Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is in the midst of the unlikeliest Heisman Trophy campaign in history.

The Heisman has been awarded 86 times now. Offensive players have been the recipient of 85 trophies. As Michigan fans are well-aware, and perhaps quick to remind you, the lone exception is a Michigan Man: cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997.

Woodson, though, had the benefit of at least getting the ball in his hands from time to time as a returner and occasional receiver. Heisman voters like shiny objects, and Woodson’s 4 touchdowns in those roles helped burnish his reputation as the best overall player in college football.

All Hutchinson has going for him is the ability to create chaos in opposing backfields. But he creates enough of it that sportsbooks are giving him the third- or fourth-best odds to win the Heisman despite history telling us there’s a 1.1% chance of such an event happening.

Even if he comes up short of becoming the first Wolverine since Woodson to hoist the Heisman, Hutchinson is on his way to becoming perhaps the unlikeliest Top-5 finisher since Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace in 1996. (See? It really is possible to bring Wolverines and Buckeyes together.)

Aidan Hutchinson vs. Will Anderson

Hutchinson has already set Michigan’s single-season record with 13 sacks, and is 1.5 behind national leader Will Anderson of Alabama. When you break it down to games against FBS opponents with winning records, Hutchinson and Anderson are tied for the national lead with 9 sacks.

It’s a similar story when comparing tackles for loss.

Anderson has a hefty 7.5-TFL lead over anyone else in the country with 29.5 this season. Hutchinson is tied for 26th with 14.5 TFL. But when only FBS opponents with winning records are taken into account, the gap narrows considerably. Anderson still leads the country with 13 TFL in those games, but Hutchinson is 10th with 9.5.

Like Hutchinson, Anderson is also in the midst of the Heisman conversation in a season where no dominant offensive player has emerged. But Anderson also has a couple factors working against him.

For starters, his own teammate is threatening to steal some of his votes. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is one of the players who maintains better odds than Hutchinson and Anderson, and you only need to have attended high school to know quarterbacks have the edge in a popularity contest.

But in this case, Young has the same problem as Anderson. Their final opponent before Heisman ballots are turned in is top-ranked Georgia. And if the Dawgs do to the Tide as they’ve done to all comers this season, neither player will finish the season with a signature performance.

Hutchinson, on the other hand, couldn’t ask for a better foe for aiding his candidacy.

Iowa is Hutchinson’s perfect foil

In a presidential race, it’s important to open your campaign with a strong start in Iowa if you want to win. In this year’s Heisman race, closing the campaign with a strong finish against Iowa could be the difference-maker.

On the surface, the Hawkeyes seem like the worst-possible opponent to see in this scenario. Ideally, Hutchinson would see a spread-based offense that provides unlimited chances to get to the quarterback. Iowa is certainly not that.

The Hawkeyes are 10th in the Big Ten and 97th nationally with 28 pass attempts per game. Last week, Ohio State dropped back for 49 pass attempts. When you set out that many plates, Hutchinson is inevitably going to eat.

But there’s a reason Iowa doesn’t pass the ball all that much. Several, in fact.

Quarterback Spencer Petras is more game-manager than game-breaker. And conservativism is second-nature to Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. For the Hawkeyes, a good possession is measured by pinning the opponent inside their own 10 on a great punt as much as it is by points.

But with this year’s Hawkeyes, it’s also a matter of Ferentz recognizing the limitations of his personnel. Iowa is 13th in the Big Ten with 31 sacks allowed. Penn State is the only team doing worse, allowing 32 sacks. And in reality, Iowa’s offensive line protects quarterbacks much worse than Penn State’s — the Nittany Lions dropped back to pass 116 times more than Iowa this year.

As measured in percentage of sacks allowed on quarterback drop-backs, Iowa is among the worst teams in the country this season.

Offensive lines measured by sack percentage, nationally

 Percentage of sacks allowed on pass plays

  • 130) Akron… 15.1%
  • 129) Southern Miss… 13.7%
  • 128) Liberty… 12.3%
  • 127) New Mexico… 11.6%
  • 126) Tennessee… 11.1%
  • 125) North Carolina… 11%
  • 124) UNLV… 10.9%
  • 123) UAB… 10.8%
  • 122) Syracuse… 10.6%
  • 121) Colorado… 10.5%
  • 120) UConn… 9.8%
  • 119) Florida International… 9.7%
  • 118) Louisiana-Monroe… 9.6%
  • 117) Florida State… 9.5%
  • 116) Toledo… 9%
  • 115) Georgia Tech… 8.8%
  • T-114) Arkansas State… 8.4%
  • T-114) Eastern Michigan… 8.4%
  • T-114) Iowa… 8.4%

Iowa’s inclusion on that list is extraordinary, and not just because center Tyler Linderbaum is likely the top individual offensive lineman in the country. Of the 18 teams to allow the highest percentage of sacks nationally, Iowa is the only one with more than 7 wins. (A stat which in turn shows how extraordinarily Iowa’s defense has performed.)

Needless to say, this sets up very well for Hutchinson to deliver a signature performance.

If Hutchinson doesn’t, Ojabo will

Sure, it’s possible the Hawkeyes will scheme up a way to slow down Hutchinson and derail this unlikely Heisman campaign. But that doesn’t mean they’ll prevent the Wolverines from realizing their College Football Playoff aspirations.

Fellow end David Ojabo is every bit the headache as Hutchinson. Both entered the Ohio State game with 10 sacks before Hutchinson finished with a 3-1 edge against the Buckeyes. Those numbers could easily reverse against the Hawkeyes.

And though he’s more of a pure pass-rusher, Ojabo is no chump against the run, ranking 10th in the B1G with 11 TFL.

Iowa ranks dead-last in the Big Ten and 120th in the country with 90 tackles for loss allowed.

Whether it’s Hutchinson or Ojabo doing the damage, one thing feels certain in this Big Ten championship game — Michigan’s defensive line is about to have a field day. And depending on who racks up the stats, a trip to New York City could be in the works.