sam darnold-usc-trojans-heisman

On Friday night, preseason Heisman favorite Sam Darnold completed only 15 of 29 passes for 164 yards, with no touchdowns, an interception and a game-ending fumble, as No. 5 USC was upset by No. 16 Washington State, 30-27.

The loss is a big blow to the Trojans’ hopes of a College Football Playoff bid and also a fatal blow to their quarterback’s Heisman odds. If Darnold’s candidacy for college football’s top award wasn’t already over entering Friday, it certainly is now.

Through five games, Darnold has thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, a year after hurling 31 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. In fact, the sophomore has completed fewer of his passes and gained fewer yards per attempt than he did last season.

Already, Darnold has thrown more interceptions than Marcus Mariota, Cam Netwon, Robert Griffin III, Tim Tebow, Troy Smith, Matt Leinart did in their respective Heisman-winning seasons. No Heisman winner this century has thrown more than 10 interceptions in the season he wont the award; Darnold is only two away from that mark. Even if he excels the rest of the way and leads USC back into the Playoff conversation, it will be tough to recover from nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in five games.

Darnold’s performance Friday alone was practically disqualifying. When you look at recent history, you find that Heisman-winning quarterbacks simply do have games as poor as the one Darnold just endured.

Quarterback rating is not nearly a perfect stat, but it’s familiar and accessible, so we’re going to use it to compare Darnold’s bad night—which earned a 92.3 rating—with weak performances from guys who went on to win the Heisman.

Heusman winner Worst game
Lamar Jackson 95.4
Marcus Mariota 150.9
Jameis Winston 124.8
Johnny Manziel 82.5
Robert Griffin III 136
Cam Newton 136.4
Sam Bradford 122.2
Tim Tebow 114.9

As you can see, Johnny Football is the only Heisman winning-quarterback in the past decade to put up a quarterback rating as bad as Darnold did Friday night. The best quarterbacks never slip up so dramatically.

Darnold earned Heisman favorite status during the offseason thanks to a stellar freshman campaign and an incredible performance in USC’s Rose Bowl victory. He had the stature, the poise and the big arm. But his output in 2017 has not come close to matching the Heisman-worthy expectations he faced.

Entering Friday’s game, ESPN’s analysts voted Darnold fourth on its list of Heisman favorites, behind Saquon Barkley, Baker Mayfield and Rashaad Penny. That might have seemed generous at the time, but now it’s just silly. Darnold will likely improve his play over the rest of season, maybe even enough to solidify himself as the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft, but his Heisman hopes are done with.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.