As we wrap up the regular season this weekend, the Heisman Trophy race could come down to two quarterbacks. However, I have a final six right now so I asked the Rivals.com team site experts to make a case for the players that they cover.
1. QB BRYCE YOUNG, Alabama
Young is No. 1 on my list but it’s close between him and C.J. Stroud. He’s been amazing this season as a first-year starter. He has completed 71.7 percent of his passes for 3,584 yards with 38 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He’s also run for two scores.
Tony Tsoukalas, BamaInsider.com: Bryce Young has managed to dispel his critics throughout the season. First, there were complaints that he was afraid to run the ball. He answered those by rushing for 42 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee. Next, there was concern over his ability to deliver the deep ball. Over the last four weeks, he has responded to that by going 11 of 17 for 437 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions on throws of 20 yards or more.
Both Young and C.J. Stroud are deserving of this year’s award. However, Young will hold the trump card if he’s able to replicate his recent production during next week’s SEC Championship Game against No. 1 Georgia.
2. QB C.J. STROUD, Ohio State
Stroud is pretty much 1B to Young in my book. He has been amazing after an erratic early start. He has completed 71.1 percent of his passes for 3,468 yards and 36 touchdowns with only five interceptions.
Colin Gay, ScarletAndGreyReport.com: Let’s start with the numbers: 3,468 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, five interceptions, completing 71.1 percent of his passes. Those are right up there with the best quarterbacks in the country, from Kenny Pickett to Bryce Young. However, with Stroud, you have to provide the context. Stroud is tied with the fourth-most touchdowns in the country in only 10 games played, only one of two in the top 10 in the country to say that, along with Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong.
He’s become one of the most efficient passers in all of college football, completing 73.9 percent of his passes for an average of 357.9 yards per game, throwing 28 touchdowns compared to two interceptions in his last seven games. He’s taking what defenses have given him, making Purdue’s No. 21 pass defense look like it should be in the bottom third with high-accuracy looks and consistently moving the ball downfield.
Stroud has a lot to prove if given the chance for two more games, facing likely two more top 20 defenses. But the high-octane, high-efficiency looks, putting his NFL-caliber receivers in the right spots after coming into the year without a collegiate pass to his name, this redshirt freshman has developed into the best quarterback in the country.
If wide receiver Garrett Wilson says Stroud makes him look good, people should listen.
3. QB MATT CORRAL, Ole Miss
Corral has led the surprising Ole Miss program to a top 10 ranking in the playoff rankings and has shown toughness and leadership along the way. He’s completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 3,099 yards with 19 touchdowns against only three interceptions. He’s also run for 552 yards and 10 more scores. He’s a distant third but needs to be mentioned.
Neal McCready, RebelGrove.com: Ole Miss is 9-2, a win away from the first 10-win regular season in program history. The reason: Matt Corral’s will. Yes, Corral has a cannon for an arm, a feathery touch on a deep ball and a sharp mind that allows him to read defenses at lightning speed. However, what has made his season so special is his will. When Ole Miss’ offense is fully healthy, the Rebels are explosive. Of course, that hasn’t been the case since the Rebels’ 52-51 win over Arkansas in September. He’s been without at least one — and usually two — of his top receivers since late September. He lost his starting tight end and two starting offensive linemen as well, so he just carried Ole Miss to wins. Throw in a severe ankle injury and Corral has had to lead his team despite having one of his weapons — his feet — taken from him.
Bottom line: Corral might not have Heisman numbers at this point in the season, but there’s no questioning the fact that he’s meant more to his team than any player in college football this season.
4. RB KENNETH WALKER III, Michigan State
Walker is the only running back in the discussion and for good reason as he’s carried Michigan State for much of the season. He’s rushed for 1,508 yards and 17 scores and caught 13 passes for 89 yards and another touchdown.
Paul Konyndyk, SpartanMag.com: The Heisman Trophy should go to the best player in college football, and not the quarterback that has the best collection of skill players to throw to or a dominant offensive line that gives him all kinds of time to throw. No player in college football has done more for their team than Kenneth Walker III has for Michigan State this season.
Walker ranks second in the FBS in rushing yards per game (136.2) and total rushing yards (1,498), while averaging 6.4 yards per carry, with 17 rushing touchdowns and 18 total touchdowns on the year. He has done that with good, but not great run blocking, as evidenced by the fact that more than two-thirds of Walker’s rushing yards have come after contact. Just to reiterate, Walker has 1,090 rushing yards after contact this season. No other tailback in college football even comes close.
Most Heisman Trophy winning tailbacks have elite offensive lines. Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry had dominant o-lines at Alabama, with plenty of NFL draft picks paving the way. Michigan State has a solid group of blue collar linemen that is a lot better as a unit than they were in 2020 when the Spartans finished No. 122 in the FBS in per-game rushing average and went an entire season without rushing touchdown by a tailback. The blockers are the same, the tailback is different, and that says a lot the guy toting the rock for the Spartans.
Teams facing Michigan State have thrown the kitchen sink at Walker trying to stop the Spartan ground game, bringing extra personnel into the box or playing a bear defense in the case of Michigan. In fact, stopping Walker has been such a big focus for opposing defenses that the Spartans have scored four flea-flicker touchdowns on the season, and consider that gadget play to be a regular part of their play-action passing game.
5. QB KENNY PICKETT, Pitt
Pickett has been a massive surprise this season on a national scale. He’s completed 67.1-percent of his passes for 3,857 yards and 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He’s also run for four more touchdowns.
Chris Peak, PantherLair.com: How good has Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett been this season? Take your pick of context. Want to put him against the best quarterbacks in school history? OK. He has already set the school records for career passing yards, single-season passing yards, career touchdown responsibility, career total offense, career pass completions, single-game pass completions, single-game passing yardage and career 400-yard games, and he only needs five touchdowns to set a new record for career passing touchdowns.
Want to put him against the best quarterbacks in the country? Okay. He ranks in the top five nationally in total offense, passing touchdowns, total passing yards, passing yards per game and total points responsibility; neither of the other Davey O’Brien Award finalists – Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young – can make that claim.
Want to put him in big situations? Okay. In Pitt’s win over Clemson earlier this season, he ran for two first downs in crucial fourth-quarter third-down situations, and when the Panthers had a chance to clinch the ACC Coastal Division title last Saturday against Virginia, Pickett threw four touchdowns – two of which were on fourth down.
On the season, 12 of his 36 touchdown passes have come on third and fourth down. Pro Football Focus has him as the highest-graded FBS quarterback with at least 400 drop-backs this season, and no Power Five quarterback with at least 40 throws of 20 yards or more has a higher completion percentage than Pickett, who has completed 53.8 percent of his deep throws for 1,220 yards and 16 touchdowns. And he has run for 27 first downs, too.
Pickett is the engine behind Pitt’s 9-2 record, its Coastal Division championship and its position as the odds-on favorite to win the ACC and reach a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time in the College Football Playoff era.
6. QB BAILEY ZAPPE, Western Kentucky
Zappe needs to be included even though he has no chance of winning. His production this year has been amazing as he’s completed nearly 72 percent of his passes for 4,640 yards with 48 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He’s also run for three more scores.
Sean Williams, InsideHilltopperSports.com: The stats don’t lie. Through 11 games, Zappe has completed 381-of-532 pass attempts (71.6 percent) for 4,640 yards with 48 touchdowns against nine interceptions. He currently ranks No. 1 in total passing yards, No. 1 in passing touchdowns, No. 1 in passing yards per game (421.8), No. 7 in completion percentage, and is currently seventh in pass efficiency at 170.31.
Zappe’s play against Western Kentucky’s toughest opponents, equally impressive. In a close 33-31 home loss to Indiana, Zappe went 31-of-44 (70.1 percent) for 365 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. At Michigan State, Zappe put up the following stat line: 46-of-64 (71.9 percent) for 488 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 48-31 loss. In a 52-46 home loss to nationally-ranked UTSA, Zappe was 38-of-60 (63.3 percent) for 523 yards and five touchdowns against one interception.
Western Kentucky could play three more games if they come up victorious in Saturday’s matchup at Marshall, a game that will determine the Conference USA East Division. That would put Zappe on track to potentially break Joe Burrow‘s single-season passing touchdown record of 60 as well as B.J. Symons‘ single-season passing yardage record of 5,833. History tells us the Heisman voters normally don’t show a lot of love for Group of Five level talent no matter the stats. However, in this case, they definitely should.
Bryce Young should win the Heisman. This isn’t your typical Alabama team with first-rounders at every position on offense. There’s no Najee Harris, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, etc. But he’s still ridiculously efficient. His ability to remain calm and survey the field is unsurpassed. – Mike Farrell, Rivals.com national football columnist