Ranking the Heisman Favorites Heading into Week 4
Early in the college football season, the beliefs we build up during the summer months carry us into September. After only three weeks, however, those perceptions can be shattered.
Such is the case in the Heisman Trophy race, where Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei is leaving the discussion and Oklahoma star Spencer Rattler is moving the wrong way. He joins Miami QB D'Eriq King and USC QB Kedon Slovis as preseason contenders who are no longer in serious consideration.
Perhaps they return! But a three-game sample size—though neither large nor definitive—is enough to start making changes in our weekly Heisman Trophy update.
We unveil the updated group every Tuesday, ranking the current Heisman favorites as if votes were due today.
On the Radar
Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
We'll find out if Desmond Ridder is a legitimate candidate the next time Cincinnati takes the field. After the upcoming idle weekend, the Bearcats head to Notre Dame. There is no better chance for Ridder to have the "Heisman moment" voters usually want to see.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Is there a universe in which a Liberty QB wins the Heisman? Probably not, right? But Malik Willis is nonetheless on the radar because a host of touted quarterbacks are flailing in 2021. He's collected 838 yards and 11 total touchdowns while guiding the Flames to a 3-0 start. They travel to Syracuse in Week 4.
Taulia Tagovailoa, QB, Maryland
The younger brother of the former Alabama star, Taulia Tagovailoa is making a name for himself in his own right. Maryland is 3-0, and Tagovailoa has racked up 992 offensive yards and accounted for seven touchdowns. The upcoming back-to-back with Iowa (Oct. 1) and Ohio State (Oct. 9) are major tests for his Heisman odds.
Blake Corum, RB, Michigan
Although he headlines the Wolverines' rushing attack, Blake Corum is producing in other ways, too. He's amassed 407 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, adding six catches for 46 yards and a score and three kick returns for 128 yards. Michigan hosts Rutgers this weekend, but a trip to Wisconsin in Week 5 will be a massive challenge for this run-heavy offense.
TreVeyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State
You wouldn't need to convince us to say TreVeyon Henderson should be above teammate C.J. Stroud at this point. Henderson, a true freshman, has scored in all three games this season. He just shredded Tulsa for 277 rushing yards and three touchdowns, lifting his season totals to 452 all-purpose yards and five scores.
6. Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Had he not entered the 2021 season as the Heisman favorite, Spencer Rattler wouldn't be mentioned anymore. He's played nowhere near the level of a deserving winner.
In two games against FBS competition, Oklahoma has clipped Tulane 40-35 and held off Nebraska 23-16. Rattler managed a combined 7.1 yards per pass attempt in those matchups, totaling 560 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions.
Without a doubt, he's trending down.
As we introduce changes to the group of favorites, though, Rattler shouldn't be eliminated. Oklahoma is 3-0, and a massive performance against West Virginia or Kansas State would begin to erase his underwhelming start to 2021. Whether you expect that to happen is where opinions may diverge.
5. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Before any of us overreact too much, remember one simple fact: C.J. Stroud has three career starts.
On paper, a new quarterback with 963 yards (9.5 per pass attempt), eight touchdowns and three interceptions is probably doing OK. And if you needed to use a single word to define Stroud's season to date, you'd end up somewhere around "fine."
Fine, however, does not win a Heisman. Throwing for 484 yards in a game—despite Ohio State losing to Oregon in Week 2—prevents you from leaving the discussion, though.
Nevertheless, his grace period is running out. Stroud mustered just 185 passing yards against Tulsa last weekend.
The upcoming stretch of Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana is mostly a chance for Stroud to settle into being a college quarterback. But further struggles will remove him from the watch list.
4. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
After a horrible day in the season-opening loss at Virginia Tech, Sam Howell has looked like the quarterback we expected.
In Week 2, he picked apart Georgia State for 352 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Howell also scampered for 104 yards and two touchdowns in the 59-17 blowout.
The junior followed that performance up by ripping apart Virginia's defense last weekend. While rushing for a career-high 112 yards, Howell threw for 307 yards and five touchdowns. North Carolina won 59-39, picking up a valuable ACC victory.
Howell and the Tar Heels head to Atlanta for a clash with Georgia Tech at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 4.
3. Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State
First, an apology. Two weeks ago, we noted Kenneth Walker III was unlikely to remain in the Heisman hunt. That was a product of expecting Miami to knock off the Spartans in Week 3.
Not only did Michigan State win, but Walker led the way.
The Wake Forest transfer took full advantage of Miami's poor tackling. He made defenders miss all game, powering through weak attempts to bring him down or flat-out carrying players for extra yardage. Walker ran for 172 yards, also catching three passes for 17 yards and a touchdown.
Heading into Week 4's matchup with Nebraska, Walker leads the FBS at 164.3 rushing yards per game.
2. Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Entering the season, production was never a question for Matt Corral. Anyone who follows the SEC closely knew Ole Miss' quarterback would destroy the box score regularly.
So far, that's just what has happened. Corral has a 68.8 completion percentage with 1,006 yards (10.5 per attempt), nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. Excluding six sacks, he's rushed for 205 yards—which would be a team-high mark—and scored five times.
The concern, though, was focused on his performance when Ole Miss plays top competition. That's coming up next.
Following an idle Saturday in Week 4, the Rebels travel to top-ranked Alabama (Oct. 1) and host 16th-ranked Arkansas (Oct. 9). Corral's outlook for the Heisman will be much clearer in a few weeks.
1. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Although the appeal of Alabama's win over Miami is admittedly shrinking, no FBS player has produced at a higher level against stronger competition than Bryce Young.
Young threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns against Miami, then posted 227 yards and three scores opposite Mercer. Last weekend, he tallied 233 yards and three touchdowns while the Crimson Tide survived a trip to Florida 31-29.
It wasn't a fantastic day for Young, who struggled at times after a scorching start. But we're also accustomed to Alabama not having trouble on the road—or usually ever—so there are naturally higher expectations. Consider this was Young's first career start in a true road environment, and it's really not bad at all.
Young should stick as the No. 1 player through the upcoming clash with Southern Miss. The spotlight will truly return when the Tide meet No. 13 Ole Miss (Oct. 2) and No. 7 Texas A&M (Oct. 9).