I count 4.

If you read that too fast, you might’ve read that as “I count to 4.” Believe it or not, I can count into double digits and even triple digits when I’m in the right head space.

I count 4 SEC players who have a chance at the Heisman Trophy. All of them will be playing in Knoxville on Saturday. Well, at least I hope they’ll all be playing. To be determined on Bryce Young as to whether he returns from his shoulder injury.

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Young, Hendon Hooker, Jahmyr Gibbs and Will Anderson are your 4 SEC players who can win the Heisman Trophy.

Wait, what about Stetson Bennett? Show me how many 21st century winners have 5 touchdown passes at the halfway point of their Heisman seasons. If your answer is “Eric Crouch,” consider this your reminder that Crouch was an 1,100-yard rusher and he also wasn’t competing against guys who are on pace to throw 40 touchdown passes. Bennett would need to go on a tear just to hit Troy Smith 2006 numbers, and we all know Darren McFadden would’ve won the Heisman that year if not for some bizarre “sophomores aren’t old enough to win” rule.

So, no, I don’t think Bennett can win the Heisman even as the quarterback of a potential 13-0 Georgia team.

Again, the number is 4. As it currently stands, here’s where those 4 SEC Heisman candidates stack up in the latest odds (via FanDuel):

  • 1. CJ Stroud -140
  • 2. Caleb Williams +1200
  • 3. Hendon Hooker +1400
  • T4. Bryce Young +1600
  • T4. Dorian Thompson-Robinson +1600
  • T6. DJ Uiagalelei +2000
  • T6. Blake Corum +2000
  • 8. Adrian Martinez +2500
  • 9. Jahmyr Gibbs +3000
  • T10. Spencer Sanders +4000
  • T10. Drake Maye +4000
  • T10. Stetson Bennett IV +4000
  • T13. Bo Nix +5000
  • T13. Sam Hartman +5000
  • T13. Will Anderson +5000
  • T13. Max Duggan +5000

Yes, I also think it’s absurd that Anderson is still at just 50-to-1. No, I don’t care that he only has 5 sacks and in all likelihood he’s not gonna sniff the 34.5 tackles for loss he had last year. We just watched an A&M game in which he didn’t get a sack, but he recorded 8 (!) quarterback hurries. The guy is a machine. If that dude never makes it to New York in his college career, we might as well ban defensive players from winning the Heisman. I still think that despite what current those odds suggest, Anderson could have better odds at season’s end than Young.

Why? Remember that in the past 4 decades, Charlie Ward is the only player to have won the Heisman after missing a game against Power 5 competition. Young, for the first time since he became Alabama’s starter in 2021, missed a game. Fair or not, there are plenty of voters who’ll hold that against him. Shoot, we knew there were going to be voters who were going to hold Young’s high standard against himself and say he needed to one-up his 2021 season to become the first player since Archie Griffin to repeat.

Young, if he gets to play in an SEC Championship to give him 12 games (because he missed 1), could still go into the Heisman ceremony with 40 total touchdowns, 3,000 passing yards and a whole bunch of viral plays (something that actually matters) for the No. 1 team in America. Then again, so could Stroud, and he could do so with a more favorable schedule and 13 pre-Heisman games compared to Young’s 12. Hence, why those odds are so skewed in favor of the Ohio State quarterback.

But as we know because this has become a narrative-driven award, 1-2 bad late-season games can be all she wrote on an obvious favorite. If you don’t believe me, see “Tagovailoa, Tua.”

(I’m talking 2018, not 2019. Drop your weapons, LSU fans.)

Perhaps that could benefit someone like Hooker. Lord knows there’s no Heisman booster quite like the Bama bump. Ask Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel or Joe Burrow about that. Could those guys have won without taking down the Tide? Probably, but the race was over when they showed out against Nick Saban’s squad.

It’s too early to say that a brilliant Hooker performance would shut down the race. But Hooker’s case is intriguing because with Georgia also still on the slate, he’ll essentially have 2 opportunities to deliver huge statement performances. Nobody else on that shortlist has that. At least not in terms of what it would mean to beat Alabama or Georgia, who are a combined 35-1 in the regular season since the start of 2021. Hooker could have a case with a win in just 1 of those games, and if he plays well in both for a Tennessee team who finishes 10-2 or 11-1, look out.

Hooker’s 12-game pace is:

  • 3,437 passing yards
  • 24-0 TD-INT
  • 554 rushing yards
  • 7 rushing TDs

As impressive as those numbers are, history suggests those aren’t Heisman-winning numbers. The last time a quarterback won the Heisman with fewer than 40 total touchdowns entering the ceremony was the aforementioned Smith, who was undeserving of the award with just 31 total touchdowns pre-Heisman in 2006.

Times have changed. More importantly, offenses have changed. No team is a better example of that than Tennessee. The Vols had 33 scrimmage plays of 40 yards in the entire 35 games of the Jeremy Pruitt era (2018-20) and in the 18 games so far with Josh Heupel, Tennessee has 37 such plays. Hooker was responsible for 27 of them.

That’s why it’s not crazy to think that Hooker could average 4 touchdowns per week the rest of the way and hit that 40-touchdown mark in 12 games, especially if go-to target Cedric Tillman returns to form after his 2-game absence because of an ankle injury.

No matter how Saturday plays out, it does indeed feel like a massive Heisman spotlight game.

Let’s also not forget about Gibbs, who is on a 13-game pace for 1,629 scrimmage yards but just got more scrimmage touches (44) in his last 2 games than he had in his first 4 games combined (42). As a result, Gibbs averaged 196.5 scrimmage yards.

In order to have a legitimate shot at becoming the first running back to win the award since Derrick Henry in 2015, my guess is that 2,000 scrimmage yards pre-Heisman would be the number to reach. That would mean Gibbs would need to average 178 scrimmage yards in his final 7 games (that’s assuming Alabama wins the SEC West).

On the surface, one might think that pace will be a challenge with what awaits Gibbs on Saturday. The Vols rank No. 11 in FBS against the run having allowed just 89 rushing yards total per game, which is roughly half the scrimmage yards Gibbs would theoretically need to average to keep at that 2,000-yard, Heisman-worthy pace.

But that’s the beauty of Gibbs — he can beat you in the passing game, too. He was PFF’s highest-graded receiver among running backs last year (he’s No. 2 among Power 5 RBs this year), and through 6 games in the new offense, he’s got 22 catches for 220 yards and 3 scores. He’s got as many catches as Brock Bowers (22), he averages 10 yards per catch and he’s tied for 5th in the SEC in receiving touchdowns. That’s especially relevant against a Tennessee defense that ranks No. 127 in FBS against the pass.

That’s why it feels like all roads lead to a significant Heisman performance by someone on Saturday at Neyland. Well, that is unless Young is still out and Anderson gets hurt in a game that turns out to be a rock fight, but I wouldn’t bank on that. The over/under is 65.5 points with Alabama as a 7.5-point favorite, so basically there’s an expectation that both teams will get into the 30s or close to it.

It’s been 19 years since Tennessee did that against Alabama. Shoot, Heupel’s 24 points last year were the most the Vols scored against the Tide since that game in 2003. With all due respect to that battle of former 5-star quarterbacks with Casey Clausen and Brodie Croyle, something tells me the talent on display on Saturday will be at a different level.

Maybe the MVP of Saturday’s showdown will vault into the new leader in the Heisman odds. The SEC would set a record this year if it had a 4th consecutive year in which it claimed the award. A game-changing highlight by any of the 4 left in this year’s race might be the first big “Heisman moment” of 2022.

You know. Just in case the stakes on Rocky Top weren’t high enough.