The Heisman Trophy has been college football’s most prestigious award since University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger was awarded the first stiff-armed prototype in 1935. Since then, Chicago has dumped its football program and the award has morphed into a Quarterback of the Year award. That laziness has led Heisman voters to entirely ignore standouts at other positions.
There’s no greater example of that hyperfocus on the quarterback position than the 2022 crop of Heisman finalists featuring Caleb Williams, Max Duggan, CJ Stroud and, uhhh… Stetson Bennett? Caleb Williams, the deserving winner, was tossed out of the College Football Playoff line right mere hours before he was set to gain entry. Yet it felt like USC was always on the peripherals this season while most of the nation fixated on Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud.
Stroud backpedaled into the playoff after his worst outing of the season, but it’s hard to knock him down too far for getting humbled by No. 2 Michigan at home in The Big Game and throwing a pair of interceptions for only the second time in his career as a starter. However, Ohio State manufactures signal callers who post Heisman-worthy numbers as often as Apple releases a new iPhone. He’s also thrown to the most stacked receiver room in the country for two years. Last year, two Ohio State WRs (and one transfer) were drafted with the 10th, 11th and 12th picks. None of those three were even their reading receiver.
Sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba put cornerbacks in a pretzel during his sophomore campaign, but played only three games this season. In his absence, Marvin Harrison Jr. set himself up to be the first receiver taken in the 2024 Draft. Smith-Njigba and Emegba Egbuka became the second-pair of Ohio State receivers to eclipse 1,000 yards while a two-time Mr. Pennsylvania Football had to get in where he could fit in.
TCU’s Max Duggan created the most memorable Heisman moment over the weekend when he rumbled downfield on down after down for what felt like a 120-yard drive to force overtime in the Big 12 Championship Game. The nation knew he had special arm talent as evidenced by his 30:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, on his game-tying drive against Kansas State, Duggan scrambled for 95 yards, then rumbled into the endzone on the 2-point conversion.
The inclusion of Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett should raise eyebrows. Simply put, his Heisman resume is weak. Bennett has become the closest thing to an SEC “Rudy” story by matriculating from undersized UGA walk-on in 2017 to Jones County Community College starter, back to Georgia after growing two inches, waited out Jake Fromm, only earned starts during the 2020 COVID season when Vanderbilt transfer Jamie Newman opted out, then beat out 5-star JT Daniels early in 2021.
After snatching the starting job from Daniels, Bennett had a better chance of having a Heisman moment in the classroom than on the field. Instead, he managed the fourth-best quarterback rating in the country but was rarely asked to win a game.
Aside from his management of the offense in UGA’s comeback victory over Missouri, Bennett has been asked to do less than he did during Georgia’s 2021 championship run. Even after tossing four touchdowns in their SEC Championship Game rout of LSU, Bennett has still thrown for a meager 20 touchdowns in 13 starts. Reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young wasn’t even invited back with production that dwarfed those for a two-loss Alabama team that came two scores away from an undefeated season. During a comeback on the road at Texas, Young channeled his inner-Mahomes to make one of the most astonishing escapes of the season.
On the other hand, Georgia wasn’t reliant on Bennett’s arm to power the nation’s 11th-ranked scoring offense. He flashed surprising wheels, scoring six rushing touchdowns, but UGA was solar powered by a defense that destroyed the morale of their opposition. Bennett’s duties were to avoid turnovers or mental errors, toss shovel passes to his tight end Brock Bowers or to gadget receiver Ladd McConkey.
Not long after the dawn of the forward pass era, Davey O’Brien became the first quarterback to win a Heisman in 1938 after throwing 19 touchdowns in 10 games. The last time a Heisman quarterback finalist fewer than 25 touchdowns was in 2001 when Eric Crouch shattered the NCAA record for career touchdowns by a quarterback en route to rushing for 18 touchdowns in Nebraska’s triple option scheme while tallying over 1,100 yards on the ground. Bennett is a throwback to the days when quarterbacks got real jobs after college to supplement their NFL side jobs.
It’s a travesty that Heisman voters are too fixated on the anointed protagonist for every playoff team to consider a supporting character more deserving of the Heisman honor. For the second year in a row, Georgia’s best player is on their defensive line. Bulldogs defensive tackle Jalen Carter made the defining play of last week’s SEC Championship Game when he swiped a blocker out of his way to get to Jayden Daniels, lifted the LSU quarterback up like a teddy bear he won at a carnival, and made a number one gesture with his right arm over his head.
Prior to tearing his ACL, Hendon Hooker was running laps around Bennett until he ran into UGA’s buzzsaw defense. Deuce Vaughn did his best Darren Sproles circa 2003 impression all the way to a Big 12 title run while Bijan Robinson steamrolled tacklers like Eric Dickerson. But in this day and age, that wasn’t enough. Heisman voters have grown lazy and lessened the award’s significance along the way.