It was as telling of a juxtaposition as any in our all-important national conversation about the Heisman Trophy. During the Ohio State/Wisconsin game on Saturday, FOX displayed a graphic showing the five Heisman Trophy contenders. Two of the candidates, Justin Fields and Jonathan Taylor, were playing in the game.

Meanwhile, FOX broadcasters Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt lathered praise — and rightfully so — on the best player in this game (and the best player in the country), Chase Young. The Ohio State edge rusher was unstoppable in Ohio State’s 38-7 win with four sacks, five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

At one point, Johnson turned to Klatt and said, “I tell you what, partner. I have a Heisman vote. That man, Chase Young, is atop my list.”

And why shouldn’t he be? Young now leads the country in sacks (13.5) by 3.5. Terrell Suggs’ record of 24 in a season could be in jeopardy, as Young’s current pace of 1.69 sacks per game could put him at 25 if the Buckeyes make the Big Ten championship and national championship (which certainly looks like a possibility).

Klatt compared Young to Barry Bonds in 2001, when the single-season home run leader would get one or two hittable pitches each game (if he was lucky), but he still managed to put up ridiculous numbers. That’s Young in 2019: Often double-teamed yet rarely contained. Wisconsin didn’t do a great job blocking Young, but that’s what the best player in the country does — make life impossible for an offensive line that had allowed just 10 sacks in seven games this season.

But here’s where we are in our Heisman Trophy conversation. Before Saturday, there was almost no Heisman hype for Young. Most agreed that Young was one of the best players in the country and that he should be a top-five pick, if not No. 1 overall. Yet there’s a disconnect when it comes to the most prestigious award in college football and the best player in college football.

It’s hard enough to get a running back in the finalist pool. A defensive player? Good luck. The last one to win it was Charles Woodson, and he was equally known for his punt-returning ability as his skills at cornerback. There have been only three others, and these players are actually listed as offensive players on Syracuse linebacker Ernie Davis (1961), Notre Dame defensive end Leon Hart (1949), Yale defensive end Larry Kelley (1936). It’s an offensive award — more specifically, a quarterback award — and that’s just the way it is.

Here’s what Young is up against:

  • The last time a defensive player was a finalist for the award was 2016 (Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers).
  • The last time a defensive player was a runner-up was 2012 (Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o).
  • The last time a defensive lineman was a finalist was 2009 (Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh).
  • Since the Heisman committee started naming finalists and inviting them to New York in 1982, just three of the 155 have been defensive linemen (Suh, Miami’s Warren Sapp in 1994 and Washington’s Steve Emtman in 1991).
  • A defensive lineman has finished in the top 10 of the voting just 50 times in the award’s 82-year history. And in the last 36 years, a defensive lineman has finished in the top 10 just eight times.
  • A defensive lineman hasn’t finished in the top three of the voting since 1980 (Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green).

But maybe — just maybe — the tide is changing on that front. You saw it on social media, with Chase Young trending on Twitter on Saturday afternoon and everyone from LeBron James, Michael Thomas and Todd McShay touting Young’s freakish ability. Many media members — some of whom vote on this award, by the way — seem to be coming around too. Even JJ Watt, the former Wisconsin star and one of the best pass rushers of our time, gave Young a virtual tip of the cap.

That’s because it was near impossible to watch Young on Saturday and believe Fields or Taylor were the two best players on the field, as the Heisman odds would suggest. (With all due respect to JK Dobbins, Fields and Taylor were No. 3 and No. 4 at best.)

Young, though, was not even listed as a Heisman contender before Week 9. The Action Network embedded Westgate SuperBook’s odds and listed 48 players. Young was not included. No defensive players were, in fact. Michigan’s Shea Patterson, who entered Saturday as 83rd in the country in passer rating, was listed as 1,000-1. Iowa’s Nate Stanley and Adrian Martinez, who had combined for 16 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, were at 2,000-1. Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke, the quarterback of a four-loss team, was listed at 2,000-1. So in theory, those players were viewed by oddsmakers as having a better chance at the Heisman than Young. How absurd is that?

It’s because this award is as much about the narrative and “Heisman moment” as it is about production. Voters favor players who touch the ball. An offensive lineman, no matter how good he is, isn’t winning the Heisman. I get it. But Young produces plenty of “wow” plays every week. You can’t trend on Twitter without them.

My favorite play wasn’t even any of Young’s four sacks. It was when he lined up at middle linebacker and Wisconsin went, “Oh crap,” and burned a timeout. Then Young stood up on the next play too, blitzed, overran the screen pass and still made the tackle for loss. Wisconsin tried to use Young’s aggressiveness against him, and it worked — until it didn’t.

Young is, quite simply, playing his position at the highest level. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Young earned a 98.6 grade on Saturday — the highest of any defensive player in 2019 and the highest of any edge defender since 2014.

It isn’t necessarily about Young winning the Heisman, even though he’s worthy; it’s about him getting a seat at the table and being mentioned ahead of bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten quarterbacks. I understand the value of a quarterback, believe me, but edge rushers are also incredibly important. There’s a reason that in the last 20 years, the position selected first overall the most aside from quarterbacks is defensive end, with four. As we learn more and more about the ways to affect a football game, it’s become even more clear just how much a pass rusher impacts a game.

The most dominant player on Saturday — and the most dominant player in the country — was Chase Young. It’s not Justin Fields, it’s not Jonathan Taylor, it’s not even JK Dobbins. It’s time for the Heisman conversation reflect that.


A look around the Big Ten.

Ohio State’s final statement for the College Football Playoff committee

So if you haven’t looked at next week’s schedule, prepare yourself. There are nine of the AP Top 25 on bye, including five of the Big Ten’s six ranked teams. So that meant Saturday was Ohio State’s final chance to impress the CFP committee before the first rankings come out Nov. 5. The Buckeyes did not disappoint in a 38-7 win over No. 13 Wisconsin.

Through nine weeks, LSU has the best resume with three top-10 wins; that’s not debatable. Ohio State, however, looks to be the best overall team in terms of talent. The Buckeyes are No. 1 in ESPN’s Football Power Index by over three points; they are No. 1 in ESPN’s Team Efficiency metric; they are No. 1 in ESPN’s Offensive Efficiency metric; and they are No. 2 (to Clemson) in ESPN’s Defensive Efficiency metric.

In the last 20 seasons, Ohio State’s point differential of 323 through eight games (an average margin of victory of 40.4) is second best, behind only the 2013 Baylor Bears (according to College Football Reference). The Buckeyes are simply demolishing anyone and everyone. Wisconsin stayed close early on, pulling within 10-7 early in the third quarter on a rainy afternoon in Columbus. But this is the challenge of playing Ohio State: The Buckeyes are too talented to hold down for 60 minutes, and it’s going to take a team of near-equal talent to do it. Wisconsin, though a very good program, just isn’t it.

JK Dobbins (20 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns) ran angry. He out-shined Jonathan Taylor (20 carries for 52 yards) in a battle of top running backs. Dobbins is second in the country now with 1,110 rushing yards. Taylor, unfortunately, probably no longer has a shot at the Heisman. As mentioned above, candidates need that Heisman moment where they shine in big games, and Taylor had one of the worst of his career.

So why isn’t Dobbins generating more Heisman buzz? Well, I’m guessing he will after this week. It probably hurts his case a little bit that his backup, Master Teague, is fifth in the Big Ten in rushing yards. Teague may be the third-best running back in the Big Ten, behind Dobbins and Taylor.

We may as well pencil in Ohio State at 10-0 with games against Maryland and Rutgers up next before things get interesting. The Buckeyes finish the regular season with Penn State and Michigan.

Can the Big Ten get two teams in the CFP?

This was also Penn State’s final game before the CFP releases its first rankings, and the Nittany Lions held serve with a 28-7 win at Michigan State. Interestingly enough, Oklahoma did not, suffering a loss at Kansas State as a 23-point favorite. There are those out there already clamoring for two SEC teams in the CFP, but the Big Ten should have just as much of a chance.

It’s also worth noting, Michigan’s dominant showing against Notre Dame is great for the Big Ten and may give it a little boost over the SEC. The Wolverines beat No. 8 Notre Dame by 31. Georgia beat that same Notre Dame team by just six.

Penn State, up to No. 5 in the latest AP poll, has the fourth-best margin of victory in the country at 28.9 points per game. It is No. 13 nationally in points per game (38.5) and No. 2 in points allowed (9.6). It has two wins against Top-17 teams, with two more chances with No. 17 Minnesota and No. 3 Ohio State. If the Nittany Lions were to lose in a close game to Ohio State and that is their one loss, they should absolutely be in the CFP conversation. And the same goes for Ohio State in the reverse scenario.

Of note: Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth has developed into as good of a red-zone weapon as there is in the Big Ten. The tight end caught three touchdown passes on Saturday, giving him seven on the season. And if not for that mysterious overturned call at Iowa, he would have eight. Freiermuth is the perfect complement to the explosive KJ Hamler.

Indiana is already bowl-eligible

Yup, you read that right. The Hoosiers got their sixth win before Halloween, winning at Nebraska 38-31. It’s the Hoosiers’ best eight-game start to a season since 1993 when they were 7-1. Amazingly enough, it’s just Indiana’s second time starting 5-3 or better since at least 2000. It is indeed the dawn of a new day in Bloomington, and it should get even better with struggling Northwestern coming to town next weekend.

Here’s something to watch: Indiana is now receiving votes in the AP poll. The Hoosiers haven’t been ranked since Week 5 of the 1994 season, the longest drought for Power Five programs. Will a win against Northwestern be enough to to get Indiana ranked? Perhaps not, with nine of the Top 25 on bye. But a few more wins and that could come to fruition.

Anyway, Peyton Ramsey, who threw for a career-high 351 yards, deserves all the credit in the world. After being benched in the preseason, he stayed ready and is delivering.

Winning at Nebraska, even though the hosts were short-handed, is no small feat. Indiana hadn’t beaten a Big Ten team aside from Rutgers, Maryland, Purdue and Illinois since October 2016 when it took down Michigan State. The Hoosiers look to finally be escaping that bottom third of the league. And in a loaded Big Ten East Division, Indiana has a chance to finish third — ahead of Michigan State and Michigan. It will come down to whether the Hoosiers can beat Michigan at home. Can you imagine? Indiana may officially become a football school. Sorry, Archie!

In all seriousness, Tom Allen is going to get some national attention for the job he is doing with these Hoosiers. He has had to play two quarterbacks because of injuries, and it hasn’t mattered.  He has Indiana in position to win eight games for the first time since 1993.

Did Michigan (accidentally) find its identity?

With the rain pouring down in Ann Arbor, Michigan dedicated itself to the run game and just gashed Notre Dame for 303 rushing yards.

Hassan Haskins has really come the last three weeks, culminating in the sophomore running for 149 yards on 20 carries. He has double-digit carries in three straight games after getting a total of 14 carries in the first four games (nine of which came against Rutgers). Whatever he is doing in practice, he has earned a role in this offense.

That didn’t come at the expense of Zach Charbonnet, who still ran 15 times for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Shea Patterson only threw the ball 12 times, but he did toss two touchdowns.

The best part of this for Michigan is that the Jim Harbaugh noise should finally quiet down. There were reports of him looking at the NFL, and there was a bunch of chatter about Michigan flopping in big games. Well, Harbaugh finally won as an underdog and beat a top 10 team.

All should be well in Ann Arbor now, at least for the time being. Michigan is likely to go into the Ohio State game at 9-2, though games against Michigan State and Indiana could be challenging.

Three Up, Three Down


1. Illinois

Apparently that Wisconsin win was no fluke, as the Fighting Illini rolled past Purdue. A couple of stats stand out to me:

—Illinois held Purdue to 136 passing yards. The Boilermakers are second in the league at 301.3 passing yards per game, and the Fighting Illini have the league’s 11th rated pass defense. Go figure, right?

—Illinois passed the ball just seven times for 26 yards. Who needs to pass when you can un for 242 yards? The Fighting Illini had four players with double-digit carries.

—Illinois won the turnover battle again 2-0, which isn’t unusual. Lovie Smith’s team is second in the Big Ten in turnover differential.

2. Minnesota

The stage is set for two undefeated teams to meet in two weeks. The entire country will be watching. No, not Alabama and LSU. It’s Minnesota and Penn State! PJ Fleck made a passionate plea for College Game Day to come to Minnesota instead of Alabama. It probably won’t work, but it had at least one Game Day analyst convinced.

Minnesota had no problem with Maryland, winning 52-10. Finally, we’ll get to see what the Golden Gophers are made of as they get No. 5 Penn State, No. 19 Iowa, Northwestern and No. 18 Wisconsin to close the season.

On another note, the best running back in the conference outside Dobbins and Taylor may be Minnesota’s Rodney Smith, who put up 103 yards and a touchdown. He is third in the Big Ten at 111.1 rushing yards per game.

3. Iowa

After a ho-him victory over Northwestern, Iowa is still in position to win the Big Ten West. It’ll come down to the next two games for the Hawkeyes as they get No. 18 Wisconsin and then No. 13 Minnesota. Tyrone Tracy made one of the best plays of the year with an impressive catch-and-run for a touchdown.


1. Terrible offense part I

Michigan State and Northwestern are going to have to take a long look at how they approach offense. It just keeps getting worse for these teams that have good defenses that are wasting away.

The Spartans sunk even further with just 265 total yards and seven points against Penn State. The Nittany Lions have a great defense, but that’s no excuse considering this is a pattern for Michigan State, which has 17 points in its last three games.

2. Terrible offense part II

Northwestern’s offense, to put it mildly, is a disaster. It has just one touchdown in its last three games. It is 129th out of 130 FBS teams in total offense with 266.4 yards per game. It has just three plays this season of 30-plus yards, which is by far the lowest in the country. Even Rutgers has 10 of those.

3. Rutgers

Rutgers did beat Liberty 44-34 for its second win of the season. The most interesting part was how many people — or lack thereof — were at the game. The announced attendance was 23,058, but obviously there were not near that many people at the game. And that’s one week after getting an announced crowd of 26,429 against Minnesota, which had been the program’s lowest attendance since 2005. It’s hard to blame fans for not showing up.