A Deeper Dive Into the Heisman Finalistsby Alex Kielar December 11, 2021 0 comments
Here we are, it is officially Heisman Day! Can we make it an official holiday? If not, I am retroactively making it one, as it is the day we celebrate the best college football player in the country. While it has historically been more of a “quarterbacks” award, there is a non-quarterback finalist for the third straight year. Ohio State’s defensive end Chase Young was a finalist in 2019, while Alabama’s wide receiver DeVonta Smith won the award last year. This year, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is a finalist after an incredible season with Michigan. With all that said, let’s take a deeper dive into all four of our finalists for this year. The winner will be announced tonight around 8:50 pm EST on ESPN.
Proud Day as a Buckeye
Ohio State has created a Heisman factory of sorts these past few years. It has been almost a certainty that whoever plays under center for the Buckeyes will be a finalist for the 86-year award. C.J. Stroud becomes another one to fit that narrative. He is the third finalist for Ohio State in four years, while each of their last three quarterbacks has been a finalist. The only real reason that they didn’t have four straight years with a finalist was because of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Otherwise, Justin Fields would’ve likely been a finalist for the second straight year under head coach Ryan Day.
The Buckeyes coach took over the role full-time in 2019. He has seen his offense led by his Heisman-candidate quarterbacks work like a well-oiled machine. In 2018, Day took over as acting head coach for three games when Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave. The University of New Hampshire alum won all three games in Meyer’s absence. It was announced that he would take over full-time following Ohio State’s bowl game. Dwayne Haskins was the quarterback in 2018 and finished third in the Heisman voting.
Ohio State Heisman History
The only thing that the Buckeyes haven’t been able to produce the last few years is a Heisman winner. Their last winner was quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. But they also have the distinction of producing the only two-time Heisman winner in the long history of the trophy named after legendary coach and innovator John William Heisman. That being running back Archie Griffin, who took home the honor 1974 and 1975. That is not likely to ever happen again. It has gotten excruciatingly tougher for players to repeat Heisman-level seasons, especially for a running back.
In total, Ohio State has had seven Heisman winners. The other four were halfback Les Horvath (1944), and running backs Vic Janowicz (1950), Howard Cassady (1955), and Eddie George (1995). They are one of three teams to have seven Heisman winners, along with Oklahoma and Notre Dame. Stroud faced a boatload of criticism this season. Fans and media placed blame on him for the Oregon loss early in the season. Criticizers also claimed all throughout the season that he was carried too much by his future top draft picks at the receiver position. Nonetheless, Stroud still consistently put up big numbers, and despite the two losses, is a Heisman finalist.
Ordinary to Extraordinary
Did anyone think Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was going to have an inkling of a shot at being a Heisman finalist after a middle-of-the-road season in 2020? He had a solid season last year, but nothing out of this world. He finished 2020 with 2,553 yards, 21 TDs, and nine interceptions. But then this year, it’s like he flipped a Joe Burrow-Esque switch to jolt himself to stardom. Pickett finished this season with 4,319 passing yards and 42 touchdowns while leading the Panthers to their first-ever ACC title.
Burrow had the same type of transition from 2018 to 2019. The then LSU quarterback put up a stat line of 3,293 yards, 23 TDs, and five interceptions in four more games in 2018. He then set a number of FBS, SEC, and LSU records in 2019, including touchdown passes (60), total yards of offense (6,039), and passing yards (5,671). Pickett’s 42 touchdown passes broke a school record for touchdowns in a season. That mark had been set by legend Dan Marino in 1984. Whereas Ohio State has one of the most successful histories as far as the Heisman goes, Pitt has a much shorter list. Their only winner was running back Tony Dorsett in 1976. Their only other finalists were receiver Larry Fitzgerald in 2003 and defensive end Hugh Green in 1980. Dorsett was recently quoted on his excitement for Pickett being a finalist.
“This is a great feat for a fellow athlete from the University of Pittsburgh to be up in New York for the Heisman. I’m really excited about this, man. I can’t wait to get up there,” Dorsett told the Post-Gazette. “I’m just impressed with his game. And I’m so glad the committee made the move to bring him. Because he does qualify.”
Defensive Heisman History
Hutchinson joins a shortlist of defensive players to be a Heisman finalist. The first defensive player to finish top three was two-way sensation Chuck Bednarik from the University of Pennsylvania in 1948. The other defensive lineman to be finalists were Ohio State defensive end Chase Young (2019), Nebraska tackle Ndamukong Suh (2009), Miami tackle Warren Sapp (1994), and Washington tackle Steve Emtman (1991). The last defensive player to win the Heisman was Charles Woodson out of Michigan. But he also played some receiver as a two-way player. There have been just three defensive-only players to finish in the top two of voting. Notre Dame’s linebacker Manti Te’o (2012), Pittsburgh’s Green (1980), and Iowa defensive tackle Alex Karras (1957).
Michigan has produced three Heisman winners in history: Woodson, receiver Desmond Howard in 1991, and running back Tom Harmon in 1940. Eight Wolverines have placed second through fourth in the Heisman voting: Harmon (1939), Bob Chappuis (1947), Rob Lytle (1976) Rick Leach (1978), Jim Harbaugh (1986), Bob Timberlake (1964), Anthony Carter (1982) and Chris Perry (2003). Hutchinson proved to be the best defensive player in the country with his performances in big games. He has catapulted to the projected first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Roll Tide Roll To The Heisman
While Alabama hasn’t had the same success of having Heisman winners, they have had a number in the running the past few years. The Crimson Tide has three Heisman winners, running backs Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015), and Smith last year. Along with Smith last year, his quarterback Mac Jones also finished third in the voting. Tua Tagovailoa was the runner-up in 2018 to Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, and running back Trent Richardson finished third in 2011.
Bryce Young is the latest in line and is likely to be the first Alabama quarterback to win the award. The quarterback followed in Jones’ footsteps and upped the ante as he looked even more impressive. He had a number of Heisman moments this season, none larger than his big-time performance against Georgia in the SEC Championship. In the Tide’s huge victory over the Bulldogs, Young broke an SEC Championship record with 421 passing yards.
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Main Image Credit: ©The Heisman Trophy Trust