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Column: Go ahead and start engraving C.J. Stroud’s Heisman Trophy

<knock on wood> Stroud made a strong case for why he’s the best player in college football.

Arkansas State v Ohio State Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

It’s no secret that C.J. Stroud is a key player in the Heisman Trophy conversation this year, if not the all-around favorite. The 2021 Heisman finalist was near-perfect in Saturday’s game against Toledo, and though it’s a little early to be firming up predictions in a sport where anything can happen, he’s done a lot to cement himself as a frontrunner.

Still, I have had conversations with multiple friends, family members, fellow Buckeyes, and college football fans that wrote off Stroud’s Heisman hopes for this year, instead once again favoring Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (last year’s winner).

Young is a more robust player, they say. He has a more complete game, they think.

I love to take a hard stance early so I can say “I told you so” later (I made a bet in 2014 that the Cubs would win the World Series in 2016 and famously considered a career shift to fortune-telling). So after Week 3 of the college football season, I’m ready to get on board the “The Heisman is Stroud’s” express.

Stroud has put up unreal numbers in the first three games of the season, which weren’t all throw-away games as they have been in past years. The season-opening win against Notre Dame did a lot to put Stroud on the board, but it was really his stellar performances against Arkansas State and ultimately, yesterday’s “Show No Mercy” game against Toledo that are keeping him at the top of the convo.

Certainly, it didn’t hurt that Stroud had Jaxon Smith-Ngijba and Julian Fleming back on the field this week. With their help, he had a star turn of a night. Stroud didn’t play the full game, as is standard when the margin of victory is that large, but his first-half statistics alone would have been a stellar full game for any player. In just the first half, he went 18-for-20, throwing for 297 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. In the second half, he … just kept going. 22-for-27, 367 yards, five more touchdowns. Still no interceptions.

By the time he left the game to rest, he had thrown for 664 yards and nine touchdowns.

Sure, his critics will say Toledo isn’t exactly a worthy opponent. But Notre Dame was, and even though Stroud looked a little rusty to open the season, he quickly found his stride and has gotten better and better each week.

It’s certainly too early to completely write off Young, USC’s Caleb Williams, or Georgia’s Stetson Bennett. All are incredible athletes, Georgia looks to be formidable this year, and there is a lot of season left to play. But the committee hesitates to give the award to the same guy twice, so unless Bama is unquestionably dominant (and they’ve already shown signs of weakness), we can probably count him out. Plus, if the Buckeyes continue to field the version of Stroud we saw yesterday, that’s a man who is giving a performance for the ages and in return, he should lock in that trophy.

He wasn’t perfect against Notre Dame, but he also gets a little bit of slack because there are season-opening jitters, he lost one of his best receivers in Smith-Ngijba to an injury during the game, and he still got the job done. And since then, he continues to get better and better.

I sincerely look forward to Stroud riding the momentum from these first three games. If the Buckeyes dominate Wisconsin the way they probably should, Stroud has a great shot at silencing his critics as OSU dives into their more challenging Big Ten schedule.

Big victories against worthy opponents, a potential playoff berth, and other factors could help him continue to climb the ladder. But if he performs the way he did yesterday, he’s already several rungs ahead of his peers.

So I look forward to hearing his name called and saying, “I told you so” to anyone who didn’t believe in him after yesterday’s game, because this guy is the real deal, and mark my words, that trophy is his.