The Alabama Heisman Trophy train was late starting, but now it’s unstoppable.
The Crimson Tide had never won college football’s most prestigious individual honor until Mark Ingram in 2010. Now they have won four. Ingram was followed by Derrick Henry in 2015, DeVonta Smith in 2020 and now Bryce Young becomes the fourth in 12 seasons. He’s the first quarterback to win it from a school that produced Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.
For the longest time, this was a Heisman race in search of a favorite. Nobody had any staying power as the lead candidate. Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral came and went, on his way to finishing seventh in the voting. Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III was the hot name heading into November but wound up sixth. Stroud had a moment, but his candidacy stalled in the blowout loss to Michigan.
Then the defensive players started to rise. Jordan Davis of Georgia, Will Anderson of Alabama and Hutchinson all received considerable backing for the award, with Anderson finishing fifth and Davis ninth in the final voting. Anderson won the Nagurski award for best linebacker and Davis the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman earlier in the week. Hutchinson finished second in the voting, the highest that a defensive player has finished since Ndomakung Suh in 2009.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett was third, the highest finish for that school since Hugh Green was second in 1980. No matter what his NFL future holds, Pickett can forever say he was the highest finishing Pitt QB in the Heisman standings ever (Dan Marino was fourth in 1981 and ninth in ’82).
Heading into the final weekend it still looked this might end up being the first time since 1997—and only the second time ever—for a defensive player to win the Heisman. That’s when Young destroyed Georgia’s top-ranked defense and changed the outlook. When he put 461 total yards and four touchdowns on the Bulldogs, the pathway to the Heisman was unobstructed.
But a week earlier, both Alabama’s College Football Playoff hopes and Young’s Heisman chances were on life support late in the game at Auburn. The Crimson Tide had scored just three points and trailed the underdog Tigers 10-3 before mounting a 97-yard, 12-play drive to tie the game in the final minute. Young’s splendid touchdown pass to little-used, backup receiver Ja’Corey Brooks put the game into overtime, and the Tide escaped there, 24-22.
Although Young’s overall stats from the Auburn game were not great (25-for-51 for 351 yards and two touchdowns with one interception), his clutch play won the game and gave him the opportunity to shine in Atlanta against Georgia. His season pass efficiency rating of 175.53 is the lowest for a Heisman winner since Lamar Jackson in 2016, but there was little doubt he had distanced himself from the rest of the QB crowd.
Young is generously listed at 6’0”, but it was clear seeing him in New York Saturday night standing next to Stroud and Pickett (both listed at 6’3”) that that’s an exaggerated measurement. Young made reference in his Heisman acceptance speech to being discounted as he came up for being a “quote-unquote undersized” quarterback.
But both the college and NFL QB game has changed, with Arizona Cardinals QB and 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray standing as the best example that height is not a disqualifier for dynamic quarterback play. Passing mechanics, reading defenses, cool under pressure, athleticism and sheer want-to go a long way for a QB, and Young checks all boxes.
“I’ve always sought out the best competition and maximizing my abilities,” Young said on ESPN after receiving the award.
Indeed, his father, Craig, told Young: “If you’re the best player in the gym, find a new gym.”
Alabama is the ultimate gym for elite football talent in search of the highest level of competition. Young sat behind Jones as he put on a record-setting show last season, and he was ready for his turn in 2021. He will now lead Alabama into the College Football Playoff, and the scary thing for opponents is that he still has a 2022 season ahead before being eligible to enter the NFL draft.
Young will have the chance to be the first back-to-back Heisman winner since Archie Griffin in 1974-75 (who’s also the only back-to-back winner). The Alabama Heisman train was late out of the depot, but there is no stopping it these days.
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