2022 Heisman Trophy Candidates: American Athletic Conference
In 2021, the American Athletic Conference made history when the Cincinnati Bearcats became the first AAC team and the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff. This was a reminder that anything is possible. Just because something had never been done before, it doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen in the future. Cincinnati broke new ground in the College Football Playoff. Now we get to see if an AAC player can win the Heisman Trophy, something which has never happened. Schools which are currently in the AAC have had Heisman winners, but not when they were members of the AAC. Houston, with Andre Ware in 1989, is a representative example. Houston was a member of the Southwest Conference back then, more than 20 years before the AAC came into existence. Let’s look at four primary AAC Heisman hopefuls heading into the 2022 college football season.
Clayton Tune, Quarterback, Houston
With Cincinnati, the defending champion, losing a lot of its top personnel to the NFL draft (the Bearcats lost nine players to the draft), Houston – the team which lost to Cincinnati in the 2021 AAC Championship Game – will have a very legitimate shot at winning the conference title in 2022. If Houston does indeed win the AAC and also claim the Group of Five championship which leads to a New Year’s Six bowl berth this year, quarterback Clayton Tune will have a very realistic shot at a Heisman finalist berth, which would put him on stage for the Heisman Trophy ceremony at the Downtown Athletic Club in December. Tune has had moments of brilliance in his Houston career. Now he needs to put all the pieces together in a dynamic season from start to finish. If he can pull that off, he has a real chance at Heisman recognition.
Keaton Mitchell, Running Back, East Carolina
The East Carolina Pirates are not expected to play in the AAC Championship Game, so they will at least need to make a good run at it and come reasonably close in order for Mitchell, their best offensive player, to have a legitimate chance at a Heisman ticket. East Carolina’s defense played well against Cincinnati last year, but the offense was stopped. This year, the ECU offense has to be significantly better for Mitchell’s Heisman candidacy to gain any traction as the year unfolds.
Tyjae Spears, Running Back, Tulane
The Tulane Green Wave had a rough 2021 season, far worse than most football analysts expected. Tulane can’t be slightly better or even moderately better than in 2021 if Spears is to have a credible chance at snagging a Heisman finalist berth. Tulane needs to make a big jump, and the offense has to be the leading unit on the team, not the defense. If those things happen and the Green Wave get a publicity boost as a result, some Heisman voters could turn their attention to Spears.
Nathaniel Dell, Wide Receiver, Houston
This is yet another example of an elite receiver being a Heisman candidate on a team with an elite quarterback. On one hand, this is good, because if the quarterback (Clayton Tune) does well, the receiver is likely to do well. On the other hand, two great players on the same team will often split their vote, and the quarterback usually gets more votes than a wide receiver if all other things are equal. Dell needs to noticeably outplay Clayton Tune and make it clear he, not Tune, is the reason for the success of the Houston offense in 2022.