Picking a quarterback to lift the Heisman Trophy is always a safe bet: 17 have won the award since 2000. And choosing a player from Alabama is also smart: three have done so since 2009.
Every indication heading into Saturday night’s ceremony is that Alabama sophomore Bryce Young will be the latest quarterback and the latest star from the Crimson Tide to take home the Heisman.
After a strong close to the regular season, Young distanced himself from the competition and took hold of an unpredictable and largely uneventful Heisman race that seemed open to as many as five or six contenders deep into November.
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Bryce Young would be Alabama’s second consecutive Heisman Trophy winner.
The list of finalists includes three quarterbacks and one outlier: Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson is the second defender to be voted a Heisman finalist in three years, following Ohio State defensive end Chase Young in 2019.
Michigan cornerback and returner Charles Woodson is the only primary defender to win the Heisman. In 2016, Michigan safety Jabril Peppers was a finalist after also playing smaller roles on offense and special teams.
The Heisman comes down to these four standouts:
Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Hutchinson has set the school’s single-season record for sacks with 14, including three to go with more than a dozen quarterback pressures in a legendary performance that paced the Wolverines past rival Ohio State late last month. That game gave him the boost his candidacy needed to vault ahead of another two defenders under consideration (Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis and Alabama linebacker Will Anderson).
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) rushes up field during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game against Iowa.
This sort of strong finish has lifted players to the Heisman in the recent past. For example, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray wrestled the award away from Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa late in the 2018 season after Tagovailoa had spent almost the entire year as the favorite. But Hutchinson wasn’t really on the map before the final two weeks of the regular season; his torrid finish may get him into second place but it’s unlikely that he comes in ahead of Young.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Pickett embodies the sort of success story that can often be an easy Heisman sell. He spent the previous three years as Pittsburgh’s starter but was too inconsistent to lift the Panthers to the top of the ACC Coastal. He broke through as a senior, tossing 42 touchdowns and setting a slew of career and single-season program records as the Panthers won the conference to reach the New Year’s Six.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett celebrates after scoring against Wake Forest during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
That has made him the program’s first Heisman finalist since wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. With a win, Pickett would be the fourth ACC quarterback to take the Heisman since 2000, joining Florida State’s Chris Weinke (2000), FSU’s Jameis Winston (2013) and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (2016).
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Stroud was the Heisman frontrunner for two weeks in November after tossing a combined 11 touchdowns in runaway wins against Purdue and Michigan State. The loss to Michigan — and Hutchinson’s dominant display in that game — ended Stroud’s chances. But is that really fair? Stroud still completed 69.4% of his throws for 394 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the loss. In the end, Stroud could’ve used a stronger start to the year: OSU struggled out of the gate and the redshirt freshman didn’t hit his stride until the start of Big Ten play in October.
Bryce Young, Alabama
Young would be the fourth Heisman winner in program history but the first quarterback, after running backs Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015) and last year’s winner, wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Stroud may have temporarily held the lead in November, but Young took back the Heisman by throwing for 559 yards against Arkansas, leading the Crimson Tide past Auburn in the Iron Bowl and going for 421 yards in the SEC championship game against Georgia.
With Young a possible runaway winner, the biggest question heading into Saturday is by just how much he’ll lap the field.
Projected order of finish
With Young a safe bet to win, the wild card is Hutchinson, who could land as high as second place. If Hutchinson and Stroud split votes among selectors in the Big Ten footprint, Pickett could come in second behind Young.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Heisman Trophy 2021: Will anyone overtake Alabama’s Bryce Young