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Heisman finalists: Bryce Young, Aidan Hutchinson, Kenny Pickett, C.J. Stroud

The Heisman will be presented to one of these players, who hail collectively from Alabama, Michigan, Pitt and Ohio State, on Saturday in New York.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young runs against Georgia during the first half of the SEC championship last weekend. The sophomore appears to be the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young runs against Georgia during the first half of the SEC championship last weekend. The sophomore appears to be the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | Associated Press ]
Published Dec. 7, 2021
Updated Dec. 7, 2021

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud were announced Monday as the finalists for the Heisman Trophy.

The Heisman will be presented Saturday in New York, returning to its usual routine and date after it was forced to delay and go virtual last year due to the pandemic.

After a 2021 season in which a Heisman front-runner took a while to emerge and the race seemed wide-open into November, Young closed strong to become the favorite.

The sophomore led a 97-yard, game-tying touchdown drive against rival Auburn two weeks ago, helping the Crimson Tide rally to win the Iron Bowl in overtime.

Then Young broke the SEC championship game record with 421 yards passing in a victory against Georgia’s vaunted defense on Saturday. For the season, Young has thrown for 4,322 yards, 43 touchdowns and just four interceptions while guiding the top-ranked Crimson Tide to the College Football Playoff.

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett looks for an open receiver against Wake Forest during the ACC championship.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett looks for an open receiver against Wake Forest during the ACC championship. [ JACOB KUPFERMAN | Associated Press ]

As good has Young has been in his first season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, following Heisman finalists Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa, an argument could be made he is not even the clear best player on his own team.

Will Anderson Jr. appeared to be the Tide’s top Heisman contender until Young went off against Georgia. The sophomore outside linebacker leads the nation in tackles for loss with 31.5 and sacks with 15.5, but he didn’t get an invitation to New York.

Nether did Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III, who is second in the nation in rushing at 136 yards per game with 19 touchdowns. The Wake Forest transfer jumped to the top of the Heisman watch lists after scoring five touchdowns in the 11th-ranked Spartans’ victory against Michigan on Oct. 30.

Young could become Alabama’s fourth Heisman winner, second consecutive, but first quarterback.

Tide receiver DeVonta Smith won the Heisman last year. Smith broke a streak of four straight quarterbacks to win the Heisman. Since 2000, 17 quarterbacks have won the trophy. Among the non-quarterback winners are Alabama running backs Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015).

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson waves at fans during warmups before the Big Ten championship game against Iowa.
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson waves at fans during warmups before the Big Ten championship game against Iowa. [ Tribune News Service ]

Hutchinson would be the first defensive player to win the Heisman since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997. Woodson was also Michigan’s last Heisman winner.

The last Michigan player to be a Heisman finalists also played defense, though not exclusively. Defensive back Jabrill Peppers played some offense and returned kicks when he finished fifth in the voting in 2016.

Hutchinson is one of the nation’s best pass rushers with 14 sacks. The senior led No. 2 Michigan to its first playoff appearance as Big Ten champions and helped end an eight-game losing streak to rival Ohio State.

Pickett returned to Pitt for a fifth season in 2021, taking advantage of the NCAA’s eligibility give-back for playing through the pandemic in 2020, and had a record-breaking year. Pickett passed for 4,319 yards with 42 touchdowns to eclipse school marks and led the 13th-ranked Panthers to their first Atlantic Coast Conference title.

The last Pitt player to be a Heisman finalist was receiver Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.

After Ohio State's bowl game, quarterback C.J. Stroud, who’ll likely be a Heisman Trophy finalist, will return for his redshirt sophomore season. He’ll be eligible to enter the NFL draft after that.
After Ohio State's bowl game, quarterback C.J. Stroud, who’ll likely be a Heisman Trophy finalist, will return for his redshirt sophomore season. He’ll be eligible to enter the NFL draft after that. [ Tribune News Service ]

Stroud completed 71% of his passes for 3,862 yards, 38 touchdowns and five interceptions as the seventh-ranked Buckeyes finished 10-2 in his first season as a starter.

He is the third straight Ohio State starting quarterback to be a Heisman finalist, joining Justin Fields (2019) and Dwayne Haskins (2018).

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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