Way-Too-Early Heisman Candidates for 2022 College Football Season

Morgan MoriartyFeatured Columnist IJanuary 13, 2022

Way-Too-Early Heisman Candidates for 2022 College Football Season

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    John McCoy/Associated Press

    The 2021 college football season may have just ended on Monday night, when Georgia finally defeated Alabama in the national championship. 

    But that doesn't mean we can't start looking ahead to next season, right? Only eight months to go until it's here.

    To get geared up for the 2022 season, let's look at some of the players who have a real shot at winning the Heisman Trophy in 2022.

South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler

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    Spencer Rattler led the Heisman odds at the start of the 2021 season. Now that the former Oklahoma quarterback is heading to the SEC, the sophomore should enter 2022 as South Carolina's clear starter. The Gamecocks had a trio of quarterbacks start under center for them this season, thanks to a number of injuries to the depth chart. 

    Graduate transfer Zeb Noland, who remarkably started the season as a graduate assistant who had a year of eligibility left, started in four games for South Carolina this season. Senior quarterback Jason Brown started in USC's last four games of the regular season in 2021, but Brown announced he was entering the transfer portal in early December. Luke Doty played in five games for the Gamecocks, as well. 

    Rattler will join a quarterback room featuring junior QB Luke Doty, whose 2021 season ended early because of a foot injury, and sophomore QB Colten Gauthier, a 2021 early enrollee that was a three-star QB prospect out of Dacula, Georgia, per 247Sports. Four-star QB Tanner Bailey out of Gordo, Alabama, also signed his letter of intent with South Carolina's 2022 recruiting class. 

    Although Rattler's 2021 season strayed far from its lofty expectations, he should get another chance to shine as he enters Columbia with the most quarterbacking experience. In 2020, he threw for 3,031 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions, starting in all 11 games for the Sooners as a redshirt freshman.

Ohio State RB TreVeyon Henderson

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    It's not easy for running backs to win the Heisman—only Alabama's Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram have done so in the last 20 years (excluding Reggie Bush, whose 2005 Heisman was vacated). But TreVeyon Henderson had a successful season as a true freshman in 2021, so he has a pretty high ceiling. He's ranked 22nd in the nation in rushing yards (1,255) and 13th in rushing touchdowns (15). 

    In fact, at one point during the 2021 season, the 19-year-old had +2800 odds (bet $100 to win $2,800) to win the Heisman heading into Week 9. Ultimately, he finished the 2021 season with just three games totaling over 100 yards against Tulsa, Maryland and Penn State. His best game of the season was against Tulsa, when he rushed for a season-high 277 yards and three touchdowns against the Golden Hurricanes. 

    Henderson is still young, and the Buckeyes relied on the passing game much more than the run game in 2021. That means there's plenty of opportunities for the running back to grow within his role in 2022 and beyond.  

    His numbers as a true freshman didn't consistently pop off the stat sheet, but he's got the talent to improve on those in the coming seasons. We'll see just how far Henderson can go next season.

Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei

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    Before the season began, Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei was among the favorites to take home the award. In his first season as the Tigers' full-time starter, he was expected to have a big year after spending 2020 backing up Trevor Lawrence. 

    But Uiagalelei's 2021 season ended up going less than ideally. The sophomore QB finished the year throwing for just 2,246 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. 

    Uiagalelei will have the upper hand in the quarterback room entering 2022, but the rising junior will be joined by five-star prospect and 247Sports' No. 1 QB in the class of 2022, Cade Klubnik. Here's what Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told reporters regarding his plan for both guys moving forward: 

    "We'll go finish this season, then these guys will get a little bit of a break. We'll start our offseason program a little earlier than we have the last six plus years because we're finishing earlier. We'll get that rolling. These guys will go into the offseason. We'll start the progression of teaching, of installation and getting the team ready for spring ball which will start March 1. Just jump right in and let's go."

    Uiagalelei's Heisman hopes will likely depend on him winning the starting job in 2022.

Texas RB Bijan Robinson

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    Rising junior running back Bijan Robinson is expected to have a big season in 2022. Although his 2021 season was cut short because of a season-ending elbow injury he suffered against Kansas on Nov. 13, Robinson finished with 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns. He averaged 5.78 yards per carry, and finished the year ranked eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game, even as he missed Texas' last two games because of his injury. 

    Here's 247Sports on what makes Robinson a worthy Heisman candidate: 

    "At times, Robinson looked like the best running back in college football (and as Kirk Herbstreit said on the call for Texas-OU, the best player in college football). Robinson carried the offense with over 1,100 rushing and 300 yards receiving, scoring 15 touchdowns. That's despite missing the last few games with an injury.

    "For Robinson to be the third Texas player to win the Heisman (all running backs), the Longhorns will need to win in 2022."

    That last line is pretty relevant. Oftentimes, especially in recent years, Heisman winners come from players on winning teams. The Longhorns have gone 78-60 in the last 11 seasons. For Robinson to be relevant in the Heisman race, the Longhorns likely have to be nationally relevant, as well.

Alabama LB Will Anderson Jr.

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    One of college football's most disruptive defenders is Will Anderson Jr., who had a breakout season in 2021. The sophomore finished the season with 17.5, the most in the nation. He added another 101 tackles with 33.5 tackles for a loss. His 17.5 sacks was the third-most in Alabama school history, too. 

    Against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl semifinal, Anderson won the Defensive MVP Award after sacking Bearcat QB Desmond Ridder twice, adding another two tackles for loss and six total stops. 

    Anderson didn't quite dominate the national championship against Georgia, however, getting four total tackles and no sacks. After the game, Tide head coach Nick Saban, who sat alongside Anderson and QB Bryce Young, made a point that both players aren't defined by one game: 

    "These two guys sitting up here, they're not defined by one game," Saban said. "They played great for us all year, they were great competitors, great leaders on this team and they contributed tremendously to the success of this team. And we would not be here without them.

    "And both of them take responsibility for the loss, but both of them contributed in a lot of ways, in a positive way, to giving us a chance to win and a chance to be here to have an opportunity to win. So, I just want to thank them for that and let everybody know how proud I am of these two guys."

    Defensive players don't win the Heisman often—Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson is the only player to have done so in 1997. Still, if Anderson has even a slightly better season than his sophomore one in 2021, he absolutely deserves to be mentioned in the Heisman conversation.

QB Caleb Williams

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    Oklahoma's Caleb Williams had a remarkable season in 2021, and it wasn't really expected to be. Despite starting the year as the No. 2 quarterback behind Spencer Rattler, Williams came off the bench in the second half of the Red River Rivalry against Texas and led the Sooners to an incredible 55-48 victory. 

    Williams, a true freshman, was Oklahoma's permanent starter from then on, and he threw for 1,912 yards and 21 touchdowns with just four interceptions for the Sooners on the season. He rushed for another 442 yards and six touchdowns, too. He finished the season on a high note—against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, he threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns, missing on just six of his passing attempts. 

    But where Williams will play football in 2022 is up in the air. Following the 2021 season, Rattler announced he was transferring to South Carolina to play in 2022. Then, a few weeks later, Williams surprisingly announced he was entering the transfer portal.

    "I came to Oklahoma with a game plan," Williams tweeted. "But with all the recent changes I need to figure out what is the right path for me moving forward."

    The most obvious destination for Williams would be USC, where his old coach Lincoln Riley now is. Williams was reportedly spotted in Los Angeles at the Rams game on Jan. 9, so the QB following Riley makes plenty of sense. Not to mention USC QB Jaxson Dart entering the transfer portal on Jan. 10 might clear the way for Williams. 

    Wherever Williams ends up, he is undoubtedly in the Heisman conversation for 2022.

Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud

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    Speaking of Heisman finalists, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud will look to have another huge year in 2022. Although the Buckeyes missed out on the College Football Playoff in 2021, Stroud finished his season on a high note. In a thrilling Rose Bowl game against Utah that OSU won 48-45, the Buckeye QB threw for a school-record 573 yards and tied a school record of six touchdowns.

    The QB finished the 2021 season having thrown for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He finished third in the country behind WKU's Bailey Zappe and Virginia's Brennan Armstrong with 369.6 yards per game through the air.

    Stroud also set single-season school records for efficiency rating and completion percentage and finished second in passing yards and touchdowns. His five touchdown passes thrown against four different Big Ten opponents (Michigan State, Purdue, Maryland and Rutgers) were a school record, as well. 

    The best part about Stroud returning in 2022? The Buckeyes QB is only a redshirt freshman, meaning we get at least two more seasons to watch what he can do. Stroud will lose receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson in 2022, but he has some talented receivers in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba returning next season. 

    Stroud's first season starting was a massive success, and it looks like he'll only improve in the coming years. 

Alabama QB Bryce Young

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    Sure, it's incredibly difficult to win the Heisman twice—Ohio State running back Archie Griffin is the only player to have done so in 1974 and 1975. But we can't leave out Bryce Young for 2022 after the season he had, throwing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

    Given that Young is only a sophomore, the Tide QB will be back on the field in Tuscaloosa next fall.

    Young joined the likes of Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson as a sophomore to win the Heisman. Jackson and Tebow both went back to the Heisman ceremony their junior years as finalists but failed to repeat as winners.

    Young will return in 2022 without two of his biggest weapons at receiver, as John Metchie III and Jameson Williams are both NFL-bound. Metchie tore his ACL in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, and Williams did the same in the national title game.

    Alabama is also expected to lose star left tackle Evan Neal, who has a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft, as well as senior running back Brian Robinson Jr.

    Still, if there's anything we've learned about Alabama over the last few years when the Tide has a "rebuilding" year, there isn't much of a gap talent-wise. For instance, last offseason, the Tide dealt with the loss of quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, and receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.

    2021 had plenty of new faces for the Tide, but Alabama didn't miss a beat. We'll see if Young can have an even bigger year in 2022.

Other Names for Consideration

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    Auburn RB Tank Bigsby 

    Although Tank Bigsby was reportedly expected to enter the transfer portal at the end of the 2021 season, the rising junior is staying on the plains for 2022. Bigsby rushed for 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021. 


    Oregon QB Bo Nix

    Speaking of Auburn, longtime Tiger QB Bo Nix announced in December that he would be transferring for his final season of eligibility. His 2021 season was cut short after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in mid-November. 

    Nix eventually settled on Oregon, where he will reunite with his former OC Kenny Dillingham. Nix threw for 7,251 yards and 39 touchdowns during his three years with the Tigers. 


    Boston College QB Phil Jurkovec

    Although Phil Jurkovec was listed as Mel Kiper Jr.'s No. 6 QB prospect for the 2022 NFL draft, the rising junior will return to Chestnut Hill next season. Jurkovec suffered a hand injury that required surgery in Week 2 of the 2021 season, but he still returned for the Eagles' final four games. On the year, he threw for 914 yards and seven touchdowns. 

    Jurkovec, who started his career at Notre Dame before landing at BC, threw for 2,558 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions in 2020. 


    Virginia QB Brennan Armstrong 

    Although Virginia finished 6-6, Armstrong had an incredible year. He threw for 4,449 yards and 31 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He finished second nationally in passing yards per game behind WKU's Bailey Zappe and is a dark-horse contender for next year for the Heisman should he continue to post stellar numbers.  


    Louisville QB Malik Cunningham

    Malik Cunningham had the best season of his Louisville career in 2021. He threw for 2,941 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,031 yards and 20 touchdowns. Fortunately for us, we get to see Cunningham one last time in 2022, as he announced he's returning to the Cards for his senior season.