College football’s regular season came to a head last weekend with conference championship games. Two of this year’s top Heisman Trophy candidates, USC quarterback and TCU quarterback, suffered losses in their respective contests.
On Monday, the four finalists for the award were announced, and a quarterback will be the choice for a second year in a row. There will not, however, be a repeat winner: Bryce Young was left out after a two-loss season for Alabama.
Joining Williams and Duggan, the two favorites, are joined Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett, who led the Bulldogs to a 13-0 record and an SEC championship.
Duggan turned in an inspiring performance in the Horned Frogs’ overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship. He drew attention after waving his teammates off as they tried to mob him following a late game-tying touchdown while grimacing in pain.
Stroud had a poor game against Michigan, throwing two interceptions, but he was outstanding the rest of the year. Bennett was likely a late addition to the field following the torn ACL Hendon Hooker suffered in a loss to South Carolina.
Here’s a glimpse at each of the four Heisman Trophy finalists for 2022, along with their respective Heisman Moments.
Caleb Williams, QB, USC
Just one look at his stats shows what type of quarterback Williams is. He doesn’t prefer to run the ball, and he’d rather look downfield if the pocket starts to collapse.
That game plan served him well this season. Williams was outstanding for USC after joining Lincoln Riley in absconding from Oklahoma, coming a game away from a presumed College Football Playoff with the Trojans. His 37 passing touchdowns were tied for first in the country, and he had fewer interceptions than either of the other two players (Stroud and Houston’s Clayton Tune).
Although USC came up short against Utah in the Pac-12 title game, Williams still passed for 363 yards and three touchdowns. An interception did mar his performance, however.
Williams’ moment was easily the Notre Dame game. In front of a national audience, Williams accounted for four touchdowns, three of them rushing.
In the second half, USC continually traded blows with the Fighting Irish, and it matched them blow for blow throughout. The 38-27 victory was USC’s best win of the season, and it was Williams’ biggest performance.
Max Duggan, QB, TCU
Duggan is all grit. He may not have gotten a lot of conversation outside of those regularly watching the Big 12, but he had a Heisman-worthy season in a year where he wasn’t even supposed to be the starter.
After Sonny Dykes took over the Horned Frogs, Chandler Morris initially won the starting job. But he sprained his knee in TCU’s opener, and Duggan got a chance to start again.
He didn’t squander it. Duggan led TCU to an undefeated record up until the Big 12 championship, highlighted by several come-from-behind victories. With a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio, he protected the ball. He also made plays with his legs when he had to.
In a rarity, Duggan’s Heisman moment may well have come in a loss. In the Big 12 championship against Kansas State and with his team down by eight points, Duggan engineered an eight-play, 80-yard drive in which he somehow ran for 95 yards by himself.
After tossing the game-tying two-point conversion, a visibly exhausted and bleeding Duggan waved off his teammates, inspiring CFB fans across the country. Despite the loss, the Horned Frogs still got into the Playoff. That was largely due to Duggan’s play.
C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Some may have a sour taste in their mouth after seeing Stroud on this list following his performance vs. Michigan, but Ohio State is a Playoff team and Stroud is a primary reason why.
Throwing to two of the best receivers in the country, Stroud elevated both Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka to over 1,000 receiving yards for the season. He was arguably the country’s best pure passers. His poise and confidence shined throughout.
Stroud entered this season as a potential top-two pick in next year’s NFL Draft, and he’s done nothing to disabuse anyone of that notion. That alone merits consideration.
Stroud loses out on the recency-bias advantage when it comes to Heisman Moments, particularly given his uncharacteristically poor performance against the Wolverines.
His Heisman Moment would therefore have to be his fourth quarter against Penn State in October. The Nittany Lions took a 21-16 lead in the game, but after TreVeyon Henderson retook the lead with a touchdown run, Stroud unleashed a flurry. He threw for 128 yards in the period as Ohio State prevailed 44-31.
Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia
This is by far the most controversial of the finalist selections, but there’s no denying what Bennett has done this season for No. 1 Georgia.
Bennett led Georgia to a 13-0 regular season and an SEC championship (the Bulldogs fell short of winning the conference last year). He threw for just shy of 3,500 yards, and had 20 passing touchdowns to six interceptions while completing 67.9 percent of his passes.
Bennett playing two more games over Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker likely got him the nod and the invite to New York. That and Georgia’s overwhelming success no doubt made him difficult to leave out.
It’s hard to pin down a Heisman Moment in a season like Georgia’s. The Bulldogs were dominant all season. But Bennett’s performance against then-No. 1 Tennessee may well have been the difference.
Bennett went 17 of 25 for 257 yards and two touchdowns in a performance that can only be described as “clean.” Georgia won 27-13 and moved up to No. 1 in the country. Bennett and Georgia had reestablished themselves as the team to beat in the SEC East.