Biggest Snubs from 2021 Heisman Trophy FinalistsDecember 10, 2021
Biggest Snubs from 2021 Heisman Trophy Finalists
Kudos to Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Kenny Pickett and Aidan Hutchinson on a fantastic 2021 college football season that will include a trip to New York City this Saturday for the Heisman Trophy presentation. All four are worthy candidates.
But for all the talk in the past few months about College Football Playoff expansion, maybe we should have been clamoring instead for Heisman Trophy Finalist expansion. There are about a dozen other players who reasonably could have been considered for first-place votes for the stiff-armed trophy.
It's likely six of those guys will at least end up in the top 10 when the final vote count is revealed. However, it's a little infuriating that several of them won't even receive that honor.
So before we shift our focus to the four stars taking center stage Saturday night, let's make sure to highlight a few others who arguably deserve to be there.
Players are listed in alphabetical order, which means we'll start things off with the snub that everyone was talking about Monday night.
Will Anderson Jr., Edge, Alabama
Stats: 91 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks
There was a great deal of outrage over Will Anderson Jr. not being named a Heisman finalist, as many were quick to point out that he finished the season with more sacks and more than twice as many tackles for loss than Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson.
Anderson and Hutchinson play slightly different positions, so using that as the crux of the head-to-head comparison isn't quite fair. Still, 31.5 tackles for loss is outrageous. Northern Illinois' Sutton Smith (29.5 in 2016) is the only other player in the past seven seasons to even get to 27 TFL.
But a huge part of the problem for Anderson is he came on strong over the latter half of the season.
Through Alabama's first six games, he had 11 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. And it was in that sixth game that Alabama suffered its loss to Texas A&M, shifting a great deal of the national focus from Alabama to Georgia. That meant by the time Anderson started thriving, he was essentially already a lap behind UGA's Jordan Davis.
The 20.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks over the final seven games were sensational, but they were also more than a bit overshadowed by Bryce Young's heroics. Hutchinson didn't have that problem at Michigan, where his three sacks against Penn State and his three sacks against Ohio State late in the season all but cemented him as the brightest shining star for the team that rocketed into the spotlight.
At the end of the day, the race for the Heisman Trophy is no more than a popularity contest, to which Anderson was a late arrival. His end-of-year numbers absolutely warranted a trip to New York City, though.
Matt Araiza, P/K, San Diego State
Stats: 17/27 FG, 40/40 PAT, 51.4 yards per punt
Matt Araiza—or as he's better known on college football Twitter: Punt God—was never going to be a Heisman finalist. But as we got into November with no clear upper echelon of candidates and with a Group of Five team (Cincinnati) incredibly closing in on a spot in the College Football Playoff, we allowed ourselves to dream of a world in which a punter/kicker was invited to New York City.
Araiza was certainly deserving, though.
We don't have any sort of Wins Above Replacement or Value Over Replacement Player advanced metric in college football, but let's just say San Diego State had no business winning 11 games this season were it not for Araiza.
The Aztecs ranked 105th in the nation in passer efficiency rating, ranked 90th in passing yards allowed per game and outgained their opposition by just 182 total yards over the course of the entire season. But what they did have was Araiza to constantly flip the field and/or pin opponents deep in their own territory.
Of the lefty's 76 punts, 37 landed inside the 20 and five traveled at least 72 yards, including an 86-yarder and an 81-yarder in back-to-back games. Prior to the Mountain West championship game, he had either downed multiple punts inside the 20, averaged at least 55 yards per punt or both in every game.
Araiza also made three field goals of more than 50 yards and did not miss a single extra-point attempt.
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Stats: 68.3 Comp%, 3,333 yards, 20 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 157.7 PER; 597 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns
I never quite understood all the Matt Corral Heisman hype, so I'm having a hard time getting fired up about this omission.
But here's something I understand even less: Corral was listed among the 10 Heisman favorites in the preseason despite playing for an Ole Miss team that opened the season outside the AP Top 25, he led them to 10 regular-season wins for the first time in program history as well as a coveted spot in the Sugar Bowl...and somehow he's not one of the top three quarterbacks in this vote?
Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud finishing ahead of Corral makes sense. They were both in the top five to open the season. But with all due respect to Kenny Pickett, it's a little weird he came out of nowhere and blew right by Corral in the eyes of Heisman voters.
Yes, Corral and Ole Miss looked helpless in the loss at Alabama, and he didn't look right in the first few weeks after getting roughed up in the Tennessee game. But if you had told me before the season Corral would have a 5-1 TD-INT ratio (after throwing 14 picks last fall) while averaging nearly 50 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown per game for a Rebels team that ends the year at No. 8 in the CFP rankings, I would be broke right now because of all the money I would have lost betting on him to win the Heisman.
At least the NFL mock draft community still loves Corral. All signs point to him being the first quarterback off the board, likely going No. 3 to the Houston Texans.
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
Stats: 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks
Statistically, no, there's not much of an argument for Jordan Davis. Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. had more tackles for loss than Davis had total tackles.
But A) big numbers are hard to come by for the nose tackle in a 3-4 defense and B) the "Davis 4 Heisman" campaign was always more about recognizing Georgia's elite team defense than it was about crowning a specific player.
If Georgia's defense had done to Alabama in the SEC championship what it did to every other team on its schedule, I suspect Davis would have at least made it to NYC, possibly as the favorite to win. Because if we hadn't been so hopelessly focused on the College Football Playoff conversation in the week leading up to championship week, Bryce Young vs. Jordan Davis could have generated even more Heisman buzz than the Bryce Young vs. Matt Corral game way back in early October.
Even after that 41-24 loss to the Crimson Tide, though, Georgia's year-to-date scoring defense sits at 9.5 points per game—5.5 points better than the next-best defense (Clemson at 15.0).
We'll see where Georgia ends up after the CFP, but not since 2011 Alabama has a team allowed fewer than 10.9 points per game or finished more than 2.0 points per game ahead of the nation's second-best scoring D.
It's just too bad the Bulldogs didn't have more of an individual star. Had anyone finished the year with more than 5.5 sacks or more than two interceptions, he would've been a shoo-in finalist.
Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
Stats: 65.9 Comp%, 3,190 yards, 30 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 164.8 PER; 361 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns
Similar to Georgia's Jordan Davis, the argument for Desmond Ridder is more symbolic than it is statistical.
Don't get me wrong, Ridder had a fine statistical season. However, 245 passing yards and 2.3 passing touchdowns per game doesn't really hold a candle to Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Kenny Pickett each putting up at least 330 and 3.2, respectively. The leader of the Bearcats also had more interceptions and a lower completion percentage than each of the three QB finalists.
Where Ridder has those guys beat, though, is in the fact that he quarterbacked the only undefeated team in the country, accounting for multiple touchdowns in all but one of those 13 wins. And much more noteworthy, he was the leader of the first Group of Five team to reach the College Football Playoff.
We spent all season talking about Cincinnati. From the moment they finished off that road win over Notre Dame, Cincinnati as a possible CFP team was a daily topic of conversation.
So it's a little dumbfounding to me that Ridder never seriously entered the Heisman conversation, especially in a year where the race was WIDE open well into November. Without a clear favorite among quarterbacks, people started clamoring for a defensive player to win it. It's a shame we didn't instead decide to start propping up the quarterback who led his Group of Five team to do the impossible.
Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State
Stats: 264 carries, 1,646 yards, 18 touchdowns
While everyone was up in arms about Will Anderson Jr. not being named a Heisman finalist, the omission of Kenneth Walker III was the one that had smoke coming out of my ears.
The transfer from Wake Forest exploded onto the scene at Michigan State with a 264-yard, four-touchdown performance in the season opener against Northwestern. He also had 189 yards from scrimmage in the big win over then-ranked Miami, which was when we started taking the Spartans seriously as a player in the Big Ten's loaded East Division.
As MSU continued its climb up the rankings, the KW3 obsession grew. He had 126 yards and three scores against Western Kentucky, followed by a 233-yard game against Rutgers. When he went off for 208 total yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in the come-from-behind win over Michigan, it felt like Bryce Young might be the only player capable of keeping Walker from winning the Heisman.
By mid-November—after two more games with more than 165 total yards from scrimmage—it was basically a three-horse race between Walker, Young and C.J. Stroud.
But that's when the 56-7 loss to Ohio State happened.
It's not Walker's fault the game was effectively over before Michigan State had any hope of establishing the run, but he paid the price for the secondary's transgressions. He had just six carries for 25 yards in that blowout, and evidently everyone forgot about how great he had been up until that point.
Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Stats: 68 receptions, 1,445 yards, 15 touchdowns; 2 kick-return touchdowns
There is no greater "What if?" from the 2021 college football season than: What if Jameson Williams had stayed at Ohio State?
Alabama being held scoreless into the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl after he was ejected in the first half for targeting was a nice little glimpse into how ugly things might have been for the Crimson Tide without Williams.
We'll see how things play out in the College Football Playoff, but along with Joe Burrow at LSU two seasons ago, it's wild to think that a guy transferring from Ohio State to the SEC in search of more playing time could be the biggest catalyst in determining the national champion twice in the span of three years.
Because, let's be real, there's no way Bryce Young would be a Heisman finalist without Williams. John Metchie III also eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards and was Young's most reliable target, but Williams was his permanent "Break In Case Of Emergency" home-run option with nine receptions of 50 or more yards.
LSU's Jamarr Chase in 2019 was the only other player in at least the past 12 seasons to gain 50-plus yards nine times on a single reception. Of note, Chase did so twice in the national championship game, so he was only at seven at the time of the Heisman vote.
Factor in the two kickoffs returned for touchdowns, and Williams ended up with eight plays of 60 or more all-purpose yards. No one else had more than five.
Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky
Stats: 69.2 Comp%, 5,545 yards, 56 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 167.4 PER; 3 rushing touchdowns
Yes, he plays for a Conference USA team that merely went 8-5, but Bailey Zappe—who is playing his first season at the FBS level after transferring from Houston Baptist—is almost certainly going to break the single-season FBS record for passing yards.
That record is currently held by Texas Tech's B.J. Symons with 5,833 yards back in 2003. For that feat, Symons only finished 10th in the Heisman vote. But it bears mentioning Texas Tech went 7-5, his 497-yard bowl-game performance didn't factor into the voting and, at that point, Symons was just the latest cog in the Mike Leach passing machine.
For Zappe, Tyson Helton basically rewrote the playbook.
The Hilltoppers had one of the most anemic offenses in the country in 2020, averaging 19.0 points and 291.0 total yards per game. They averaged more rush attempts than pass attempts, this despite routinely playing from behind.
But then they bring in this kid from an FCS school for one year and, out of nowhere, only Ohio State averaged more points or more total yards per game than the Tops.
Not only is Zappe fewer than 300 yards from that record, but he is four passing touchdowns away from tying the record of 60 Joe Burrow set (in 15 games, by the way) two years ago.
I completely understand why Kenny Pickett and C.J. Stroud made the cut ahead of Zappe, but that doesn't mean I agree with it. Any ballot with three quarterbacks on it arguably should have gone: Bryce Young, Desmond Ridder and Zappe, in some order.
Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WRs, Ohio State
Chris Olave: 65 receptions, 936 yards, 13 TD
Garrett Wilson: 70 receptions, 1,058 yards, 12 TD
Jaxon Smith-Njigba: 80 receptions, 1,259 yards, 6 TD
This is a facetious final snub, considering the Heisman Trophy doesn't have three heads. However, if ever there was a year for a stiff-armed Cerberus, these Buckeyes receivers would be deserving. And it totally makes sense for C.J. Stroud to essentially be representing this trio as a Heisman finalist.
In both the blowout win over Michigan State and the loss to Oregon, each of these receivers racked up more than 100 yards. They also combined for 28 receptions and 334 yards in the loss to Michigan, doing just about all they could to get the Buckeyes into the Big Ten championship. (If only they could have also lined up on defense and tackled Hassan Haskins.)
If Olave plays in the Rose Bowl and goes for at least 64 yards, Ohio State will become the first Power Five team with three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season since 2003 Texas Tech. Those Red Raiders averaged literally 60.0 pass attempts per game compared to Ohio State's 37.3.
It was because of Olave and Wilson that we assumed long ago the TBD winner of Ohio State's offseason quarterback battle would emerge as a Heisman candidate. But Smith-Njigba exploding onto the scene as the team leader in both receptions and yards had a very "DeVonta Smith out-producing both Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III the year before he won the Heisman" feel to it.
Assuming Olave and Wilson both leave for the NFL and assuming you're the type to bet on next season's Heisman odds as soon as they're released, JSN could be a juicy option.