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Friday, April 12, 2024
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Analyzing the Heisman favorites through four weeks of action

Though only four weeks have passed in the 2022 college football season, the biggest stars in the country have already made their presence felt. It’s never too early to discuss who has a chance at the most coveted award in college football.

The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious individual award in college football. To win is to go down in history alongside Roger Staubach, Barry Sanders and some of the most iconic football players ever. 

Any player who shrugs their shoulders and claims they don’t care about the Heisman is lying. These young men dream of holding the iconic award and striking that pose. 

Such a coveted honor means that debate begins early. So, through four weeks of college football, here are the players who have made the biggest impressions.

CJ Stroud

The Southern California native didn’t play his freshman season but had a sensational 2021 — finishing fourth in Heisman voting. He threw for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns and only six interceptions. 

Despite Stroud’s success, the Buckeyes didn’t live up to their usual expectations. Ohio State suffered an early loss to Oregon, then ended their season with a loss to their biggest rival, the Michigan Wolverines. They failed to make the playoffs.

To add insult to injury, Stroud’s top two targets from a year ago, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, were selected within the first 11 picks of the NFL Draft. 

Losing two primary weapons would destroy most schools’ receiving rooms, but Ohio State is different. Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. are second and fourth, respectively, in Big Ten receiving yards. They don’t even have their true No. 1 receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who’s been sidelined with a hamstring injury. The Buckeye offense has yet to truly sputter.

Against Notre Dame, Stroud finished with a modest stat line by his standards — 223 yards and two touchdowns — due to a strong defensive effort from the Fighting Irish. But since then, his numbers have looked fictional. Across the next two games, against the lowly Arkansas State and Toledo, Stroud threw for 718 yards and nine touchdowns. In Stroud’s most recent outing, against Wisconsin, he made the usually-stout Badger defense look elementary — finishing with five touchdowns. He’s on pace to end the season with 52 touchdowns, 3,971 yards and just three interceptions. 

The Buckeyes look far improved from last year on both sides of the ball — outscoring their opponents 174-54 since playing Notre Dame. 

Stroud also has the advantage of not playing any SEC defenses. The Buckeyes’ only potentially challenging matchups for the rest of the regular season are No. 11 Penn State and No. 4 Michigan. Even if they lose one of those games, a one-loss record shouldn’t damage any playoff or Heisman hopes. 

There don’t seem to be any glaring obstacles standing in the way of Stroud winning the Heisman. His numbers are incredible and the Buckeyes are a juggernaut. It's Stroud’s award to lose at this point.

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Bryce Young

The 2021 Heisman winner may have a strong case for a repeat. Alabama’s Bryce Young ran away with last year’s award after scoring 50 total touchdowns and throwing for 4,872 yards in his first year starting, before falling to Georgia in the national championship game.

Young, like Stroud, is often brought up when discussing the potential top picks in next year’s NFL Draft. This isn’t for no reason; Young is one of the most pro-ready quarterbacks in the country. He’s mobile enough, possesses a lively arm and has shown the intangibles that NFL teams look for in a franchise quarterback. 

With the NFL world watching, Young has looked impressive, but not quite his 2021 self, statistically speaking. Through four undefeated games, he’s thrown for 1,029 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. 

Of Alabama’s four matchups so far, three have been cake-walks — their point differential is an absurd 118-10 in those games. The other game was a barn-burner against the Texas Longhorns. Young’s numbers were good, not great, but he led a field goal drive in the last two minutes to give Alabama the win, 20-19. 

Perhaps the Crimson Tide quarterback’s greatest obstacle is his reigning status. The only two-time Heisman winner was Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, who won in both 1974 and 1975. If Young wishes to become the second, he must not only perform at a Heisman level, but improve. This is an even more difficult demand when you consider who Alabama has lost since last season.

In the most recent NFL Draft, Alabama’s star offensive tackle, Evan Neal, was selected with the seventh overall selection. The 2021 SEC leader in receiving yards was Alabama receiver Jameson Williams. He was taken with the 12th selection. John Metchie, the third leader in receiving yards, was selected in the second round.

Coach Nick Saban’s Alabama teams have lost players in the past and rebounded. That process hasn’t been as seamless this year.

Ultimately, Alabama is going to win a lot of games and Young’s stats are going to be impressive. The question is whether or not the Crimson Tide’s surrounding cast can help Young perform to the level of the other Heisman-hopefuls.

Caleb Williams

Last season at Oklahoma, quarterback Caleb Williams began the season backing up Spencer Rattler. The then-freshman took over for the struggling starter in week four against Texas, providing an immediate spark and leading the Sooners to a comeback win. Throughout the rest of the season, Williams showed flashes of brilliance while also struggling with consistency.

Williams was blessed with one of the most talented offensive coaches in the sport in Lincoln Riley. Riley’s offense has historically resulted in Heismans — with Baker Mayfield winning in 2017 and Kyler Murray in 2018. When Riley abruptly left Oklahoma to coach the USC Trojans, it didn’t take very long for Williams to follow via the transfer portal. 

The new-look Trojans began the season with a bang — scoring 66 points in their season opener against Rice and over 40 in each of their next two games. Williams threw for 874 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions in the first three matchups. USC struggled in their most recent game against Oregon State, narrowly escaping with a 17-14 victory. Williams was dreadful — only completing 44% of his passes. 

Williams must impress against conference rivals. The Pac-12 isn’t as respected among voters as the Big Ten or SEC. Since 2006, Marcus Mariota is the only Heisman winner to come from a Pac-12 team. Williams will have to be even better than his contemporaries in stronger conferences.

The Trojan quarterback possesses all the desirable qualities in a Heisman winner. He plays in a quarterback-friendly system, has all the talent in the world and is prone to spectacular “Heisman moment” plays. If he can improve on his inconsistencies, there isn’t much standing in the young quarterback’s way.

Given the Pac-12’s weaknesses, the Trojans should continue to have a successful season in which Williams and Addison put up jaw-dropping numbers. Even if he loses, Williams will likely have a greater chance of winning next year, after Young and Stroud leave for the NFL.

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Donnie Slusher

Donnie Slusher is the sports editor for the Daily Cardinal. He has written multiple breaking news stories, sports columns and an in-depth examination of race in Wisconsin football. Follow Donnie on Twitter at @DonnieSlusher_

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