Choosing a Heisman Trophy winner wasn’t easy. Some of the top candidates — Michigan running back Blake Corum, and Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker — have seen their seasons end early due to injury. Three top-flight players have lost all of their final matches. It all made for what might be the closest vote since Bo Jackson of Auburn narrowly beat Iowa’s Chuck Long in 1985..
This past weekend’s favorite, USC QB Caleb Williams, was last seen walking off the court after an upset loss to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game. Ohio State QB CJ Stroud didn’t play until last week. But Georgia QB Stetson Bennett IV did it; He went on to cement his status as a Bulldogs legend and a potential subject for a movie someday.
This year’s contest was so tough that Hooker didn’t make it into the top three after a turnaround season with the Volunteers. Sadly, Bennett didn’t either. Nineteen months ago, the Georgia quarterback didn’t take a snap in spring training. Last season, he was looking over his shoulder. A year ago this month, Georgia fans were still clamoring for JT Daniels (remember him?). All Bennett has done is become the #2 passer in the SEC in 2022. Georgia went undefeated, won the SEC title for the first time in five years and went on a 15-game winning streak in college.
Before we go any further, we should point out some emerging history. USC coach Lincoln Riley is already getting close to the professional hall of fame based on quarterback alone. Williams will become his Third Heisman Award winner for the past six years. During that time, Riley has seen six players all finish among the top four in Heisman voting.
You won’t see another Heisman ballot this early in the week. Voters are prohibited from revealing them until the end of the ceremony. for transparency, I gave up my vote several years ago. As such, here’s who would be on my ballot if I still had one to offer.
1. Caleb Williams, QB, USC
Unusual reaction from Friday night: USC lost the Pac-12, CFP and Heisman spot with Williams limping off the field. After one night, I changed my mind. Even with a hamstring, Williams was able to stand gamely in the pocket—essentially immobile—and throw for 363 yards and three touchdowns. No player has been more important to his team this season than Williams. He’d need 69 yards to become USC’s passing leader for a season, and he’s already broken program records for total touchdowns and touchdowns.
Williams grew as a person, transient, and leader. He led the locker room as an outsider from Oklahoma. He incorporated a talented receiving room for over 4,000 yards. He played half a season of college football [at Oklahoma]. Reconfigure the team. Reilly said he reassigned to USC.[He] At first he was seen as one of the leaders in the locker room. There was a lot to take on. He embraced it. I think it pushed him out of his comfort zone and made him better.”
Williams’ career total is compelling as he tied for the national championship with 37 touchdown passes (47 total). This week, he was named an A.JFirst team selection as well . Williams was also at his best when USC needed him most—against ranked opponents—with 11 touchdowns in the Trojans’ last three games against UCLA, Notre Dame, and Utah. (In his first meeting with the Utes earlier this season, Williams posted five touchdowns.)
2. Max Dugan, QB, TCU
As the only FBS quarterback to beat every team in his conference, Duggan earned a slight nod for second over all the others. This feat is impossible anywhere else except in the Big 12, the only FBS league to play a regular schedule. Weirdly, Duggan had a losing Heisman moment(s). Playing to exhaustion, he led the Horned Frogs back from an 11-point deficit against Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game. If not for some questionable plays, he (and maybe Heisman) would have won that game. Why didn’t Duggan keep the ball in his hands at the goal line in extra time?
His story might be the best in college football this side of Bennett. If not for a COVID-19 test that revealed a heart problem, Duggan and The Frogs might not be here. After heart surgery in 2020, he bounced back to play 32 pre-season games. He had already postponed foot surgery in 2021 After, after Gary Patterson was fired to end the campaign 5-7. Then he lost the quarterback fight to Chandler Morris. TCU coach Sonny Dykes was in desperate need of a veteran when Morris went down in the opening game. What resulted was a season for the ages, the Council Bluff, Iowa product, unabashedly leading the Frogs, leading the Big 12 in touchdown passes, passing efficiency and rushing by a quarterback. The image of Duggan dragging his body off the field late in the game will remain. So are his accomplishments this season.
3. CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Stroud had been the frontrunner for most of the season but ran out of juice after Michigan’s loss. Then watching Williams, Duggan and Bennett last Saturday sent Stroud back in her mind. However, what he accomplished is hard to forget. The Buckeyes’ newest NFL-worthy quarterback would finish second on the school’s career hits list despite only playing two seasons. He has completed 70% of his passes this season against ranked teams. After he threw for 44 touchdowns in his first year as a starter in 2021, his production has plummeted. Well, if you think his 37 touchdown passes in 2022 are a drop; which is currently being tied to the national lead.
Stroud’s “retreat” can be easily explained. For most of the season, he was without his best wide receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The injuries hit the running backs hard. For large portions of the season, the offense—in fact, the team—was on Stroud’s back. Rutgers and Northwestern held it under 200 yards. Michigan picked off two of his passes. Otherwise, Stroud wiggled hard. Mulligan gives the playoff another chance to Ohio State and Stroud. After finishing fourth in 2021 Heisman voting, Stroud’s best days may lie ahead if he can lead the Buckeyes to a championship.
“Food lover. Unapologetic alcohol guru. Passionate internet geek. Hardcore analyst. Gamer.”