College Football Futures: Heisman Race Still Alive After Young’s Emphatic Answer to Stroud’s Spartan Spanking

Eddie Griffin

Some seasons, the highest individual honor in college football is undecided until the final few weekends of the regular season. Last season, Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, and Kyle Trask were favorites at some point. In the end, Alabama’s Devonta Smith overhauled them all, becoming the first receiver to win it since Desmond Howard 1991. Smith solidified and strengthened his candidacy as the season progressed with a dominant four-game stretch. Then he ascended to the top of the Heisman odds down the stretch, jumping past his quarterback, Trask, and eventual runner-up Lawrence.

This season, such drama or mystery may have been greatly diminished in the span of a spectacular first half by Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Heisman Race Shrinks as Corral, Williams Drift

Coming into this week’s college football action, the race for the Heisman appeared to be down to three players: Stroud, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, and Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III.

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, at one time the Heisman favorite, continues to be prominently placed. But even though the 9-2 Rebels continue to win, their offensive production and Corral’s candidacy have had a drop-off in recent weeks. Corral’s health is a big factor, and so is his competition. And Baylor’s defense extinguished the Heisman hype for Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams as the Sooners went down in Waco.

While Young remained the favorite at some top sportsbooks, FanDuel Sportsbook moved Stroud a shade ahead of Young after Stroud lit up upset specialist Purdue last Saturday. Against the Boilermakers, Stroud went 31 for 38 for 361 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Buckeyes to a 59-31 win.

Young had a big day himself, completing 21 of 23 passes for 270 yards and five scores, and the Tide scored 59 points as well. But the discrepancy in competition must have been enough for FanDuel to flip the two. Stroud’s opponent had two wins over top-five teams this season, including one the previous week. Young’s was New Mexico State, who is 1-10 (0-10 against FBS teams) after a 56-16 loss to Kentucky today.

Stellar Stroud Sinks Spartans to Make Strong Statement

Today’s Michigan State-Ohio State game was expected to have a vital say in the outcome of the Heisman race, with Stroud on one side and Walker on the other.

Well, it has proven to be decisive, at least for Walker’s chances. Not only did Stroud surpass his performance against Purdue in leading the Buckeyes to a huge–in margin and in magnitude–win over the Spartans, he did it in the first half. THE FIRST HALF. He completed 29 of 31 passes for 393 yards and six touchdowns, leading the Buckeyes to touchdowns on seven straight first-half possessions.

By the end of it, Michigan State trailed 49-0, and their Big Ten title and College Football Playoff hopes were obliterated to smithereens. Stroud finished the game 32 of 35 for 432 yards and six scores in Ohio State’s 56-7 rout. Walker, who injured his ankle last week against Maryland, managed 29 total yards on seven touches. The Wake Forest transfer has had a memorable season, but his Heisman hopes are done.

As for the Heisman race overall? Those who backed Stroud at any point, but especially those who backed Stroud earlier in the season or even a few weeks ago, should be happy about how things are now trending. Those numbers in a full game in a game that significant might have given him up the upper hand regardless. But he produced arguably the most spectacular individual first half in a big game in recent college football history.

But it’s not over until it’s over. And it is definitely not over.

Young Sets Alabama Passing Record to Lead Tide to SEC West Title

While Stroud is now the consensus Heisman favorite, Young issued a rather riveting response to Stroud’s performance. In Alabama’s 42-35 win over pesky Arkansas, Young completed 31 of 40 passes for 559 yards and five touchdowns. Alabama needed every single yard and touchdown as the Razorbacks refused to go away down to the very end.

It’s certainly not Young’s fault that the game was so close. But the result doesn’t help his cause when compared to Ohio State’s rout of Michigan State. Whether or not you think that is fair may depend on the side you are on.

But it is now a two-horse race, and there will be no interlopers in proceedings over the next few weeks. Corral has only one more game left, the Rebels’ Egg Bowl matchup against Mississippi State next Thursday. Even a monster game won’t be enough at this point. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett could be an ACC champion and should be a wealthy man next April. But he is too far behind to be a factor at this point.

Odds to Win the 2021 Heisman Trophy

  • C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State: -220 (FanDuel Sportsbook), -200 (BetMGM), -200 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Bryce Young, QB, Alabama: +200 (FanDuel), +150 (BetMGM), +140 (DraftKings)
  • Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss: +2000 (FanDuel), +1400 (BetMGM), +1800 (DraftKings)
  • Kenneth Walker, RB, Michigan State: +2500 (FanDuel), +1200 (BetMGM), +2000 (DraftKings)
  • Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh: +5000 (FanDuel), +3000 (BetMGM), +4000 (DraftKings)

All Heisman Trophy odds are via the respective online sportsbooks as of Saturday, November 20, 2021 at 9:10 p.m. ET.

What Twists and Turns Could Lie Ahead for the Heisman Race?

For both Heisman favorites, a road trip to face the archrival is up next. Stroud and Ohio State will head to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan. A division title will be at stake, and the winner will be within a win of a certain CFP berth. Young and Alabama visit 6-5 Auburn, who has three straight losses after falling at South Carolina.

Michigan’s defense is one of the best in college football against the pass, while the same cannot be said for Auburn’s defense. If Stroud performs against Michigan like he has against most teams this season, the gap between he and Young will likely only widen even more before Championship Weekend. With a win in Ann Arbor, the Buckeyes could face Wisconsin (or Iowa) for the Big Ten title. Both of those teams are also statistically elite against the pass. Two wins and two solid performances might be all Stroud needs to satisfy many voters, if he hasn’t already.

However, hope very much remains alive if Young is your choice. Auburn’s late-season slide understandably lessens the value of a big performance and a win at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers, ranked 13th in this month’s initial CFP rankings, tumbled out after losses to Texas A&M and Mississippi State. An Iron Bowl win brings bragging rights no matter what, but it will not impact Young’s resume like it could have.

But his final chance to make an impression on undecided voters will come against top-ranked Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. To do what no one else has come close to doing against Georgia’s defense this season would be a pretty big feather for his cap.

But would it be enough? Stroud got a valuable leg up today, but Young’s record-setting response has given him a chance.

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