Heisman Trophy watch for Week 12: How top five contenders can separate from rest

The wide-open Heisman Trophy race enters the final three-week stretch, and the field is finally starting to thin out. 

Entering Week 12, there are five candidates that stand out from the rest. The winner could be the one that delivers a conference championship. Four of those candidates will have that chance over the next few weeks. 

That could be the difference-maker in a race that has been too close to call for three months because of the lack of a primary candidate. 

Who are those contenders? Sporting News takes a closer look at all five, and their potential for a conference championship. 

2021 Heisman Trophy contenders

Bryce Young, QB, Alabama 

Stats: 3,025 yards, 33 TDs, 3 INTs 

Young finished 21 of 23 for 270 yards and five TDs in a 59-3 victory against New Mexico State, which padded a super-efficient full-season line. We touched on Young’s path last week, and it remains pretty simple. If Young plays well and leads the Crimson Tide past Arkansas, Auburn in the Iron Bowl and Georgia in the SEC championship game, then it’s a good bet he will be the first Crimson Tide quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. That is why he remains the favorite right now. 

Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State 

Stats: 1,773 rushing yards, 17 TDs

Walker added 143 yards and two TDs to his line in a 40-21 victory against Maryland. He produced the closest thing to a true Heisman moment with a five-TD takeover in the 37-33 victory against Michigan, and another big test comes Saturday at Ohio State. If Walker can carry the Spartans past the Buckeyes, which haven’t lost a Big Ten home game since 2015 (also against Michigan State), then he will be the new front-runner. Remember when Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne won the Heisman Trophy in 1999? The signature moment was a 161-yard, four-TD performance at The Shoe in a victory against the Buckeyes. 

C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State 

Stats: 3,036 yards, 30 TDs, 5 INTs 

Ohio State’s last two quarterbacks — Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields — were Heisman finalists. Stroud eliminated any thought of a Purdue upset on Saturday with 361 passing yards and five TDs in a 59-31 victory. Stroud continues to spread the wealth to an elite receiving corps in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jackson Smith-Njigba, and the first-year starter will be in the spotlight the next two weeks in top-10 showdowns against Michigan State and Michigan. Haskins (2018) and Fields (2019) each finished third. Stroud is in that range now. 

Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

Stats: 2,773 passing yards, 17 TDs, 2 INTs 

Corral is the statistical difference-maker when you consider he has 523 rushing yards and 10 TDs. Corral has been among the front-runners for most of the season, but he likely will not have the advantage of playing in a conference championship game. Still, the Rebels are in position to make a New Year’s Day Six bowl, and he can pad those statistics in the final two weeks against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. 

Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt 

Stats: 3,517 yards, 32 TDs, 4 INTs 

Pickett has similar statistics to Young, but it comes with more yardage. He’s been the leader behind Pitt’s bid for an ACC championship, although the blemishes are losses to Western Michigan and Miami. That said, it’s hard to find a player who is more valuable to his offense, and the Panthers close the regular season with what should be high-scoring shootouts against Virginia and Syracuse. The super senior is a candidate who can gain traction if Pitt wins its first ACC championship. 

Current Heisman Odds

Here are the current Heisman odds according to FanDuel.com before Saturday’s games. 

When is the Heisman Trophy Ceremony

The Heisman will be awarded on Dec. 11, one week after conferences hold their conference championship games. Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony was held virtually and not until Jan. 5. This year, the ceremony is back to its normal date in mid-December.

Week 11 Takeaways 

— Who has the longest win streak among Power 5 schools after Georgia (10 games) and Ohio State (8 games)? That would be Wisconsin, which won its sixth straight game by disposing of Northwestern 35-7. The Badgers are 7-3 and control their own destiny in the Big Ten West, and they’ve done that behind the top statistical defense in the country. The Badgers cannot make the CFP, but they could be a major spoiler for whoever comes out of the Big Ten East.

— Miami rallied from a 17-point deficit against Florida State, then the Hurricanes blew an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter in a 31-28 loss. In the 1990s, this would have been on the front page of every major newspaper. The Seminoles improved to 4-6. The Hurricanes fell to 5-5. This is going to put even more pressure on embattled coach Manny Diaz knowing Miami has three losses in ACC play by three points or less. The Canes last six games have all been decided by four points or less.

— Staying in the Sunshine State, Dan Mullen was trending after a wacky first half in which Samford had a 42-35 lead against the Gators. Florida won 70-52, and Mullen snapped back at detractors by saying it is “disrespectful” to criticize a win. Emory Jones did pass for 464 yards and six TDs in a game where the offenses combined for 1,257 yards. Florida can clinch bowl eligibility with a victory against Missouri (5-5). A loss there would spin this Mullen saga out of control. 

— Texas Tech knocked off Iowa State 41-38 on a walk-off 62-yard field goal by Jonathan Garibay as time expired. The Red Raiders, who fired Matt Wells during the season and have their next coach lined up in Joey McGuire, clinched bowl eligibility with their sixth win. 

Texas Tech also has time to play spoiler in the Big 12 championship race with matchups against Oklahoma State and Baylor the next two weeks. 

— Staying in the Lone Star State, Kansas beat Texas in Austin for the first time in school history. Jaylen Daniels hit Jared Casey with the game-winning two-point conversion for a 57-56 victory in overtime.

For Texas and first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, the disastrous five-game losing streak — the program’s longest since 1956 — continues. Running back Bijan Robinson left with an injury, and the Longhorns needed to rally from 14 points down just to force overtime in the fourth quarter.

Of the 12 FBS programs in Texas, the only schools with worse records are Texas State and Rice at 3-7 each.

The Longhorns need to sweep West Virginia and Kansas State to stay bowl eligible.

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