2022 Heisman Trophy Candidates: Big Ten Conference
In 2021, the most notable development in the Big Ten Conference relative to the Heisman Trophy voting was that a defensive player from the league had the most Heisman votes of any Big Ten player. Another big story was that the Big Ten produced two Heisman finalists, and more specifically, two of the top four vote-getters in 2021. C.J. Stroud finished fourth in the voting, just behind Aidan Hutchinson, the defensive lineman from Michigan. A third big story was that the man viewed by many as the Big Ten’s best football player last year, running back Kenneth Walker of Michigan State, wasn’t invited to New York as a Heisman finalist. The Big Ten didn’t win the 2021 Heisman, but the conference certainly made a lot of news relating to the award a year ago. This year, we’ll see if a player from the conference can take home the trophy, something no Big Ten player has done since 2006, when Troy Smith of Ohio State won the award.
C.J. Stroud, Quarterback, Ohio State
Stroud finished fourth in the 2021 Heisman voting, which was actually a little high. Kenneth Walker of Michigan State should have finished above Stroud in the voting – he had a better, more complete season – but Stroud’s Ohio State team throttled Michigan State late in the regular season, which is why Stroud was a Heisman finalist and not Walker. Stroud was brilliant in that Michigan State game, and also in the Rose Bowl victory over Utah, but against Michigan and Oregon, two of the biggest games Ohio State played last season, he was ordinary. If Stroud wants to win the Heisman this year, he needs to be at his best in the biggest games, and he can’t have multiple ordinary games. He needs to dominate consistently, especially when the lights are bright. Ohio State needs to win the Big Ten championship and make the College Football Playoff for Stroud to win. He can become a Heisman finalist once again without those other achievements, but he is not going to win the award outright without team-based accomplishments in 2022.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Wide Receiver, Ohio State
Two Ohio State receivers, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, skipped the Rose Bowl against Utah to prepare for the NFL draft. Smith-Njigba stepped in and merely produced the best statistical line of any receiver in the long history of the Rose Bowl Game, which dates back to 1902. Smith-Njigba dazzled a national audience by collecting 347 receiving yards and helping the Buckeyes score 48 points in a thrilling win over Utah. That certainly has put Smith-Njigba in the center of the Heisman conversation before the season has even begun. If he can play the 2022 season the way he played the 2022 Rose Bowl, he will win the trophy.
Braelon Allen, Running Back, Wisconsin
Braelon Allen is still a teenager, but he is physically a grown man. No Big Ten running back is more muscular, powerful, and hard to tackle. If Allen gets enough help from the Wisconsin passing game, he should have a devastatingly brilliant year in which the Badgers run wild and win back the Big Ten West Division title, which they lost last year to Iowa. If Wisconsin can win not only its division championship, but then upset Ohio State for the Big Ten title, Allen could win the Heisman.
Aidan O’Connell, Quarterback, Purdue
Aidan O’Connell was part of a Purdue team which pulled off two different upsets of top-five teams last season. One was against Michigan State when the Spartans were No. 3, and one was against Iowa when the Hawkeyes were No. 2. If O’Connell can replicate those kinds of upsets and inject a little more consistency into his game every week, he might become the surprise outsider who sneaks up on the more established candidates in the race.