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Why Bryce Young topped our Heisman Trophy ballot

Here are the two other star players our voter, Matt Baker, put on his Heisman ballot this season (and why he doesn’t feel great about his final choice).
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young earned the top spot on our Heisman Trophy voter's ballot with his transcendent performance against Georgia in the SEC championship.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young earned the top spot on our Heisman Trophy voter's ballot with his transcendent performance against Georgia in the SEC championship. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | Associated Press ]
Published Dec. 12, 2021

The Heisman Trophy ballot I submitted did not look the way I expected it to four weeks ago or even four days earlier.

Midway through the season, I expected Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker to win. Entering the final weekend, I thought Georgia’s Jordan Davis or Nakobe Dean might have my vote.

But Alabama quarterback Bryce Young’s transcendent performance in the SEC championship win over Georgia made him the final choice atop my ballot. The other two spots were trickier (we’ll get to those soon).

Young played well all season, showing more poise than you’d expect from a first-time starter. His 43 touchdown passes trailed only Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe. Young was in the top six nationally in passing efficiency (175.53), yards per pass (9.4), points responsible for (46 total touchdowns and four two-point conversions) and total offense (334.8 yards per game) while throwing only four interceptions.

The SEC title game, however, is what pushed Young to the top. He torched Georgia for 461 total yards and four touchdowns. His 55-yard pass to Jameson Williams was perfect. The fact that he did all that against a Bulldogs defense that was the best the sport had seen in a decade (if not longer) convinced me that Young was the most outstanding player in the country.

Related: Worst. Year. Ever. What went wrong with Florida college football?

Even though he was not the most outstanding player on his own team for most of the year. That honor belonged to edge rusher Will Anderson. He led the nation in tackles for loss (30.5) and sacks (14.5); both totals were among the best in Alabama history, which is quite an honor. Entering the conference championships, I expected Anderson to be on my ballot and have a strong shot at No. 1.

Instead, I begrudgingly left him off entirely.

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson was Pro Football Focus' top player in the nation.
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson was Pro Football Focus' top player in the nation. [ CARLOS OSORIO | Associated Press ]

I ranked Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson second. Hutchinson was the top graded player in the nation according to Pro Football Focus. Though Anderson had more sacks, Hutchinson had more quarterback hurries. The power he showed against Ohio State stood out as one of the best performances (three sacks and a quarterback hurry) of the season. The gap was small, but I gave Hutchinson a slight edge.

My third and final spot went to Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett. He was Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 rated quarterback (behind Young) and was third with 42 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. Pickett also rushed for five touchdowns, including his sensational fake-slide score in the ACC championship against Wake Forest.

Though I do not typically consider team success in my voting process — the award is supposed to go to the sport’s most outstanding player, not the best player on the best team — Pickett arguably meant more to his team than any player in the country. That was one of the deciding factors.

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett's fake-slide touchdown against Wake Forest was one of the best plays of the year ... even if it now is against the rules.
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett's fake-slide touchdown against Wake Forest was one of the best plays of the year ... even if it now is against the rules. [ CHRIS CARLSON | Associated Press ]

I’m not against giving two of my three spots to teammates. I did it last year with Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith and quarterback Mac Jones. But this time, with little separation between Pickett and Anderson in my mind, I thought the final slot should go to someone from another team (a decision I still don’t feel great about).

Georgia’s Davis and Dean were both standout defenders and easy All-American choices, but they didn’t have the production to crack my top three. The same goes for —don’t laugh — San Diego State punter Matt Araiza. He set a single-season average (51.4 yards per punt), hit 80-yarders in back-to-back games and was better at his job than anyone else in the nation. I couldn’t justify voting for someone with such a limited role.

Related: Florida keeps losing recruits under Billy Napier. It might not be as bad as it seems.

I also seriously considered Walker, Cincinnati defensive back Ahmad Gardner, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum.

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