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Young Seizes Heisman Trophy Race

The stage was set and it was up to Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young to put the finishing touches on a brilliant season. Young was already the Heisman Trophy front-runner but needed one magical performance against the nation’s top defensive team to leave Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and the other top candidates in the rear-view mirror.

Young delivered that “Heisman moment” by throwing for more than 400 yards as the Crimson Tide rolled to a 41-24 win over previously undefeated Georgia to win the SEC Championship Game. The Las Vegas odds made Young the overwhelming choice to win the 2021 Heisman Trophy.

Heisman Trophy
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

Young Pulling Away From Field

Bryce Young, Alabama Quarterback

Heisman Odds: -5000

All season long, the biggest question is when or if one of the top candidates was going to put together that Heisman moment.

It took awhile but playing in his final game before the votes for the Heisman Trophy are cast, Alabama sophomore quarterback Bryce Young picked apart the nation’s top defensive team.

Young threw for 421 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against a Georgia defense that held its last two opponents under 100 passing yards. Tennessee was the only team to throw for more than 300 yards against the Bulldogs until Young set an SEC Championship Game record for passing yards in a row in the Crimson Tide’s 41-24 win.

Young didn’t have a touchdown run in the last five games but added one of those as well as Alabama not only handed previously undefeated and top-ranked Georgia its first loss but, more importantly, secured Alabama one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.

Strange things can happen at this time of the year when ballots are being submitted, but Young was already the Heisman front-runner heading into the game and it would stunning if he didn’t run away in the voting.

Young has thrown for 4,322 yards with 43 touchdown passes and only four interceptions.

If he does win, it would be just the fifth time that college teammates won the Heisman in back-to-back years, after DeVonta Smith won the award in 2020. Oklahoma quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray were the winners in 2017 and 2018, Southern California’s Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush won the award in 2004 and 2005 (although Bush later had his Heisman win vacated), Army’s Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis were the Heisman winners in 1945 and 1946, while Yale’s Larry Kelley and Clint Frank of Yale won the award in 1936 and 1937.

Sure to Receive Passing Grades

C.J. Stroud, Ohio State Quarterback

Heisman Odds: +2500

With the Michigan Wolverines’ win against Ohio State knocking the Buckeyes out of contention for the Big Ten Championship Game, Stroud wasn’t able to add to his impressive season on conference championship weekend.

If Young had struggled against Georgia, there’s a chance that Stroud could have seen a surge in the voting, but anybody who watched the Southeastern Conference title game and plans on casting the first-place vote for a quarterback would certainly seem to have more reasons to go with Young over Stroud.

Stroud still had a spectacular regular season for Ohio State and is second among FBS players with a passer rating of 182.2. He joins Mississippi State’s Will Rogers and Nevada’s Carson Strong as the only FBS players with at least 3,000 passing yards and 35 touchdowns while completing at least 70 percent of his passes.

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Quarterback

Heisman Odds: +3000

The senior quarterback has put up some impressive numbers not just this season but throughout his career. When you are breaking team records previously held by Dan Marino, that is a big deal. However, his greatest accomplishment was leading the Panthers to the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the first time.

Pickett had better statistical games than he did in Saturday’s 45-21 win over Wake Forest. as he threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score. However, he made the plays he needed to make as Pittsburgh defied the odds by winning the ACC title. Eight teams had better college football odds to emerge as ACC champions than Pittsburgh (+5000) did.

Pickett has thrown for 4,319 yards with 42 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He has also run for five touchdowns. Could he finish ahead of Stroud in the voting? That seemed unthinkable a month ago or even a week ago, but it will be interesting to see if he makes a late push to move ahead of Stroud.

Pickett made the most of his decision to return for the 2021 season rather than make himself eligible for the NFL Draft.

Defense Doesn’t Rest

All positions are not treated the same when it comes to the Heisman Trophy balloting. Charles Woodson of Michigan was the last player who primarily played on the defensive side of the ball to win the Heisman and that came in 1997. The last time three defensive players have finished in the top-10 Heisman balloting in the same year came in 2012, when Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was second behind Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was sixth and Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones finished 10th.

That could change this year as Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Alabama linebacker Will Anderson, Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis and even Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux could be popular with the voters.

Since Te’o’s second-place finish, the only defensive players to finish in the top five in the voting were Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, who was fourth in 2019, and Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers, who was was fifth in 2016.

Will Anderson, Alabama Linebacker

Heisman Odds: +4500

Anderson leads all major college players with 15½ sacks and 31½  tackles for loss. Anderson is the first FBS player with at least 30 tackles for loss in a season since Houston’s Sammy Brown in 2011.  He would be the first player since Sutton Smith of Northern Illinois to lead the nation in both categories during the same season.

In Alabama’s proud history, only the late great Derrick Thomas has more tackles for loss and sacks in a season than Anderson. Anderson had at least two tackles for loss in each of the games during Alabama’s seven-game winning streak, including a win over Georgia when Alabama was in the unfamiliar position of being listed by the college football spreads as an underdog.

Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan Defensive End

Heisman Odds: +1400

The Michigan Wolverines have been sending talented pass rushers to the NFL for years, but none of them ever had more sacks in a season than the 14 Hutchinson accumulated this season.

He was a little quieter in the Big Ten Championship Game win over Iowa than he was during his monster game against Ohio State, but he has moved into the No. 2 spot in the scores and odds to win the Heisman Trophy.

He also has been credited for 12 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. He is starting to show up as a legitimate competitor to Thibodeaux to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Like Anderson and Davis, he is in a position to help his team win a national title and that would mean more if many Heisman Trophy voters opt to break with the all-offense, all-the-time mindset when casting their official ballot.

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