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Friday, March 01, 2024

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The Heisman race heats up with one month left in the regular season

Week 10 of the college football season is upon us, and some new faces have been giving solidified Heisman contenders a run for their money.

On Dec. 10, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner will be announced, awarding one of college football’s greats with the title they’ve coveted their entire career. 

The 2022 season has warranted recognition of many of the same dominant players as in past years, but considering the unpredictable nature of the league, most know it would be foolish to call the race too soon. 

Going into the final stretch of the regular season, here are the players with the strongest campaign for the Heisman. 

Hendon Hooker

Coming out of the woodwork, the redshirt senior Tennessee quarterback has become newly favored since leading the Volunteers to an 8-0 start for the first time since 1998, and their first No. 2 ranking since 2001. 

In last week’s matchup against Kentucky, Hooker threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns — making it his third straight game with at least three touchdown passes. He finished off the unranked Wildcats 44-6. 

The performance that shot Hooker into the Heisman race was against then-ranked No. 3 Alabama, a monumental 52-49 upset that dropped the Crimson Tide to No. 6 — solidifying the Vols' first victory against the Tide since 2006. Working with Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt, the two connected for six catches, 207 yards and five touchdowns. Thanks to kicker Chase McGrath’s winning 40-yard field goal, Hooker walked away victorious with 385 yards, five touchdowns and a stormed field in Neyland Stadium. 

Tennessee has been able to handle its SEC East matchups fairly easily, posting 109 combined points compared to their opponent’s measly 30 over the past two weeks.

Hooker’s biggest test will come this Saturday, when he’ll meet No. 1 ranked Georgia on the road in Sanford Stadium. His performance in Athens will make or break his front-runner status going into Heisman voting. 

C.J. Stroud

Following close behind is Ohio State’s redshirt sophomore quarterback, who is no stranger to rumors of a Heisman Trophy. The California native finished fourth in voting for the 2021 Heisman, and entered the 2022 season as an overwhelming favorite for the award. 

Despite Ohio State losing superstar wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba in their first-week victory against Notre Dame, Stroud has been able to lead the Buckeyes to an undeniable dominance in the Big Ten, tying Tennessee at No. 2 in the nation and going undefeated in regular season play so far.  

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Last week, Stroud and the Buckeyes held their own against their toughest in-conference opponent yet — the No. 16 Penn State Nittany Lions. Down 21-16 in the fourth quarter, Stroud stepped up, going six-for-eight and throwing for 128 yards. Across the entire game, he boasted 354 yards and one touchdown, sealing the win 44-31.

Kicking off the season, Stroud looked to be the obvious choice for Heisman, but 10 weeks later bets have Hendon Hooker edging him out for the title — assuming Hooker maintains his levels of play. If it was once Stroud’s award to lose, it’s now his to win back. 

Ohio State’s most pivotal game will be against No. 4 Michigan next week, a matchup that will determine the leader of the Big Ten. 

Bryce Young

Still in the pack — but at a distance behind — is Alabama’s reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young. The junior quarterback is hungry for back-to-back titles, but his level of play this season hasn’t reflected it. While Young is still putting up respectable numbers, his performance has been underwhelming compared to his Heisman-winning season last year. 

The Crimson Tide led by Young have been faring well in the SEC West as normal, but have had a few too many close calls to be placed in the same caliber as past seasons, their matchups against Texas and Texas A&M making that clear. 

Young’s season was briefly interrupted by a shoulder sprain he suffered while playing Arkansas in Week 5, but he returned two weeks later just in time to face off with Tennessee. While the Tide ultimately fell short against the Vols, Young’s comeback performance was outstanding, throwing 455 yards and two touchdowns. 

Considering last year’s Heisman win, Young is bound to be held to a higher standard than his opponents — he set the bar extremely high for himself in 2021. Young still has time to move up in the ranks, but he will need to bring the Crimson Tide back into the top four to be seriously considered for a Heisman repeat. 

Coming off of a bye this past weekend, Alabama will be facing LSU this Saturday in Baton Rouge. If Young wants to stay in the running for the Heisman, this matchup will be pivotal in proving his worthiness for the title. 

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