The 2021 Heisman Trophy race has had no apparent front runner for much of the season.
The four finalists will attend the awards ceremony on Saturday. This year’s field includes three quarterbacks in Alabama’s Bryce Young, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud. Defensive finish Michigan Aidan Huthinson was the other finalist.
Young is the favorite player to win this year’s award, but given the unpredictable nature of the season, there is a case for all four. Sporting News increases that case size for each candidate (in alphabetical order by last name):
Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
Advantages: Hutchinson had a Rated 94.7 on Pro Football Focus, the highest score of any finalist. Hutchinson set a single-season record in Michigan with 14 sacks, and he finished with 10 hasty throws. He’s an instant game-changing force, and he’s had three sacks in major focus games against Penn State and Ohio State. The Wolverines eventually made it through to win the Big Ten championship and made it to the College Football Knockout Qualifiers. Wolverines allow 16.1 points per game.
Defect: There is an argument to be made that Hutchinson is the wrong defensive player in New York. Alabama linebacker Will Anderson had 15.5 tackles and 27.5 tackles for the loss. Georgia’s Jordan Davis is the dominant force in the midfield for statistically better defense. Hutchinson is behind in the rankings, but it’s difficult to players defend to win the Heisman Trophy. Of course, Michigan’s Charles Woodson won this award in 1997, but he also played offensively.
An index: According to the PFF, Hutchinson had 15 close quarters in the Ohio State game, the most in a single game since the site began tracking in 2014.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt
Advantages: Pickett, a senior, led the Panthers to the 11-2 season and their first ACC championship. If the prize was given to a player with the most value, then Pickett would have the strongest case. He finished with 4,319 yards of passes, 42 TDs and seven interceptions. He also had 241 yards of charge and five TDs, including a fake miss to score against Wake Forest. Pickett had eight games with 300 or more passes.
Defect: Pickett made two interceptions in the loss to Miami, and the Panthers have beaten only one ranked team this season. Stroud and Young also put up better numbers with a stronger supporting cast. Losing at Western Michigan always happens, but it’s hardly Pickett’s fault. He passed 382 yards and six TDs. Pickett has received 28 bags this season, and there are some detractors who think Ole Miss defender Matt Corral should go to New York instead, and North Carolina’s Sam Howell has 10 more career passes TD .
An index: Pickett has broken two of Dan Marino’s longstanding records this season. Pickett is the Panthers’ all-time TDs passing leader (81) and one-season TD passing leader (42).
CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Advantages: Stroud followed Dwayne Haskins (2018) and Justin Fields (2019) as the third consecutive Ohio State quarterback to start Heisman in the finals. He finished with 3,862 yards of passes, 38 TDs and 5 interceptions for the highest scoring foul in FBS. Stroud also had his best one-game performance of the season in a 56-7 win over Michigan State. He hit 32 of 35 passes for 432 yards and six TDs.
Defect: Ohio State didn’t beat Michigan. Was it Stroud’s fault? No, he went over 394 yards and lost two TDs. But Hutchinson was more dominant in the game. Stroud’s success is largely due to a ridiculous trio of ball receivers including Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Again, it’s not his fault. However, Stroud has the potential to win this award if the Buckeyes complete the deal and win the Big Ten championship. Like Haskins and Fields, he will likely have to be a finalist for this season.
An index: Stroud has a midfield rating of 182.2 this season, the highest of any Power 5 midfielder.
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Advantages: Young has taken his candidacy to the next level in the past two weeks. He hit a 99-yard save against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Young then burned Georgia with 421 yards and three TDs in the SEC championship game. The Alabama sophomore finished with a record of 4,322 yards, 43 TDs and four interceptions in a remarkable season as a freshman starter. AJ McCarron (2013) and Tua Tagovailoa (2018) finished second in Heisman’s vote. Mac Jones (2020) finished third last season. Young seems to be the best bet to be the first Alabama quarterback to win the award.
Defect: Is Young the best player on the Alabama team? Anderson had that label for most of the season, and it’s a pretty used argument. Young didn’t really have a bad game to pick, though he did make some expensive transformations in the October 9 loss to Texas A&M. Is Young worth more to his team than Pickett for Pitt? Or Stroud? Or Hutchinson? That is debatable, but most of the arguments against Young require a stretch on this point.
An index: Nine FBS defenders have made more than 450 passing attempts this season. Young leads those QBs with 9.4 yards each. Next is Brennan Armstrong of Virginia with 8.9.