners in back-to-back years.
"This is crazy," Murray said in his acceptance speech. "This is an honor, something that I'll never forget. Something that I'll always cherish for the rest of my life."
Unlike most seasons, the winner was far from a foregone conclusion, but Murray (517 first-place votes and 2,167 points) ended up with a fairly comfortable margin of 296 points over Tagovailoa. Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, the other finalists, was a distant third with 783 points. Three more quarterbacks followed: Will Grier of West Virginia, Gardner Minshew II of Washington State and McKenzie Milton of Central Florida.
Murray was named on 92 percent of the Heisman ballots, third most all time. Tagovailoa's 1,871 points received was the most for a runner-up in the 84-year history of the Heisman.
Tagovailoa was the Heisman front-runner for most of the season, but Murray surged late as the Sooners turned to him and its offense to bail out a leaky defense down the stretch. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa picked a bad time to have his worst game of the season, throwing two interceptions in the Southeastern Conference championship against Georgia and leaving early with a sprained ankle.
Murray's first season as a starting quarterback in college is set up to also be his last. The junior has already signed a $4.66 million contract with the Oakland Athletic after he was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft in June. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, Murray is small for an NFL quarterback but talented enough to be an intriguing prospect if he ever decided to give it a try.
Oklahoma's late-season Heisman campaign for Murray harkened back to Bo Jackson, the 1985 Heisman winner who went on to star in both the NFL and MLB, and his Bo Knows Nike ads.
"I'd like to do both (baseball and football) if possible," Murray said Friday. "But I don't know how possible that is."
Draft analyst Dane Brugler of The Athletic called Murray a potential top-50 NFL draft pick.
"The NFL hasn't had a 5-10 or shorter quarterback have sustained success in a long time, but Murray has a rare skill-set with his arm talent, mobility and instincts," Brugler said.
For the next month though Murray is focused on capping his college career with a national championship.
A five-star recruit, he signed with Texas A&M in 2015, looking to follow in the footsteps of Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner. Murray spent one tumultuous season with the Aggies, playing eight games before deciding to transfer.
At Oklahoma, the tentative plan was sit out the 2016 season to fulfil NCAA transfer rules and then step in for Mayfield in 2016. But Mayfield was granted an extra year of eligibility and returned for the 2017 season, relegating Murray to backing up the best quarterback in the country.
His brief stints provided glimpses of a potential star. This season, as the focal point of Lincoln Riley's creative offense, Murray developed into the dominant player he had seemed destined to become while at Allen..
Murray fought back tears while thanking Riley.
"You pushed me harder than any coach ever has and I just want to say thank you for believing in me and allowing me to be the quarterback of this team. The leader of this team," Murray said.
Murray, a pinpoint passer and explosive runner, surpassed the production of Mayfield. Murray has averaged 380 yards of offense per game and accounted for 51 touchdowns in leading the Sooners the Big 12 title and the playoff. Mayfield finished last season averaging 353 yards of offense and accounting for 49 touchdowns as Oklahoma won the conference and lost a playoff semifinal to Georgia in a wild Rose Bowl.
Oklahoma's seventh Heisman matches Ohio State, Southern California and Notre Dame for the most by any school. Murray is the fourth Oklahoma quarterback since 2003 to win the Heisman, joining Jason White, Sam Bradford and Mayfield, and the 16th quarterback overall to win the award in the last 19 years.