5 B1G players with the best chance to end the conference's Heisman Trophy drought
The B1G’s Heisman Trophy drought is inching closer to two decades. With Alabama’s Devonta Smith winning last year, it marks 14 straight seasons that the conference has failed to produce a winner of college football’s most prestigious award.
Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was the last to receive the honor, winning in 2006. Oddsmakers don’t believe the outlook for 2021 is much better.
William Hill Sportsbook recently released the updated Heisman Trophy odds for the 2021 season now that spring practice is over and we’re entering summer. There were no B1G names given much of a chance to contend for the prestigious award.
So, that got us thinking, which B1G players could actually end the drought this season? Here are the potential candidates:
Tyler Goodson, RB, Iowa; David Bell, WR, Purdue; Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State; Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska; Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan; Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State; Jalen Berger, RB, Wisconsin; Ty Fryfogle, WR, Indiana.
Tanner Morgan, QB, Minnesota
Morgan took a step back from his outstanding 2019 season last fall, but a number of factors played into that. Minnesota relied heavily on the rushing attack and struggled on the front line without starting offensive linemen Curtis Dunlap Jr. and Daniel Faalele. Though he was a preseason favorite in the Heisman Trophy race, Morgan finished the 2020 campaign with 1,374 yards, 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while completing only 57.1% of his passes.
Those aren’t exactly Heisman-caliber numbers.
But Morgan looked a lot better in Minnesota’s spring game than he did all last season, undoubtedly the result of having a healthy offensive line, a star receiver in Chris Autman-Bell and more time to learn Mike Sanford Jr.’s offensive scheme. Morgan looked more like the quarterback we saw in 2019 as opposed to the one on the field last fall.
During that 11-2 run in 2019, Morgan finished with 3,253 yards, 30 touchdowns and 7 picks and maintained a 66% completion rate. He may not have the same flash as some of the other players in the race for the Heisman, but Morgan is more than capable of putting up some big numbers this fall.
Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Heisman Trophy voters stepped outside of their comfort zone this past season, awarding the honor to Alabama’s Devonta Smith, the first wide receiver to claim college football’s highest individual award since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. That leaves the door open for Olave to make it back-to-back years a receiver wins the Heisman.
Olave could’ve declared for the 2021 NFL Draft but opted to return to Ohio State to win a national championship and improve his stock. He’ll be the No. 1 target in the Buckeyes’ offense again this season and has an incredible ability to create separation from defensive backs. In just seven games last season, Olave totaled 729 yards and 7 touchdowns, maintaining a 14.6 yards per catch average.
There’s little doubt Olave is the best receiver returning to the B1G in 2021. The problem with his Heisman hype? Ohio State is overflowing with talent at the receiver position. Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka could all see plenty of targets this season as well, which could limit Olave’s numbers on the field.
Being the most talented player on the field doesn’t quite cut it in the Heisman Trophy discussion. Olave needs to tally some big numbers to win the award and he has the talent to do so. The embarrassment of riches the Buckeyes have at the position could be the lone hindrance to Olave’s Heisman hopes.
Michael Penix Jr., QB, Indiana
Health is the biggest question mark when it comes to Penix’s chances of being a Heisman Trophy contender this season. The Indiana quarterback sustained a season-ending knee injury late last fall and is still working to get back to full strength before the 2021 season kicks off. If he’s at 100%, though, Penix has a great chance to be in the conversation.
Penix was the B1G’s leader in passing yards per game last fall, averaging 274.2 yards per contest and had 14 touchdown passes with only 4 interceptions. He torched Ohio State’s defense for 491 yards and 5 touchdowns in a near-upset in Columbus, proving he doesn’t just pick apart weaker defenses.
Completion percentage was an issue for Penix last season, hitting just 56.4% of his targets. Indiana tended to take a few more deep shots last season, though, which largely attributed to some of those off-target throws. There was also a bit of an adjustment period with Nick Sheridan taking over at offensive coordinator after Kalen DeBoer left for Fresno State.
When he’s healthy, Penix can be one of the top quarterbacks in the B1G, probably even the country. Being the engineer behind another big season in Bloomington would catapult him into Heisman contender status. But that’s only if he’s back to full strength this fall.
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota
Because of Minnesota’s 3-4 record in 2020, Ibrahim probably didn’t get quite the recognition he deserved on a national scale. He was named the B1G Running Back of the Year after piling up 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns in 7 games, one of the more ridiculous stat lines from last fall.
It’s almost scary to think about what he’s capable of accomplishing behind a healthy and experienced Minnesota offensive line in 2021.
How much will Minnesota depend on Ibrahim this fall? That’s the one question that comes to mind when including the Gophers back in the Heisman conversation. With Morgan having more time to throw and receivers emerging as playmakers this spring, the offense might have a more balanced approach — or even a heavier passing attack — than it had last fall.
Still, when you have such a talented player in the backfield, the goal should be to get him as many touches as possible. P.J. Fleck probably won’t steer too far away from that, but Ibrahim may not see quite the number of touches he did a year ago.
Ibrahim is easily one of the most talented players in the B1G and he could be in store for a really big season.
C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Stroud hasn’t started a game at Ohio State and has seen a limited number of reps, but working with head coach Ryan Day and surrounded by playmakers at every position, the Buckeyes (expected) quarterback has a chance to climb into the Heisman Trophy conversation at some point in the 2021 season — especially if he’s leading a national championship contender.
Both Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields were Heisman Trophy finalists as first-year starters in Columbus, so it wouldn’t exactly be uncommon for Stroud to earn an invitation to New York at the end of the season.
In Ohio State’s spring game, Stroud looked accurate throwing the ball and has the ability to stretch the field. We’ve seen what he can do with his feet, providing the Buckeyes with that dual-threat capability. Even as a first-year starter, he could put up some big numbers.
The quarterback on the best team tends to get quite a bit of recognition. And if Ohio State’s offense is as explosive as many think it can be this fall, Stroud will undoubtedly be in the Heisman discussion at some point in the year.