From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about our Unreasonable Expectations. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our Unreasonable Expectations here.
Ohio State ranks first all-time Heisman Trophy winners with seven total, tied with three other programs, and claims the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in Archie Griffin. There is a lot of history when it comes to the Ohio State Buckeyes and the most illustrious award in the sport.
The Buckeyes most recent winner was Troy Smith in 2006, as he led Ohio State to an undefeated regular season, and put an exclamation point on his candidacy with an epic win in the Game of the Century over No. 2 ranked Michigan. Since 2018, Ohio State has had a Heisman finalist five times with Dwayne Haskins Jr., Justin Fields, Chase Young, and C.J. Stroud twice. Unfortunately, Ohio State’s contenders have been unable to get over the hump, but under Ryan Day there is a guarantee that the Buckeye offense puts up huge stats.
Those huge stats lead to Heisman level performances from players, and this is why this year is the year they get one. To me that is not an unreasonable expectation — Ohio State has seven winners and seven additional finalists spread over eight decades. That is an absurd standard of individual excellence from the football program, and one that seems to be a new set standard at Ohio State with the elevation of quarterback play.
My reasonable expectation is the Buckeyes will have two Heisman finalists this season, I believe they will have one winner, which takes this to the unreasonable level. The unreasonable expectation is Ohio State will have a finalist and a winner of the Heisman Trophy.
History of Multiple Heisman Finalists
In the history of the Heisman, there have been 46 (48 with only runner ups counted) teams who have placed more than one player in the top-10 in voting according to the Heisman website. That means out of the 86 times the trophy has been handed out, over half the years has teams getting multiple finalists into the top-10. That is why the two Heisman finalists take is not that unreasonable which is why we had to take this to another level.
Ohio State has a rich history in having multiple finalists. They are one of two teams to have three players finish in the top five, with the Army Black Knights being the other. And the Buckeyes’ 1969 and 1971 teams join Army and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as the only teams with three finalists in the top-10. Alabama and Ohio State definitely have two more teams with at least two players in the top-5.
15 Heisman winners were joined by their teammate or multiple in the Top-10 of Heisman voting meaning, there is not always a guarantee that two invites wins it. A big reason for that, if you have two Heisman candidates or more, they tend to split votes on who is the more deserving player. Think about Justin Fields and Chase Young. They had equal impacts on their respective side of the ball, so they split votes. That really didn’t matter in the end with Joe Burrow running away with the award, but this does show that having two is not always the greatest.
Looking at the history, Ohio State would join elite company with a Heisman finalists and a Heisman winner. The two players that need to do it historically are an offense-defense combo or a quarterback-skill position combo, and rarely as well as far away in the past a skill-line/TE combo. That is where Ohio State has an ideal opportunity to get this unreasonable expectation done.
The Betting Odds
Using the betting odds from DraftKings Sportsbook, Ohio State has three players in the top-18 betting odds to win the Heisman Trophy. None of the three are the favorite, but these players all are in a reasonable range. The list includes Kyle McCord (+2200), Marvin Harrison Jr. (+2800), and TreVeyon Henderson (+3000).
This does not take into consideration some of the other longshot options, but the reality of the situation is a Heisman winner at Ohio State this season will likely come from Kyle McCord or Marvin Harrison Jr. The last non quarterback to win the award was Devonta Smith of Alabama after having an iconic season that culminated in a national championship win we do not need to talk about. Prior to Smith, Derrick Henry was the last running back to get it done in 2015, and I just don’t see Henderson getting that level of carries.
For Ohio State to get this done, I would argue it would have to be done with the quarterback-receiver duo. I do not think McCord can win the award and get Harrison Jr. there, so that means it would have to be Harrison Jr. winning the award. Place your bet, because this unreasonable expectation is not unreasonable when you think about it.
Historically similar example
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Devonta Smith was the last non-quarterback to win the Heisman. His co-finalist for the award was first year starting quarterback Mac Jones, who lit up the SEC with an incredibly efficient season. Smith won this award because he put up elite stats and made plays in big moments. He shared the spotlight with stars like Najee Harris, John Metchie, Jaylen Waddle and the aforementioned quarterback.
This shows that there is a recent precedent and Ohio State does not need to worry about maintaining a balanced attack to get Harrison Jr. more touches. Henderson and the running backs can still have a big year, Emeka Egbuka can still put up the totals he did last season, and if a third receiver steps up a bit, there is no issues there either.
What made Smith’s season so special is his dominant performances and plays in crucial moments. Think back on Marvin Harrison Jr.’s career. His coming out party was three touchdowns in the Rose Bowl, he had a 120 yards and a touchdown against Michigan, and before his injury two touchdowns with 106 yards against Georgia. This was in his first year as a full-time starter.
Smith started his career with a similar spot duty as Harrison, with his biggest moment coming on the biggest stage he played — the touchdown to beat Georgia. After that he had a solid sophomore year, but his junior season was the true table setter for his Heisman trophy candidacy. His reputation was built, and he established himself as a viable candidate to win the award.
For any non-quarterback position, it feels as though this has become a two-year award. Harrison Jr. has the reputation and talent to win the award. He has shown himself to be a vitally important part to Ohio State’s success and Heisman voters are quick to fall in love with a good story. With few points made about McCord, he literally has to be great for Harrison Jr. to win this job.
The reasonable expectation is Ohio State having a Heisman Finalist. The offense is too explosive to not get one player invited to New York. A less reasonable, but still realistic expectation is for Ohio State to have two Heisman finalists. Historically, teams that are elite have multiple players who can be considered contenders for the most illustrious award in college football. But to have one finalist and one winner is rare, making that my unreasonable expectation for the season.
This thought exercise should not make you expect this happening, but historically if Ohio State is as elite as many expect, there is a real possibility that the Buckeyes are able to have a Heisman winner as well as an additional finalist in New York. Even when Ohio State did not have a national championship winner, they had two extremely talented players who warranted an invite to the ceremony.
Ryan Day will have this offense putting up huge stats as always, so at the end, the Buckeyes just have to outperform Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and whoever else may step up this season. The Buckeyes will be better than USC, North Carolina, and you can bet assuredly at least 126 teams in the country. That to me means in December, Ohio State will have two players in New York City with one giving a speech.
I have convinced myself that this should be expected. This is not an unreasonable expectation, and actually a bold prediction.