Making the case for every 2022 Heisman Trophy finalist

Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) celebrates the victory against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

• Why each Heisman finalist deserves the trophy: USC quarterback Caleb Williams, TCU quarterback Max Duggan, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.

• Check out our pick for the Heisman Trophy winner here.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins

The Heisman Trophy is the most distinguished individual honor in college sports, and one can argue it tops all at the professional level, as well.

Not only does it guarantee the winner a place in Nissan’s “Heisman House” commercials, it also places them among some of the greatest legends in college football history.

This season, the four finalists are USC quarterback Caleb Williams, TCU quarterback Max Duggan, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. Here’s the case for each of those four to take home the coveted stiff-arm trophy.

QB Caleb Williams, USC Trojans

Caleb Williams is the heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy (-1600), according to FanDuel Sportsbook

Out of the four finalists, it’d be hard to argue that any of them has been better than Williams. The sophomore is both the highest-graded and most valuable Heisman finalist in 2022, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. 

Grades and WAA values of Heisman finalists
Name School Position PFF Grade Wins Above Average
Caleb Williams USC QB 90.9 0.90
Stetson Bennett Georgia QB 87.4 0.81
Max Duggan TCU QB 85.6 0.33
C.J. Stroud Ohio State QB 84.1 0.56

On basic stats alone, Williams also has the best case among the Heisman finalists. He has over 600 more passing yards than the next-closest finalist, is tied for the most passing touchdowns and is tied for the fewest interceptions. Williams also has the most big-time throws (28) and is tied for the fewest turnover-worthy plays (10) among any of the four finalists. 

QB Max Duggan, TCU Horned Frogs

The other three finalists have a leg up on Williams in that they play on teams in the College Football Playoff. 

No one has a better story than Max Duggan and the TCU Horned Frogs, which matters for an award that has proven to be reliant on narrative. While the other three playoff teams in Georgia, Michigan and Ohio State were all top-10 teams in the preseason AP poll, TCU failed to garner a single vote, pushing them out of the top 47. After an undefeated regular season, the Horned Frogs will now try to win their first national championship since 1938, the penultimate year of the Great Depression.

Duggan himself also has displayed incredible perseverance. A couple of years ago, he needed two heart surgeries. Last year, he played through a broken bone and a torn tendon in his foot. The senior entered 2022 as the backup quarterback before an injury to Chandler Morris in the opener thrust him into the starting role. 

One can also make the argument that Duggan had to shoulder the load of his offense more than any other Heisman finalist.

How talent and scheme helped each Heisman finalist
Name School Team Receiving Grade Team Pass-Blocking Grade % of throws to first-read % of throws to receiver with step+ of separation
Caleb Williams USC 79.5 81.9 52.2% 80.4%
Max Duggan TCU 76.3 74.7 58.5% 80.5%
Stetson Bennett Georgia 83.6 84.7 63.0% 78.0%
C.J. Stroud Ohio State 88.7 79.0 71.1% 84.0%

Duggan also has 18 touchdowns on deep throws, three more than any other quarterback in the country.

In terms of “Heisman moments,” few have put together more than Duggan this season. Perhaps his most notable one was in a loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, when he led a gutsy drive to tie the game despite playing in obvious pain.

QB Stetson Bennett, Georgia Bulldogs

Duggan may have the best story of the four Heisman finalists, but Stetson Bennett is a close second.

Coming out of high school, Bennett’s only FBS offers were from Georgia Southern and Middle Tennessee. He instead decided to walk on at Georgia and then transferred to a junior college after his freshman season. He then returned to the Bulldogs, this time on scholarship. After two years as a backup, he became Georgia’s starter last season. That year, the Bulldogs won their first national championship in 41 years. 

Now, the sixth-year senior is attempting to become the first starting quarterback to win multiple national championships since Alabama’s A.J. McCarron did so a decade ago. While last year’s Bulldogs won on the back of a historic defense, this year’s squad is far more balanced. Georgia’s 93.2 offensive grade ranks fourth-highest in college football. Bennett was the most accurate quarterback among the four Heisman finalists, too. His 76.2% adjusted completion percentage led all finalists, while his 22 big-time throws were tied for eighth in the Power Five, proving he’s more than a game manager.

QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State Buckeyes

Stroud is the opposite of an underdog. He entered the year as the favorite to win the Heisman (+220), according to DraftKings sportsbook. The redshirt sophomore remained the favorite all year before a loss to Michigan in the final game of the season pushed Caleb Williams to the front of the pack. 

Stroud has led one of the nation’s best offenses this season. Ohio State’s 94.5 team offense grade is tied for the highest in the country. Stroud’s 37 passing touchdowns are tied for the most in the country, while his 123.5 passer rating is second-best and leads all Heisman finalists. 

Over the past two seasons, Stroud’s 91.4 passing grade trails only Alabama’s Bryce Young among active Power Five quarterbacks.

So … who deserves it?

While I've already laid out why my Heisman vote would’ve gone to Michigan running back Blake Corum, the highest-graded player in college football (95.9), the most deserving player among these finalists is Caleb Williams. Despite not playing on a team in the playoff nor having an incredible underdog story, Williams has been arguably the best quarterback in college football this season.

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