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Odds Stacked Against Utah’s Zack Moss Winning The Heisman Trophy

Zack Moss #2 of the Utah Utes runs past Leni Toailoa #26 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half at the Rose Bowl on October 26, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah running back Zack Moss’ name has been thrown around in early season Heisman conversations, but the odds are stacked against him actually winning it, according to Scott Mitchell and Alex Kirry of KSL’s UnRivaled.

The last time the University of Utah had a Heisman Trophy finalist was in 2004 when quarterback Alex Smith finished fourth in the voting. He led the Utes to a 12-0 record that included a BCS-busting performance against Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl.

Back then to be a finalist for the Heisman for a non-power school required a one of a kind performance not only by the player but also the team. This year the tables have turned more in Utah’s favor now that they are in the Pac-12. It is easier to have a player in the Heisman conversation when you are in a Power 5 conference.

In Utah’s opener against BYU, Moss rushed for 187 yards and a score. That performance put him in the early conversation of the Heisman Trophy by Pro Football Focus.

Name recognition is a huge part of the Heisman Trophy. The Utes are not there yet but are inching closer to programs like Alabama and Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence will likely be at the top of the conversation when the season ends. The latter two were in the national title game last year and Hurts was in one while at Alabama.

Moss and the Utes have a lot of ground to make up if there is even a chance for the Heisman to come to Utah.

Heisman Quarterback Club

Going back to 2000, there have only been two running backs to win the Heisman Trophy. They both came from Alabama  – Derrick Henry in 2015 and Mark Ingram in 2009. The odds are stacked against any running back in the Heisman hunt.

The Heisman winner usually comes from a top 5 team. Since 2000, five of the winners were on a national championship team and all but three were in a BCS/New Year’s Six game or in the College Football Playoff. The outliers were quarterbacks Lamar Jackson of Louisville in 2016, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel who won the award in 2012, and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III in 2011.

Those three all had off the chart numbers to make up for the lack of team success.

The only way Moss makes it to New York City as a finalist, or any running back for that matter, is by putting up eye-popping numbers and a national title.

West Coast Disadvantage

Being on the West Coast brings a lot of late kickoffs and a lack of audience, which can hurt Heisman hopefuls. Former Stanford running back Bryce Love was a finalist in 2017 but was not even close to the award which went to quarterback Baker Mayfield out of Oklahoma. Love ran for 2,118 yards and averaged 8.1 yards to go along with 19 touchdowns.

If Moss puts up similar numbers he will probably be a finalist but going for over 2,000 yards is extremely difficult and has only been achieved by 26 other backs in school history.

“Any ranking early in the season is just cute and nice,” Kirry said. “A guy from Utah is going to be overlooked just because of the fact he has Utah on his chest. That means he will not be seen nearly enough as much as a Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, or even ACC team across the country.”


The Pac-12 lags behind in Heisman winners sans USC because of late kick times and overall exposure of the Pac-12, according to the duo. There is good reason for the hashtag #Pac12AfterDark, it is a joke that is actually reality for the conference.

However, Kirry and Mitchell agreed getting early-season Heisman hype is a good thing for Utes and Moss.

“The fact that he is actually even on the radar is remarkable and he certainly deserves to be there,” Mitchell said. “You think about all of the preseason hype and top payers, especially running backs, in the Pac-12. It was not Zack Moss as the top guy, it was Eno Benjamin of Arizona State and there were others considered better and they are not on the list.”

Moss made the early season cut based on his performance but also because national pundits are picking the Utes to make it to the College Football Playoff. That carries a lot of weight and is a pseudo-requirement for the Heisman.

“People have recognized Utah as a legitimate threat or pick to win the Pac-12 and an outside chance of them making the playoffs. The problem is that Moss has to run for 2,000 yards and has to have a crazy year to be really considered [for the Heisman trophy],” said Mitchell.

Winning the Heisman Trophy is not the ultimate goal for Utah or Moss but getting publicity and the Utah name out there does wonders for the school in free advertising and publicity.

Realistically a running back from the University of Utah is not going to win the Heisman Trophy and that is just fine, according to Mitchell, a former Ute, because if the Utes keep winning – awards will follow. The main objective is to take the next step and win the Pac-12.

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