In 2019, Joe Burrow opened the season with 200-1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy.
In 2020, Alabama’s DeVonta Smith became the first receiver to win the award since 1991.
Those are run-of-the-mill races compared to what’s gone down so far in 2021. Spencer Rattler, the preseason Heisman front-runner, is now a backup quarterback for Oklahoma. Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei, another preseason favorite, is part of a three-loss team and was briefly benched Saturday. Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and Alabama’s Bryce Young entered the week with the same odds Burrow had, and they are the Heisman front-runners heading into the final week of October.
The field is one big mess, and as many as a dozen different cases could be presented right now.
BENDER: Who’s in the CFP if Selection Sunday were today?
Sporting News breaks down that wide-open race heading into Week 9.
Statistical front-runner: Matt Corral
Corral has the numbers in Lane Kiffin’s wide-open Ole Miss offense to stick as a finalist. He has 1,913 passing yards and 15 TDs and 474 rushing yards and nine more TDs in seven games. The Rebels didn’t beat Alabama, but another Crimson Tide loss could lead to a back-door appearance in the SEC championship game. Even if that doesn’t happen, Corral has a great chance to be the first player to win a Heisman without making the CFP since Lamar Jackson in 2015. This is the best recruiting tool possible to reel in five-star quarterback Arch Manning.
Bama guy: Bryce Young
Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones were Heisman finalists, but Young has a legitimate chance to win the award in his first year as a starter. He added to that resume with 371 passing yards, 42 rushing yards and four total TDs in a 52-24 blowout against Tennessee. Young now has 2,453 yards, 26 TDs and three interceptions, and if the Crimson Tide plows through the rest of the SEC West and beats Georgia in the SEC championship game it will be turn Young down as a first-place vote. He would join Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry and DeVonta Smith as Heisman winners under Nick Saban.
Super Senior: Kenny Pickett
Pickett validated a strong first half by leading Pitt to a decisive 27-17 victory against Clemson. Pickett led a pair of long TD drives (90, 76) in the first half, and he finshed 25 of 39 passing for 302 yards and two TDs. The Panthers are 6-1, with the lone loss a head-scratching 44-41 shootout against Western Michigan. Other than that, Pickett has been nearly-flawless with 2,236 yards, 23 TDs and one interception. As far as pure passers go, Pickett is right at the top. He’s emerging as the blue-collar choice.
Kenny Pickett: “I’m going to go have a cold one then we’ll get ready for Miami.”
— Bill Bender (@BillBender92) October 23, 2021
Fabulous Freshman: Caleb Williams
The Oklahoma quarterback has made just two starts, but is there a better quarterback in college football right now? Williams continues to wow with deep throws, touchdown runs and even a smart play against Kansas on Saturday where he wrestled the ball from teammate Kennedy Brooks to run for a first down on fourth-and-1. Williams is a true freshman and the lack of full-season statistics would be a drawback, but if the Sooners finish 13-0 and go to the CFP, then there is at least a chance he will be in New York.
MORE: How Caleb Williams pulled off a double-handoff to save OU
Buckeye trio: C.J. Stroud, TreVeyon Henderson and Chris Olave
Stroud recalibrated after the Oregon loss, and he bounced back from a shoulder injury to put up monster numbers for the Buckeyes. That was on display in a blowout victory against Indiana in which Stroud passed for three TDs, Henderson rushed for two more and Olave caught his 30th career TD. Stroud has big-ticket games against Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan too, and he could be the third straight Ohio State quarterback to be a Heisman finalist. Is he the most-dynamic offensive player, however? Henderson, a freshman running back, and Olave, a future first-round receiver, were SN’s Midseason All-American selections.
Group of 5 guy: Desmond Ridder
Would Ridder get the nod if he pushed Cincinnati into the playoff? Ridder has modest statistics with 1,608 yards, 15 TDs and three interceptions, and he’s not the only star player on the team. Running back Jerome Ford is a Doak Walker Award candidate, and SN Midseason All-American cornerback Ahmad Gardner is the best NFL prospect. Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch was the last Heisman finalist from the Group of 5 in 2013. He finished third. Ridder would likely fall in that range.
What about a running back? Kenneth Walker III and Bijan Robinson
Would they let a running back win the Heisman Trophy? Walker has been the centerpiece of Michigan State’s 7-0 season, and he entered the weekend with a FBS-best 997 rushing yards and nine TDs. Lorenzo White finished fourth in the Heisman voting as part of a Big Ten championship season for the Spartans in 1987. That could be a glimpse of Walker’s future if he can lead Michigan State on a miracle run.
Robinson, who has 924 rushing yards and 10 TDs for Texas, might be the more-talented running back. The sophomore has put together an impressive highlight reel, but the Longhorns have three losses. Former Texas running back D’Onta Foreman finished eighth in the voting despite rushing for 2,028 yards in 2016. Robinson could finish higher, but he feels like a top-five candidate.
A defensive player? Jordan Davis and Kayvon Thibodeaux
Meet the potential Ndamukong Suh-like candidate. Davis, a senior defensive tackle at Georgia, is the best player on the best defense on the best team in the FBS. It’s always impossible to translate statistics for defensive tackles, and Davis would need a few flash plays — like that time Suh tossed Texas quarterback Colt McCoy like a rag doll — but he could emerge as a potential finalist over the final month of the season.
Thibodeaux is a good bet to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Oregon edge rusher is healthy and continues to be a disruptive force. He had two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss in a 34-31 victory against UCLA on Saturday, which gives him four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss for the season.
Current Heisman Odds
Here are the current Heisman odds according to FanDuel.com
|Bryce Young (QB, Alabama)||+125|
|Matt Corral (QB, Ole Miss)||+350|
|CJ Stroud (QB, Ohio State)||+450|
|Kenny Pickett (QB, Pitt)||+900|
When is the Heisman Trophy Ceremony
The Heisman will be awarded on Dec. 11, one week after conferences hold their conference championship games. Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony was held virtually and not until Jan. 5. This year, the ceremony is back to its normal date in mid-December.
Week 8 takeaways
DEMON DEACONS HAVE ELITE OFFENSE
Wake Forest beat Army 70-56 to improve to 7-0 for the first time since 1944, a season in which the Black Knights were national champions.
The Demon Deacons lost to Duke in that 1944 season, and they have a chance to avenge that next week. That’s a long way to come full circle.
Should we take Wake Forest seriously? The offense scored four TDs of 40 yards or more against Army, and Sam Hartman continues to deal at quarterback. He had 458 yards and five TDs, and favorite target Jaquarii Robertson added three more TDs. He has three straight games with 100 yards or more.
Wake Forest is averaging 43.1 points and 470 yards per game. The Demon Deacons have scored 35 points or more in every game this season, and that will tested for the next four weeks in a Carolina tour of Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Clemson.
WHAT ABOUT JAMES FRANKLIN NOW?
Franklin is the hot coaching candidate for Power 5 vacancies ranging from USC to LSU and whatever comes open next.
Or is he? Penn State lost 20-18 to Illinois in a nine-overtime Big Ten eye-sore that knocked the Nittany Lions out of the CFP and Big Ten East race. Sean Clifford returned, but he struggled in the passing game and had a crucial drop on a trick play in the third overtime.
MORE: If you’re James Franklin, do you take USC or LSU?
We’ll see how those programs feel about Franklin in a month. The Nittany Lions face three top-10 teams in Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Franklin is 1-6 against the Buckeyes, 3-4 against the Wolverines and 3-4 against the Spartans. Penn State is 9-7 the last two seasons.
If Franklin flirts with those openings, then will the Nittany Lions be willing to let him go on his own volition?
OREGON-OHIO STATE, PART II
Oregon survived in a nail-biter against UCLA, which was sealed by a last-minute interception by cornerback D.J. James.
The one-loss Ducks would seemingly have the drop on Ohio State given the 35-28 victory at Ohio Stadium on Sept. 11.
But it’s going to be an interesting debate, unfortunately. Head-to-head should always matter most, but Oregon has played three straight one-score games in the Pac-12. That includes an overtime loss to Stanford on Oct. 2.
Ohio State, meanwhile, averaged 52.4 points per game in its last five victories. The Buckeyes also have resume-padding opportunties coming against Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and perhaps Iowa in the Big Ten championship game.
If the last playoff spot comes down to one-loss Oregon against Ohio State, what will matter more? The head-to-head victory or the strength of schedule?
ALABAMA READY FOR NOVEMBER
Alabama beat 11 SEC opponents by an average of 30.3 points per game in 2020. The sequel has been bumpy at times, and Tennessee had a 14-7 lead after one quarter on Saturday.
Of course, the Crimson Tide recalibrated and extended their winning streak in the rivalry to 15 games in a 52-24 victory.
Alabama, however, had two blown coverages and a red-zone turnnover in the first half. Alabama’s average SEC victory is down to 22.4 points in 2021, and that does not include the 41-38 loss to Texas A&M.
The good news? Young continues to get better with each week around a supporting cast that includes Brian Robinson Jr., John Metchie III and Jameson Williams. Considering those four replaced first-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, there isn’t that much to be concerned about.
The Crimson Tide remain on track for a potential blockbuster matchup against Georgia in the SEC championship game, but they still have to improve in SEC West matchups against LSU, Arkansas and Auburn.
This is the right time for a bye week.