Stetson Bennett IV has been great, but here's why he's not a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate
If you’re still putting Stetson Bennett IV in the Heisman Trophy conversation, just stop it. That argument died a month ago.
Don’t get it twisted. I fear you read that and thought, “wow, another anti-Bennett take. Real original, guy.”
I’m not anti-Bennett. I’m so not anti-Bennett that I’d absolutely draft him on Day 3.
But I’m absolutely anti-Bennett for the Heisman Trophy. As in the nation’s most prestigious individual award.
And to be clear, that had nothing to do with the result of Saturday’s 16-6 defensive struggle against Kentucky wherein Bennett was 13-for-19 for 116 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception. Bennett could’ve lit up Mark Stoops’ defense for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns, and it still wouldn’t have mattered.
Why? Again, his case died about a month ago.
You see, what Bennett’s 3-game stretch without a touchdown pass did was make it an impossibility for him to hit that all-important 40-touchdown mark. Yes, that’s 40 total touchdowns. Yes, every Heisman-winning quarterback in the last 15 years had that heading into the ceremony.
It’s Nov. 19 and Bennett has 21 touchdowns.
Yeah, he’s been great. To say that he’s risen above expectations would be an understatement and there’s no way that Kirby Smart’s squad pulls off consecutive unbeaten years in SEC play without Bennett’s play.
But if your default is “well, he’s just a winner,” stop it. That doesn’t make you a Heisman winner.
Ask Troy Smith about that. Back in 2006, Smith was the last quarterback to win the Heisman without hitting 40 total touchdowns pre-Heisman ceremony. Smith had 31 … for the No. 1 team in the country … who had a defense that allowed 12.8 points per game.
Darren McFadden deserved to win the award that year because he was the best player in college football, but at that time, there was still this bizarre “a sophomore can’t win the Heisman” thing. Thankfully, this forced voters to realize how foolish that was and a worthy Tim Tebow won the award as a sophomore the following season.
We got away from the lazy “just give it to the quarterback on the No. 1 team” thing. Good. We should. We have access to watch more games than ever.
If you disagree with Bennett falling into that lazy narrative (Gary Danielson), tell me this. Is Bennett the best player on his own team? I’d argue when healthy, Jalen Carter is. Ok, is Bennett the best player on his own offense? I’d argue that Brock Bowers is.
Disagree? That’s fine.
Let’s flip the script. If you’re reading this while wearing red and black, tell me this. If Ohio State had the No. 1 team in the country and it was being led by a player with 21 total touchdowns heading into the final weekend of the regular season, would you be arguing that he’s a worthy Heisman contender? No chance.
I know what you’re thinking. “It’s not all about touchdowns, man.” It’s not. So tell me which one of these stats is Heisman-worthy (note that I’m not even counting the 116-yard day Bennett had on Saturday):
- Passing yards: 2,895 (15th in FBS)
- Yards/attempt: 8.8 (16th in FBS)
- QB rating: 152.69 (26th in FBS)
- Rushing TDs: 7 (62nd in FBS)
- Rushing yards: 144 (46th in SEC)
OK, so let’s talk intangibles. Bennett has those. That’s what’s going to help him get a chance to make an NFL roster. I love the poise we’ve seen from Bennett. He’s developed much better pocket presence, which is why he’s only taken 7 sacks this year. He also has the knack for keeping the RPO at the exact right time, which was an intangible that I thought Jake Fromm lacked.
But what else came with that? Bennett takes more risks, and with that came the uptick in turnovers. Saturday was his 5th interception in the last 4 games. He’s got 6 on the year, which isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker by any means.
The problem is that if you’re going to turn the ball over, you have to hit on those chunk plays. Bennett hasn’t. He entered Saturday ranked No. 82 in FBS with 4 passing plays of 40 yards. Compare that to guys like Hendon Hooker and Drake Maye, who entered the day with 16 and 12, respectively. Both of them are more viable candidates as quarterbacks of top-15 teams with top-10 offenses.
Oh, and if you tell me “but Bennett beat Hooker,” tell me this. Did Bennett face the Georgia defense? Nope. Bennett faced a Tennessee defense that entered Saturday ranked No. 124 in FBS against the pass. Not all things are equal.
That shouldn’t matter for Georgia, though. What mattered was that a year after losing 15 players to the NFL Draft, it was important that Bennett led UGA’s first top-40 passing offense of the post-Aaron Murray era. What mattered was that with both of their top running backs off to the NFL, it was important that Bennett led a more balanced high-powered offense. What mattered more was that Bennett played a huge role in Georgia trying to become the first team in a decade to repeat as national champs instead of taking a step back.
So far, so good. On all fronts.
Bennett didn’t return for his 30th year at Georgia with the expectation of reaching New York. That’s fine. As long as Bennett is a strength instead of a liability for a national championship contender, he’s doing his job. Unlike last year, that’s not in doubt.
Perhaps that’s why Bennett’s loudest defenders have a tough time separating that from winning the nation’s top individual award. Gary Danielson said in the first half that he believed Bennett would be in the top 2 of the Heisman voting. I think that’s a nice thing to say on a broadcast. If Danielson’s ballot actually looks like that in a couple weeks, I’d tell him to go watch some football that isn’t on 3:30 on CBS.
For the rest of us who have, it should be clear. Bennett turned into an excellent player who might just become the first quarterback to repeat as a national champ since AJ McCarron.
But a legitimate Heisman candidate, Bennett is not.