Some years, we already know — or at least have a very good idea — who will win the Heisman Trophy. In 2019, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was the obvious frontrunner by this point. In 2012, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel was a few days away from solidifying his lead in the race with a magnificent performance in a win at Alabama. Two years ago, Alabama’s DeVonta Smith had already convinced voters that it was time to give the award to a receiver again — though that was in part because the SEC only played a 10-game regular season that year.
In other years, we’re still guessing at this point. Last year, eventual winner Bryce Young didn’t really start creeping up ballots until the fourth quarter of Alabama’s overtime win in the Iron Bowl and didn’t really grab the trophy until the following week in an SEC title game win against Georgia. It wasn’t until late November 2018 that voters began taking Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray’s candidacy seriously. Like Young six years later, Alabama tailback Derrick Henry didn’t truly take command in 2015 until after the Auburn game and the SEC title game.
This is one of those years. You may have definite ideas about who should win the award because one of the players in the hunt plays for your favorite team. I don’t, and I’m a voter.
Since I’d like to help formulate my vote without the influence of program brands, I decided to try a blind resume exercise similar to the one I did last week for the College Football Playoff contenders before the CFP selection committee released its first ranking. I follow the sport closely enough that I can guess some of the identities. But if I sort the spreadsheets enough times, the identities do tend to fade away.
The difference with the Heisman race is that players play different positions, and those require different criteria. So I’ll start with this: I don’t think a receiver will win this year. Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt (51 catches, 970 yards, 14 touchdowns) is having the most special season at that position, but I doubt most voters consider him the most outstanding player in Knoxville, Tenn., which makes it difficult for those voters to select Hyatt as the nation’s most outstanding player. (We’ll explore this conundrum about another town in greater detail later.) So I limited the blind resumes to quarterbacks and running backs. Since 23 of the past 24 winners have played one of those two positions, I feel confident the 2022 winner is represented on one of these two tables.
I collected several different stats for comparison. Yards per attempt is a great quick-and-dirty way to separate elite passers from QBs who just compile passing yards because their offense requires them to throw until their arms fall off. I also included completion percentage, because accuracy obviously matters. I included touchdowns per attempt to see how often those passes wind up in the end zone. I also included touchdowns accounted for per game and the strength of schedule component of ESPN’s Football Power Index. I want to know who these QBs are putting up numbers against and just a friendly reminder that these guys are not guaranteed as NFL picks.
I like touchdowns accounted for as a statistic because it also rewards the QBs who do damage on the ground. When Florida’s Tim Tebow won in 2007, he’d accounted for 51 touchdowns (29 passing, 22 rushing) in 12 games. In 2010, Auburn QB Cam Newton was leading the SEC in rushing with 1,409 yards and 21 rushing TDs when he won. At the time, Newton had thrown for 2,589 and 28 TDs. Manziel was leading the SEC in rushing when he won. He had accounted for 43 touchdowns in 12 games. In 2014, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota had accounted for an astounding 53 touchdowns (38 passing, 14 rushing and one receiving) when he collected the award after 13 games.