Fellow Buckeyes may be the biggest threat to a Buckeye winning the Heisman
No Big Ten player has hoisted the Heisman Trophy since Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. And it will likely take another Buckeye to end that drought.
Question is, which one?
Quarterback CJ Stroud, who was a Heisman finalist last season, enters 2022 as the betting favorite to win the award this year. But that’s perhaps more a curse than a blessing. In the years since Smith’s Heisman, only 1 preseason favorite has actually won the award — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2017.
The list of favorites to come up short includes former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was the man to beat in 2015. Elliott ended up 8th in the voting as Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey led the way with 2,000-yard seasons.
But if the same thing happens to Stroud this season, it might not be due to outsiders.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and defensive end Will Anderson are 2nd and 4th in the preseason odds, respectively, and certainly pose major threats due to their visibility. Young is the defending Heisman winner, though the fact nobody since Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974-75 has won in back-to-back seasons may work against him.
But after the Crimson Tide candidates, it could be that the biggest impediments to a Stroud Heisman campaign are Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Ironically, it is their presence that will allow Stroud to put up Heisman-level stats. But it is their talent that makes it likely Henderson and Smith-Njigba will be candidates for the award themselves. Henderson is currently 7th and Smith-Njigba 9th on the preseason odds boards.
There’s a chance each of these Ohio State standouts will siphon votes from teammates. It’s plausible all 3 will end up in the top 10 — or even the top 5 — without winning. But it’s still possible Stroud, Henderson or Smith-Njigba will still pull through despite sharing so much star-power.
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Here’s what it would take for each player to win.
Outperform Bryce Young: This will be Stroud’s ultimate measuring stick. And it’s something he’s already shown himself capable of doing. Stroud had the edge on Young last season in completion percentage (71.9% to 66.9%), yards per attempt (10.1 to 8.9) and touchdowns per game (3.6 to 3.1).
Basically, Stroud just needs to do it again. And, perhaps most importantly, lead Ohio State to a Big Ten title and CFP berth. The CFP berth was the lone item missing from Stroud’s resume compared to Young’s.
Given that he’s playing alongside a pair of potential Heisman finalists, it’s hard not to like Stroud’s chances of achieving that goal.
Distribute the ball well: This is where it gets wonky. If Henderson and Smith-Njibga end up with the lion’s share of Ohio State’s offensive production, either could end up with the lion’s share of Heisman votes. So Stroud must spread the wealth while also leading Ohio State to wins. And not because he’s trying to win the Heisman, but because it’s the best way for the Buckeyes to win games.
Last year, that was a pretty easy task to accomplish with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson flanking Smith-Njigba. This season, Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming, Kamryn Babb or any of the bushel of talented redshirt and true freshman receivers on the roster will need to step up and keep the passing attack diversified.
TreVeyon 2K25: According to Heisman voters, running backs are no longer cool. Alabama’s Mark Ingram (2011) and Derrick Henry (2015) are the only backs to win the trophy in the past decade. So it’s an uphill battle for any running back to break through.
Henderson can get there, though, if he can break the threshold of 2,000 yards from scrimmage with 25 touchdowns. Henry rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns in his Heisman campaign.
A better comp for Henderson would be Reggie Bush, who remains Saturday Tradition’s 2005 Heisman winner. Bush had 1,740 rushing yards and 478 receiving yards (2,218 total) that season.
As a freshman, Henderson had 1,567 yards from scrimmage with 19 touchdowns. So 2,000 total yards and 25 touchdowns are certainly achievable, especially if he becomes more of an offensive centerpiece with Olave and Wilson in the NFL.
Be legendary: I’d argue it’s even tougher for a wide receiver to win the Heisman than a running back, because it begets the question “Who made whom?”
The wide receiver, or the quarterback?
In 2020, voters decided (barely) that Devonta Smith made Mac Jones. The Alabama wideout won the Heisman with 1,862 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns. He also helped himself with an average of 21.5 yards per punt return. Jones, the Bama QB who won a national title, finished 3rd in the voting.
It was the first time a receiver won the Heisman since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. (I’m sure Ohio State fans could have done without that reminder, but that’s just how history works sometimes.)
Even two of the best receiving seasons of all-time weren’t enough to win Heismans.
Pitt receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 1,672 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2003, but finished 2nd to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White in an all-time bad call. In 2007, Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree had 1,962 yards and 22 TDs, but was flattened by the phenomenon that was Tim Tebow. Tough break.
Smith-Njigba will have to be somewhere in that stratosphere. Anything under 1,800 yards and 25 TDs might not be enough.
2,000 yards is a magic number. Nevada’s Trevor Insley remains the only player in FBS history to cross that threshold, which he did in 1999. Though Smith-Njigba probably wouldn’t get there until games played after the Heisman ceremony, he might win over voters if he’s on pace to do so.