Week 12 Heisman Trophy Watch: C.J. Stroud Closing Gap on Bryce Young

Remember when Ohio State was three yards and a cloud of dust?

The Buckeyes audibled out of that years ago.

Maybe into a Heisman-winning quarterback.

Ohio State redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud has been firmly in the top tier of Heisman Trophy candidates since the first month of the season, and oddsmakers now see him as a very realistic threat to win it.

Stroud is DraftKings’ second-favorite (+220) to become the first Buckeye quarterback to win it, trailing only season-long front-runner Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (+180). And he has gained more support since the line came out Sunday, where he was listed at +240.

You can make his case, especially if voters opt for a quarterback rather than Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III, the best running back in the nation and the only running back with a shot.

Stroud, Young and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett have very similar numbers this season. All have the benefit of playing on teams likely to make a conference championship game; Stroud and Young are helped by the massive media exposure provided the nation’s elite programs.

Pickett remains the value candidate, although his odds actually rose from +2500 this week despite the fact threw for 346 yards with three touchdowns with an interception in a 30-23 overtime victory over North Carolina last Thursday.

It is time to take a closer look at quick-riser Stroud, who was listed at +900 halfway through the regular season but gradually has closed the gap since.

Stroud has thrown for 1,743 yards and 17 touchdowns with two interceptions in his last five appearances, beginning with a 406-yard, five-touchdown game against Maryland on Oct. 9. 

His 405-yard game in a victory over Nebraska two weeks ago was good and bad (two touchdowns and two picks), but he got a big boost by throwing for 361 yards and five touchdowns when the Buckeyes stretched the winning streak to eight with a victory over Purdue last week.

Stroud is in position to make a strong case even stronger in the final two games of the regular season, when the Buckeyes seek to remain atop the Big Ten East with games against their two challengers.

Ohio State will play host to Michigan State and Walker III this Saturday, in what could become a statement game for Walker III, before closing out the season at Michigan.

A peripheral factor could work in Stroud’s favor — he has compiled numbers similar to the other top quarterbacks despite missing the Akron game on Sept. 25 to rest a sore shoulder that limited him to 185 yards against Tulsa. Since the Tulsa game he has 22 touchdowns and two interceptions.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Kenneth Walker III, RB, Michigan State

Season stats: 228 carries, 1,483 yards, 12 TD

Last time out: 30 carries, 143 yards, 2 TD in a 40-21 victory over Maryland 

This week: No. 7 Michigan State (9-1) plays at Ohio State

Line: Ohio State -19

Update: Workhorse Walker continues to lead the FBS in rushing yards and yards per carry, and his 6.5-per carry average also leads among players who have at least 165 carries. He has 227. 

Status: Walker turned in an eye-popping performance with 197 yards and five touchdowns in the Spartans’ 37-33 comeback victory over Michigan three weeks ago, and another big game here would further burnish the resume, inasmuch as the Buckeyes’ rushing defense has given up only 105.9 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry.

DraftKings Odds: +280

2. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Season stats: 233-328, 3,025 yards, 71 percent; 33 TD, 3 INT

Last time out: 21-23, 270 yards, 5 TD in a 59-3 victory over New Mexico State 

This week: No. 2 Alabama (9-1) plays host to Arkansas

Line: Alabama -21

Update: Young played just one series in the second half, losing a fumble, but still managed to get his numbers. He became the first quarterback in school history to complete his first 13 passes in a game, and his m.o. again included relying on speedy Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams. The pair combined for more touchdown passes (three) than Young had incompletions (two). Young led the Crimson Tide to five touchdowns in the final 20 minutes of the first half.

Status: Nick Saban was nice enough to let Young throw for five scores before turning the game over to Bear Bryant’s great-grandson Paul Tyson late in the second half. State funded its program with the $1.9 million guarantee. Young funded his Heisman candidacy.

DraftKings Odds: +180

3. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Season stats: 214-311, 68.8 percent, 3.336 yards; 30 TD, 5 INT

Last time out: 31-38, 361 yards, 5 TD in a 59-31 victory over Purdue   

This week: No. 4 Ohio State (9-1) plays host to Michigan State

Line: Ohio State -19

Update: Stroud is 11th in the FBS in passing yards, behind Pickett but just ahead of Young. But remember the game he missed — Stroud is sixth in passing yards per game (337.3), one slot behind Pickett and 35 yards per game ahead of Young, the last of the 13 FBS quarterbacks who are averaging more than 300 per.

Status: Stroud, like Young, benefits from an extremely talented set of wide receivers, all of whom showed up against Purdue. The top two, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave combined for 19 catches, 211 yards and four touchdowns against Purdue. Both are projected as first-round picks in the 2022 NFL, and they could be the first two receivers taken.  

DraftKings Odds: +220

4. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt

Season stats: 260-385, 67.5 percent, 3.517 yards, 32 TD, 4 INT

Last time out: 25-43, 346 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT in a 30-23 overtime victory over North Carolina

This week: No. 21 Pitt (8-2) plays host to Virginia

Line: Pitt -13.5

Update: Pickett has a slight hiccup in the showcase game against North Carolina throwing a late interception on a misguided pass that deflected off his receiver and set up the Tar Heels’ game-tying field goal with 57 seconds remaining. Pickett balanced that with two completions, including the 11-yard game winner, and a five-yard scramble for a first down on the first possession of overtime.

Status: Five NFL general managers attended the Pitt-North Carolina game to put eyes on Pickett and Tar Heels’ quarterback Sam Howell. 

DraftKings Odds: +2500

5. Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

Season stats: 205-308, 66.6 percent, 2,773 yards; 17 TD, 2 INT; 126 carries, 523 yards, 10 TD

Last time out: 24-37, 247 yards, 1 TD in a 29-19 victory over Texas A&M  

This week: No. 15 Ole Miss (8-2) plays host to Vanderbilt

Line: Ole Miss -36.5

Update: Corral had another workmanlike game against Texas A&M while continuing to play through tender ankles, both of which were injured earlier in the season. Corral left the heavy lifting to running back Jerrion Ealy, who had 152 yards rushing and 34 yards receiving. 

Status: Coach Lane Kiffin has severely curtailed Corral’s option running since he took a battering against Tennessee, a coaching move that makes a lot of sense but has moved Corral out the top tier of candidates in what has become a four-horse race.   

DraftKings Odds: +700

STILL THROWING 

Will Rogers, QB, Mississippi State 

Season stats: 407-538, 75.7 percent, 3,722 yards; 29 TD, 8 INT

Last time out: 44-55, 415 yards, 6 TD in a 43-34 victory over Auburn 

This week: Mississippi State (6-4) plays host to Tennessee State 

Line: No line

Update: Rogers led a comeback from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit, the largest comeback in school history, to stun Auburn while posting his fourth 400-yard game of the season. If he could only have a do-over against Alabama — 300 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions while being constantly harassed in a 55-35 loss.

Status: We say it every week — Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense is pretty close to heaven for a quarterback with an arm. Still, he has to make the correct read and deliver the ball on time and on target. If it were easy, anyone could do it, right? Pat Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray are among the NFL quarterbacks who developed in that system. For an underdog like Rogers, eight interceptions are too much to overcome.

DraftKings Odds: +15000

WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR

Caleb Williams, QB, Oklahoma

Season stats: 88-128, 68.8 percent, 1,335 yards; 14 TD, 3 INT; 41 carries, 305 yards, 5 TD

Last time out: 10-19, 146 yards, 2 INT; 10 carries, 17 yards, 1 TD in a 27-14 loss to Baylor 

This week: No. 8 Oklahoma (9-1) plays host to Iowa State 

Line: Oklahoma -4

Update: After a spectacular four-game run, true freshman Williams came down to earth in a big way in the loss to Baylor, throwing two interceptions and gaining only 17 yards on 10 carries while under pressure. Williams even ceded snaps to former starter and Heisman Trophy candidate Spencer Rattler, who may choose to put his name into the transfer portal after losing his job in the second half of the Texas game. 

Status: While the electric Williams gained considerable Heisman hype because of his big games against Texas and TCU, he never really had enough reps to dislodge the top contenders, regardless of the oddsmakers’ lines. Maybe Lincoln Riley inserted Rattler last week to give him the feeling he should stay in school for another year. Williams, however, has shown the better arm and athleticism to make him and early, early top 2022 contender.

DraftKings Odds: +4000

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