After his exhilarating and prophesied three-time performance in the victory over Ohio State, Aidan Hutchinson officially launched his name into the Heisman conversation. Unlike in most years there is still no clearly defined leader and Hutchinson has suddenly skyrocketed to third in the best Heisman odds despite not even being listed on most betting sites. most of the season.
From a narrative standpoint, Hutchinson makes a lot of sense as a winner. Hutchinson returned for his final year as a man on a mission and this year he became the vocal leader of a Michigan team that will likely make their way to the playoffs while individually he has solidified as that first pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
“I have invested so much of my energy – mental energy, physical energy – in giving all I have,” Hutchinson said in July on Big Ten Media Day. “I’m back for my last round here. When I tell you that I gave it my all – from spring prom to guys workout, summer conditioning workout, winter conditioning, rehab that ankle – I mean I mean I ‘ve done everything for my body and what I put into it to make sure we are successful this season. I’m just … I’m ready to die for this. I swear. I want it more than anyone, I promise.
Hutchinson spoke and supported him with his play on the pitch. In 12 games, Hutchinson has 13 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. Hutchinson set the single-season sack record against the Buckeyes and led a revived Wolverines defense to new heights. Even on games not on the stats sheet, he constantly wreaks havoc on the offensive lines and attracts multiple linemen to try and slow him down.
Michigan has exceeded all expectations this year and Hutchinson is the number one reason. What hurts his case for the Heisman may just be the side of the ball he lines up on.
The historical precedent for defensive players in the Heisman vote is not great.
Charles Woodson was the only defensive player to win in 1997 and he also got playing time as wide receiver. The last fielder to finish in the top two voting was Mantei Te’o in 2012 and he was only the third fielder to finish second. The most recent runner-up was Chase Young in 2019, when he finished fourth. Young and Ndamakong Suh in 2009 are the only defensive lineman to finish as Heisman finalists this century.
Young had a monster season in 2019, with 16.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and 6 forced fumbles, but that affair didn’t stand up to Joe Burrow’s historic season as LSU quarterback. Suh had a huge year for Nebraska in 2009 with 52 tackles, 12 sacks and one interception, but he was also fourth with Mark Ingram taking home the award.
Historically, even large defensive campaigns have fallen short of offensive stars when it comes to winning Heisman. The difference for Hutchinson is that the usual slew of attacking candidates has retreated rather than rising over time. Michigan state running back Kenneth Walker is second in the country in the ground run and will be a finalist in January, but the Spartans have faded and Walker’s chances of winning appear to have faded with them. The two favorites ahead of Hutchinson are Alabama QB Bryce Young and Ohio State QB CJ Stroud. The former needed four extra time to beat an Auburn side 6-5 last week and everyone knows how the battle between Stroud and Hutchinson went.
The ballots are submitted Monday and this weekend gives Hutchinson another chance to make his case to voters. He’ll line up against the Iowa offensive line and try to be a disruptive force and win a Big Ten Championship. Young, meanwhile, faces off against Georgia’s much-vaunted defense. Stroud, of course, will be watching from home.
If there was a year for a defensive player to win the Heisman, it would be this one. The quarterback contenders are flawed and Hutchinson has dominated all season, although punters are just starting to notice it.
He deserves college football’s highest individual accolade for what he’s done on the pitch and for helping catapult Michigan into a national title contender – something no one saw coming.
The historical precedent may not be there. But in Hutchinson’s case, that shouldn’t matter.