This MNC Wednesday miniseries has been scrutinizing Heisman Trophy history, and we’re almost caught up to the present day. In 65 seasons overall, we have confirmed just 19 vote winners. What we have seen is bandwagon voting from mediots, biased toward big programs, bloated stats, and overhyped names. The voting process lacks context, and we fear this 2021 analysis will reveal more of the same. We just really wonder what’s in it for the voters … grease? Time will tell.

2021 Heisman Trophy winner: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama (original); Kenneth Walker, RB, Michigan State (revised)

The Alabama Crimson Tide went 12-1 with an SEC title to earn a CFP berth, on the arm of its quarterback, Bryce Young. His stats were typical video-game stuff: 4,872 passing yards with 50 total touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. The No. 7 SOS was elite, for sure, but the 167.5 QB rating was pedestrian by current standards. Cautiously, we’re reserving judgment for now, as we have seen how this works out when the winner plays for an All-Star team, basically.

Of course, we have learned through more than a year of these columns that there are always other high-quality candidates to consider. This is our final list of firmly vetted Heisman candidates, and it is a solid list (if not a short one):

  • Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh: 4,56o total yards with 47 total TDs and 7 INTs for a 165.3 rating (No. 61 SOS)
  • C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State: 4,435 passing yards with 44 passing TDs and 6 INTs for a 186.6 rating (No. 9 SOS)
  • Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State: 1,725 total yards with 19 total TDs (No. 12 SOS)

Pickett’s numbers are lesser, but the Panthers won the ACC and earned a Peach Bowl bid—and you know his teammates weren’t as good as Young’s were. Yet we’re wary of that middling SOS. Meanwhile, Stroud, a freshman, led the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl berth with a statistically superior season to Young’s effort, and his SOS is elite, too. He leaps to the top of our QB heap, readily here. Walker was the best of the RBs, as he helped the Spartans to a Peach Bowl berth, surprisingly.

A few defensive guys made the “finals” of the vote, but we’re not sold on them, for a few reasons: Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson (62 tackles, 14 sacks) finished second in the media contest somehow, despite having much weaker stats than Alabama linebacker Willie Anderson, Jr. (101 tackles, 17.5 sacks), who finished fifth in the vote. We wouldn’t consider Anderson, anyway, due to Young’s presence on the other side of the ball. Either way, both are not “it”!

Stroud’s QB rating was second in the nation, while Walker’s rushing total was also second in the country, helping him to a sixth-place vote finish. Neither player’s team won its conference; Michigan State beat eventual B1G champion Michigan, while losing to the Buckeyes—and Ohio State lost to the Wolverines. But both MSU and OSU did make it to CFP bowls, so that’s a wash. The SOS ratings are both high end, so that’s pretty much a wash, too. Let’s look at the teammate support:

  • Michigan State: 148.0 QB rating, one teammate over 700 total scrimmage yards, No. 54 scoring defense
  • Ohio State: three teammates over 1,100 scrimmage yards, No. 38 scoring defense

It’s pretty clear that the Buckeyes were loaded, and it showed when they beat Michigan State, 56-7, in a game where Walker was hurt and managed just 25 yards on 6 carries. That hurt Walker in the eyes of most voters, although it’s not his fault that he carried MSU all season only to get hurt in that game, is it? Where would the Spartans have been without Walker’s 5 TDs against Michigan, for example? Who knows what he would have done if healthy against the Buckeyes?

Consider this: The Wolverines finished No. 8 in scoring defense‚ but they gave up 208 total yards and 5 TDs to Walker, who didn’t have a lot of support from his MSU offensive (or defensive) teammates. We cannot “project” what Walker would have done against Ohio State if he had been healthy. But it would have been a lot more than just 25 rushing yards. MSU still would have lost the game against that Buckeyes offense, but it seems that voters unfairly punished Walker.

This is where reality hits hard: Walker won both the Doak Walker Award and the Walter Camp Award—where voters clearly had their heads screwed on right. In fact, he was the first Camp winner ever (and this trophy has been given out since 1967) to not receive “enough” Heisman vote to be a finalist, i.e. invited to New York for the presentation ceremony. How does that happen? Coaches vote for Walter Camp; mediots vote for the Heisman. That’s how; enough said.

We are here to fix errors: Michigan State won 10 games and reached the Peach Bowl because of Walker’s extraordinary season carrying a relatively talentless team to big heights. We love Stroud’s season, too, especially in context, but his teammate support was tremendously more present and visible than Walker’s surroundings. This Heisman nod really should go to the guy who did the most heavy lifting, and he did it against an elite schedule to get his team to a CFP bowl.

Congratulations to Kenneth Walker, the real Heisman Trophy winner for 2021.