The Heisman Trophy—college football’s most coveted honor—will be awarded to one of the following four players Saturday night in New York City.
USC sophomore Caleb Williams and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, who was also among last year’s finalists (he finished fourth behind Alabama’s Bryce Young, Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan and Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett), were no-brainers while Max Duggan, in spite of his lackluster performance against Kansas State in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship, also had a season worth celebrating. However, Stetson Bennett’s selection as a finalist was seen as a head-scratcher, rewarding a glorified game-manager with a trip to New York over other, more deserving candidates including Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker (a frontrunner for the award before his recent ACL tear) and Michigan running back Blake Corum.
An undersized 25-year-old with little in the way of pro prospects, you could argue Bennett has actually overachieved throughout his time at Georgia, leading the Bulldogs to last year’s National Championship followed by a conference title and an undefeated regular season in 2022. Bennett, a former walk-on and two-star recruit whose only FBS scholarship offer came from Middle Tennessee, has been plenty productive while in Athens (27 combined passing and rushing touchdowns this season), though, as critics are quick to point out, he’s benefited greatly from the talent around him, propped up by a supporting cast of countless future pros, many of whom are projected as early-round picks in next year’s NFL Draft.
Delving any deeper into Bennett’s Heisman credentials—or lack thereof—is probably a futile exercise considering he won’t win and risks diminishing his accomplishments as a standout player in what has traditionally been college football’s strongest conference. After all, Bennett didn’t ask to be a Heisman finalist. If anything, Bennett backdooring his way into the Heisman conversation is a reflection of the misguided logic employed by voters, blindly assuming Georgia’s success must be because of its quarterback, among other flawed arguments.
Ideally, Heisman balloting would be a nuanced exercise free of bias, pulling from a vast well of data to determine which players gave exemplary performances relative to their peers. Unfortunately, it’s naïve to expect that level of sophistication from voters, who would rather think with their heart than their minds, turning the Heisman race into a de facto popularity contest, prioritizing household names from prestige programs like Georgia and Ohio State.
Getting bent out of shape about Bennett receiving what equates to a lifetime achievement award is, admittedly, wasted energy, but if that’s what voters want the Heisman to be, why not invite eight or ten finalists instead of just four? With the College Football Playoff expanding from four to 12 teams in 2024, maybe it’s time for the Heisman voting process to get a similar facelift.