Analysis

2021 Heisman Trophy finalists revealed: Ranking the four contenders

Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett, Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud and Alabama QB Bryce Young were announced Monday as finalists for the 2021 Heisman Trophy, college football's most prestigious individual honor. Balloting closed on Monday as well, two days after contenders made their final impressions on voters in conference championship games. Voters include 870 media members, former Heisman winners and one vote cast collectively by fans. Five consecutive Heisman winners have gone on to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft -- DeVonta Smith, Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson -- three of whom were No. 1 overall picks.

The Heisman Trophy ceremony, held in New York City, will crown this year's winner on Saturday evening (8 p.m. ET on ESPN). Below, we rank the finalist field (listed in order of strength of candidacy):

1) Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

If the 97-yard touchdown drive Young engineered in the final two minutes of regulation against archrival Auburn on Nov. 27 wasn't enough of a signature game, his dismantling of Georgia on Saturday certainly fit the bill. National title hopes hung in the balance of both games, but setting an SEC Championship Game record with 421 passing yards against a defense ranked No. 1 in the nation makes Young an extremely heavy favorite to win the award. He's now thrown for 4,322 yards with 43 TD passes against just four interceptions. It's his honor to lose.

2) C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

In his first season as a starter, Stroud lit up the Big Ten for 38 touchdowns against just five interceptions, and he should eclipse 4,000 yards against Utah in the Rose Bowl. It was a stellar start to the redshirt freshman's career, to be sure, but it won't help his cause that he wasn't playing Saturday when other candidates had a final chance to advance their cases in conference title games. That said, he certainly made a late impression with two November wins over ranked teams (Michigan State, Purdue) in which he completed 63-of-73 passes with 11 TDs and no interceptions.

3) Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt

Pickett raised his game to a completely different level in 2021, and led the Panthers to their first ACC championship since joining the conference in 2013. The four-year starter threw 42 TD passes on the year, more than triple his previous career high (13). He toppled the conference's longtime powerhouse, Clemson, with a 302-yard passing day on Oct. 23. He made some mistakes in Pitt's two losses but still produced at an elite level, throwing six TD passes in a 44-41 loss to Western Michigan and a Pitt-record 519 yards in a 38-34 loss to Miami. Were it not for the Panthers' defensive lapses in those games, we'd be talking about Pickett's upcoming College Football Playoff showcase.

4) Aidan Hutchinson, edge rusher, Michigan

Hutchinson has been utterly dominant this season as a pass rusher, amassing 13.5 sacks and another 10 quarterback hurries. Nobody can say he feasted on lesser competition -- of his 13.5 sacks, eight came against Big Ten heavyweights Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa and Michigan State. It's near folly to take a defensive candidate seriously, unfortunately, because Heisman history is more predictive than merit. The last defensive player to win it was also from Michigan, Charles Woodson, and he had offensive and special teams exploits to bolster his case.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter.

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