Hickey: JJ McCarthy or Marvin Harrison Jr.? Who is the better Heisman bet, and why it can change.
As most of you slept while Saturday night turned into Sunday morning on the East Coast and in the Midwest, they were wide awake in the Southern Nevada desert.
With quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and Washington engaged in an unexpected struggle with a 1-win Arizona State team and reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams and USC losing to Utah, a new name was rising to the top of the Heisman Trophy odds: Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy.
And with McCarthy’s ascension to Heisman favorite, we have the genesis of a great debate: Is he even the top Heisman candidate in the Big Ten?
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Earlier on Saturday, Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. was making a strong statement of his own as he almost single-handedly led the Buckeyes offense in a 20-12 win over No. 7 Penn State.
So who is the man — JJ or Marvin?
There is a clear answer to that — for now. But it may change pretty drastically in the final month of the season.
Why Marvin Harrison Jr. is the B1G’s best Heisman bet (for now)
By the 3rd or 4th time FOX Sports announcer Gus Johnson shouted MASERATI MARV during Saturday’s game in Columbus, everyone in America was sick of hearing the shiny new nickname.
Well, everyone except for America’s Maserati dealers, who have not gotten this kind of pub since Joe Walsh sang about losing his license because his Maserati did 185. (For our younger readers, Joe Walsh was a 1970s rock star, not a Georgia football player.)
Unfortunately, we weren’t even close to the end of that road, which included more Maseratis than the Autobahn.
Harrison finished with 11 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown against the Nittany Lions, who still rank No. 1 nationally in total defense after the loss. Maybe that doesn’t jump out at you, so here’s another way of looking at it: Harrison finished with 50% of Ohio State’s receptions, 56.6% of Ohio State’s receiving yards, and 44% of Ohio State’s total yards.
Without Harrison in the lineup, James Franklin and Penn State probably earn their elusive win over the Buckeyes. Ohio State was without 2 of its top 4 offensive weapons in running back TreVeyon Henderson and receiver Emeka Egbuka. These are the scenarios in which a player can prove himself the best in the nation, and Harrison made a compelling case.
But there’s also a reason that Harrison is still getting 25/1 odds in some sportsbooks.
Receivers rarely win the Heisman. DeVonta Smith (2020) and Desmond Howard (1991) are the most recent wideouts to do so. That’s a significant gap.
Also significant: Smith and Howard were both return men. Howard’s famous Heisman pose against Ohio State happened after he returned a punt for a touchdown.
Harrison’s best comp is Larry Fitzgerald, who was also a pure receiver.
But even after 1 of the best seasons ever by a collegiate receiver at Pitt in 2003, Fitzgerald finished 2nd in Heisman voting behind future shoe store owner Jason White of Oklahoma. (That’s not an insult, that’s actually a thing that White did after not getting picked in the NFL Draft.)
Why JJ McCarthy’s stock could rise (or fall) dramatically
JJ McCarthy’s stats are nearly immaculate.
The Michigan quarterback ranks 2nd nationally in completion percentage (78.1%) behind Oregon’s Bo Nix. His 10.6 yards per attempt trail only LSU’s Jayden Daniels. McCarthy’s passer rating of 199.13 is also 2nd behind only Daniels.
But there’s a major catch with McCarthy. Major enough to make the fact he is the odds-on favorite pretty ridiculous.
To this point in the season, it’s possible that McCarthy has faced the weakest schedule of any Heisman hopeful since Holy Cross star Gordie Lockbaum in 1987.
OK, so that’s hyperbole. But just barely.
Per Power Rankings Guru, Michigan’s strength of schedule is 75th in the country. Maryland is the only B1G program to face a weaker schedule thus far.
If the Wolverines were forced to start backup Jack Tuttle instead of McCarthy, they’d still be 7-0.
Of course, Michigan’s light schedule has also hindered McCarthy’s stats. The Wolverines have yet to need him in the fourth quarter. McCarthy has attempted 4 passes in the final quarter this season — not exactly coming through in the clutch. Because there is no clutch.
That’s about to change dramatically in November. The final month of the season will be what wins or loses the Heisman for McCarthy.
Michigan has games pending with Penn State and Ohio State — the nation’s top 2 defenses as measured by yards allowed per play.
If McCarthy puts up cartoon numbers against those defenses and Michigan remains undefeated, Michigan will have its first Heisman winner since Charles Woodson.
But if either or both of those defenses shut McCarthy down like they have with every other quarterback they’ve faced, he’s likely to fall behind fellow quarterbacks like Daniels, Penix and Nix.
Or a generational receiver like Harrison.