Looking back at Bryce Young's Heisman trophy-winning season

Heisman Trophy Winners: Bryce Young

As the 2021 college football championship dawned, two things seemed inevitable: Alabama was going to win the national championship, and Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young was going to win the Heisman Trophy.

One out of two ain’t bad.

Actually, maybe has a good shot is a better descriptor than inevitable for Young, because heading into week one, Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler was +550 and Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei was +600.

This of course was before Rattler was benched in favor of Caleb Williams (before he moved on) and later transferred to South Carolina, and also before Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State and then Florida State.

After you read that three times to get it straight, let’s get back to Young.

Young's Path To The Heisman

A sophomore who had spent his freshman season backing up Mac Jones, Young entered the year at +800 to win the Heisman, a state of affairs that lasted one week. Rattler was +900 and Uiagalelei +2500 by week two, while Young improved to +150.

From ESPN:

Bryce Young didn't take long to prove he's the man to lead No. 1 Alabama in its quest for another national title. Young became the first Crimson Tide quarterback to throw four touchdown passes in his starting debut and the defending champions romped past No. 14 Miami 44-13.

Young opened with a 37-yard touchdown pass to John Metchie, hooked up with tight end Cameron Latu on a pair of scoring plays and buried the Hurricanes with a 94-yard TD strike to Jameson Williams early in the third quarter.

Before Young, Mac Jones and Joe Namath had been the only quarterbacks to throw three TD passes in their first starts for Alabama. After spending a year learning the ropes behind Jones. Young was clearly ready to take over.

Young had long been accustomed to putting up big numbers. At the famed Mater Dei High School in California, he was the state’s top player and the USA Today High School Offensive Player of the Year after a senior season in which he threw for 4,528 yards and 58 touchdowns.

The nation's number one quarterback prospect, he originally decided to stay close to home and attend USC, but later switched his commitment to Alabama.

His college debut, during his freshman year, did not result in the same gaudy stats. Inserted late in the game against Missouri, Young was 5-of-8 for 54 yards with two rushing yards on four attempts. But the Tide’s dominance allowed him plenty of opportunities to play and to develop that season, and as the Miami game showed, he was ready to go when handed the reins.

Other Heisman Contenders That Year

While both Rattler and Uiagalelei were only Heisman contenders for a brief time, others also earned time in the limelight.

CJ Stroud started the season at +1000, got as high as +5000, but as he was putting in a year in which he became the only quarterback in Ohio State history to throw five touchdowns against Big Ten competition four times in a season, oddsmakers liked him more and more each week, to the point that he was once the favorite at -200.

“Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud almost assuredly ran out to the lead in the Heisman Trophy race as the Buckeyes offense continued to lay claim to being the best in the country in a 56-7 rout of No. 7 Michigan State on Saturday,” reported The Athletic. “Stroud set a new program record with 17 consecutive completions at one point and tied another with six touchdown passes, all in the first half.

But a second consecutive loss to Michigan dimmed the luster on Stroud’s season and he ballooned to +3300 by the week of the Heisman presentation.

Aidan Hutchinson of the Wolverines sacked Stroud three times in The Game (non Ivy League version) and subsequently appeared on the list of Heisman hopefuls for the one and only time that year, at +600.

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III spent three weeks late in the season at +150, +125 and +200, as he was putting in a campaign that included a 94 yard touchdown run, and another game in which he had four TDs and 264 yards.

But it was mostly Young’s show, especially after he threw for 559 yards against Arkansas in late November to break Alabama’s single game record, previously held by Scott Hunter.

Not Joe Namath. Not Ken Stabler. Not Jalen or Tua or Mac.

Scott Hunter.

On the season, Young passed for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns with just seven interceptions, along with three rushing scores.

It’s not a law that there have to be four Heisman finalists, but it is customary, so in attendance at the ceremony with Young were Stroud, Hutchinson and Pitt QB Kenny Pickett, who oddsmakers never had any better than +1100.

The voting, like the betting odds, wasn’t close, with Young earning 684 first-place votes, and Hutchinson second with 78 first-place votes.

Young was the fourth member of the Crimson Tide to win the Heisman Trophy in 12 years, following wide receiver DeVonta Smith the previous season and running backs Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, all under coach Nick Saban, who is tied with Frank Leahy of Notre Dame, having produced four Heisman winners.

In his acceptance speech, Young thanked Jesus, his parents and the offensive line, receivers and running backs, and the Bama defense “for getting me the ball back. Everyone on the team. Whenever you can win an award like this, it goes as an individual award, but it's a team award. I couldn't do it without any of those guys. I'd like to thank Coach Saban. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for your guidance, and putting me in situations to be successful, and for us and the team to be successful. It really means a lot.”

Not yet draft-eligible, Young returned to Tuscaloosa for his junior season and led the Tide to an 11–2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory, finishing sixth in Heisman Trophy voting.

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