A quarterback-only Heisman Trophy ceremony will still have something for everyone.
Start with one of the most successful walk-on players in Bowl Subdivision history, Georgia senior Stetson Bennett, a somewhat surprising invitee to the ceremony over Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and Michigan running back Blake Corum, among others.
TCU senior Max Duggan was the backup entering the year before taking on the starting job in September and delivering one of the finest seasons by a player in program history.
Ohio State sophomore C.J. Stroud is a two-time Heisman finalists who may struggle to crack the top two in this year’s voting but will have the chance shape his legacy with the Buckeyes by leading his team past Georgia in this month’s Peach Bowl.
And there’s presumptive favorite, Southern California sophomore Caleb Williams, who was set to roll to the Heisman before the Trojans were knocked out of the College Football Playoff by Utah in the Pac-12 championship game.
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There are easy arguments for why each of the four finalists deserves to lift the Heisman. Here is the primary case for why each should win, why each shouldn’t and where each is projected to land in Saturday’s voting:
Stetson Bennett, Georgia
Bennett has played a much bigger part in Georgia’s offense compared to his first year as the starter, with an impressive uptick in completion percentage (68.1 to 64.5) across far more attempts (395 to 287), completions (269 to 185) and yards (3,452 to 2,862). He added another 184 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, tied for second on the team.
Key stats: 3,425 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, six interceptions.
Why he should win: If Heisman voters lean toward the starting quarterback on the nation’s best team, Bennett could have a surprisingly high finish despite spending most of the regular season without garnering the same level of attention paid to Duggan, Williams and Stroud. Working his way up the depth chart as a walk-on to the national champion also gives him a backstory no other finalist can match.
Why he shouldn’t: The numbers don’t match up. Bennett has been better, and Georgia as a whole is more balanced for his year-to-year improvement. But other quarterbacks in Manhattan bring eye-opening totals to the table while Bennett’s impact extends far beyond the box score.
Projected finish: Fourth.
Max Duggan, TCU
After spending the season opener on the sideline, Duggan stepped into the starting role and slowly inched his way up the Heisman chart by leading TCU to an utterly unexpected playoff berth. He’s tossed multiple touchdowns in all but three starts, had just four interceptions during the regular season and saved some of his best performances for the biggest games down the home stretch.
Key stats: 3,321 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, four interceptions; 404 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns.
Why he should win: Already a lock for the ceremony, Duggan may have won the Heisman with his gutsy, leave-it-on-the-field game against Kansas State. With 251 passing yards with a touchdown and another 110 rushing yards and a score, Duggan nearly willed TCU to an unbeaten regular season and gave on-the-fence voters another Heisman option beyond Williams and Stroud. The role he played in the Frogs’ memorable playoff push draws parallels to the way former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow came out of relative anonymity in his senior year to win the Heisman.
Why he shouldn’t: There may be voters who partially discount Duggan’s numbers as a product of Sonny Dykes’ offensive scheme. He also had a few spotty moments in November, hitting on 52.2% of his throws against Texas Tech and averaging only 4.3 yards per attempt against Texas. Those minor missteps are offset by the larger picture of Duggan’s season, though.
Projected finish: Second.
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Stroud’s second year as the starter wasn’t quite as productive as his first, but he remains one of the nation’s elite players regardless of position and the primary reason why the Buckeyes are back in the playoff. Ohio State’s offense enters the postseason ranked second nationally in yards per play (7.3), sixth in yards per game (492.7) and second in scoring (44.5 points per game).
Key stats: 3,340 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, six interceptions.
Why he should win: The Heisman frontrunner for a big chunk of the regular season, Stroud’s lead shrunk following a 76-yard performance against Northwestern in early November and evaporated over the final three weeks of the regular season. Voters will still be drawn to his six starts with four or more passing touchdowns and his place as perhaps the finest passer in program history. When the Buckeyes’ offense was healthy, Stroud was the most productive quarterback in the country.
Why he shouldn’t: There’s the Northwestern game and, of course, the loss to Michigan. Stroud dropped 349 yards on the Wolverines but averaged only 7.3 yards per attempt and had two interceptions. How you finish matters, and Stroud’s last impression wasn’t a good one.
Projected finish: Third.
Caleb Williams, Southern California
Williams built on an often-impressive freshman season at Oklahoma by helping transform USC back into one of the Pac-12’s best teams. His familiarity with Lincoln Riley’s playbook and another group of key additions, including star receiver Jordan Addison, made the Trojans’ offense into a powerhouse.
Key stats: 4,075 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, four interceptions; 372 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns.
Why he should win: From the middle of October through the end of November, Williams put together one of the most prolific stretches in Pac-12 history. Included in this six-game span were a legendary game against rival UCLA and a highlight-heavy performance against Notre Dame as the Trojans came within one win of the playoff. Even in the loss to Utah, Williams finished with 363 yards and three scores despite struggling through a severe hamstring injury.
Why he shouldn’t: One day after Williams and USC came up short against the Utes, Duggan delivered his eye-opening numbers against Kansas State. It may not be that Williams loses the Heisman; Duggan could just take it away from him.
Projected finish: First.