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Heisman Watch 2022: C.J. Stroud vs. Blake Corum, the game within The Game

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and Michigan running back Blake Corum clash in a game that could decide the Heisman Trophy race.

They’ve met 117 times, and the stakes have arguably never been higher in The Game.

Ohio State and Michigan have played with a spot in the College Football Playoff all but hanging in the balance, doing so in 2018. They’ve played as undefeateds, with matchups in 1970, 1973, 1975 and 2006. They’ve played with Heisman Trophy contenders on both sides of the field as unbeatens, including 2006 with eventual winner Troy Smith taking on Mike Hart.

They’ve never played with all those side dishes on the proverbial table at once — Until now. They clash Saturday in Columbus when the No. 2 Buckeyes and third-ranked Wolverines meet in a game that could help decide the Heisman winner with C.J. Stroud and Blake Corum on the field … that is if the Michigan running back suits up.

His status is up in the air after injuring his knee in last weekend’s win over Illinois, but Corum told reports “he would be back” and it would be stunning if he didn’t take the field in a game with so much on the line.

As far as the narrative around this trophy, there’s Stroud, the summer darling, who has weathered the storms that took the likes of Alabama’s Bryce Young and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker out of the race. The Ohio State quarterback enters Saturday at -135, per BetMGM.

On the other side is Corum, who is fourth overall at +1100 in the latest odds.
While USC’s Caleb Williams has the second-best odds (+125) and can power his Trojans to the playoff to strengthen his case, Williams doesn’t have a chance to outduel the favorite, deny him a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game and put a dent in his playoff hopes. Corum has that chance, while also putting his Wolverines in position to play for a national championship.

Among the candidates who have a legitimate chance at the trophy — a list that has dwindled considerably within the last week — there’s simply no bigger statement that can be made.

Own this moment, and it’s easy to see one exiting Ohio Stadium as the clear leader, with a spot in the Big Ten finale and their team one step closer to the playoff — but what if dominating The Game doesn’t result in a win?

Since 1990 three players suffered a loss in the last game before ballots were due and still won: Lamar Jackson (2016), Eric Crouch (2001) and Eddie George (1995). Jackson is the only one to come in the playoff era, but his loss didn’t come at the hands of another contender, and he didn’t get hit with a defeat that would keep his team out of a conference title game, and potentially, the playoff as well.

Frankly, gauging Corum or Stroud in a loss is uncharted territory since everything began revolving around making the sport’s final four. Even in the five years that every Power 5 conference has had a title game, Jackson is the lone Heisman winner that didn’t qualify for championship weekend, and again, he wasn’t denied that spot by a fellow challenger for the trophy.

So, all is not lost if Stroud or Corum’s Thanksgiving weekend ends in the loss column, but it would certainly cloud things if the perceived leader is on the sideline on the final week of the regular season. It gets even murkier if Stroud shines, but Michigan wins without Corum.

What’s clear now, is one of the sport’s great rivalries is amplified, and it figures to have a major say in who ends up hoisting the Heisman come Dec. 10.

Before we look at who is rising and falling heading into the Week 13 games, here’s a look at this voter’s latest virtual ballot.

1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
2. Caleb Williams, USC
3. Blake Corum, Michigan

Heisman stock watch: Which candidates are heating up, which are falling off?

BUY: Caleb Williams, USC

It’s getting real, as USC launched its push for Caleb Williams with a video that goes through all that “He is …,” including “Culture,” “Superman,” “Change,” and ending with “He is HE13MAN.”

Who can blame the Trojans’ sports information department for going all in? Williams is up to second in the odds and has a closing stretch that should end with three straight Top-25 matchups, a run that got off to a resounding start with 503 total yards, two touchdowns passing and another rushing vs. UCLA.

No. 6 USC is headed for the Pac-12 Championship Game, but first comes No. 15 Notre Dame and a chance to stack Williams up against some other contenders on the shortlist. Stroud threw for 223 and two touchdowns vs. the Fighting Irish on Sept. 3 and North Carolina’s Drake Maye went for 301 yards passing and five touchdowns and rushed for 36 more yards on Sep. 24.

Since seeing Maye and the Tar Heels, the Irish have allowed 18.1 points and 295 yards per game, but Williams is on a roll — racking up 381 yards and four touchdowns per over the last five — and that should continue Saturday. Keep in mind that should he put on a show vs. the Irish, he only figures to benefit with Corum or Stroud’s resumé potentially taking a hit as they meet head-to-head.

SELL: Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

Three weeks have changed everything for Hendon Hooker. Going into the Georgia game, he had taken over the lead, and it seemed he was going to make a real run at the first Heisman in Tennessee history.

That’s all over with now. The loss to the Bulldogs set Hooker back, but then South Carolina brought Hooker’s campaign, and unfortunately his season, as he tore his ACL in a blowout loss.

Hooker is now off the board at every major sportsbook, and while he’s still likely to be in the top 10 — which would be the only such finish for the Volunteers since Peyton Manning was runner-up in 1997 — it’s one of the more dramatic falls in recent memory.

The most comparable cases of late were Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, who in 2019 went from the odds-on favorite after eight weeks to 10th in the voting in a season cut short by injury; and West Virginia’s Geno Smith, the leader after Week 8, who didn’t even finish in the top 10 after his team’s freefall.

BUY: Max Duggan, TCU

How high can Max Duggan push in a race where he still seems to be fighting for attention?

He’s thrown for 2,858 yards, fewer than Maye, Williams, Hooker, Bo Nix, Stetson Bennett IV and Stroud; Duggan’s 26 touchdowns trail Stroud, Maye, Williams and Hooker; and Stroud, Hooker and Maye all have higher efficiency ratings. But no other contender has a clear path to the playoff, with the No. 4 Horned Frogs playing 4-7 Iowa State and either No. 12 Kansas State — which TCU beat by 10 points Oct. 22 — or No. 23 Texas — whom the Horned Frogs topped 17-10 on Nov. 12 — in the Big 12 Championship Game.

It’s unlikely Duggan can bypass Corum, Stroud or Williams without a ranked opponent left on the schedule, but should TCU keep rolling, there’s still a chance he could show up on enough ballots to make the ceremony.

The Horned Frogs haven’t had a finalist since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2000.

SELL: Drake Maye, North Carolina

With Hooker tumbling out of the race and Stroud and Corum set for a de facto elimination game, Maye really picked a bad time to have his worst game of the season.

He was held without a touchdown pass for the first time — Josh Downs dropping a potential game-winner playing a part — and the redshirt freshman threw for a season-low 202 yards in last weekend’s loss to Georgia Tech. Maye is still third in the nation in yards (3,614), second in touchdowns (34) and fourth in efficiency (173.09), but overtaking players on playoff contenders, including the preseason favorite in Stroud, was going to take a truly transcendent season.

As high as third and as low as fifth in the odds from various sportsbooks, Maye could still get to New York if the No. 17 Tar Heels can take care of rival N.C. State this week and then beat No. 8 Clemson for the ACC Championship, but the program’s first ticket to the ceremony is a lot longer shot than it was a week ago.

BUY: Bo Nix, Oregon

Still on the list of potential finalists, the best that Bo Nix can really hope for at this point is to play spoiler with the Pac-12’s leading candidate in Williams, and he’s in for a battle if he’s going to get a chance to face the Trojans quarterback in Las Vegas.

In order to key that date with USC, No. 9 Oregon has to beat rival Oregon State in Corvallis. It’s a matchup the Ducks have dominated, with 12 wins in the last 14, games, but these 21st-ranked Beavers are no pushovers. They’re impressive on defense, allowing 17 or fewer points in five of the last seven games and have yielded 193.2 yards over the last four weeks.

Nix isn’t healthy, and a limited game figures to be a key storyline. He played through a right foot injury in the narrow victory over Utah, and it clearly limited his mobility. The fifth-year senior has run for 513 yard and 14 touchdowns and had a mere minus-3 yards on a season-low two rushes.

But even with Nix hobbled, he still managed to take down the then-No. 10 Utes. Nix should be able to provide enough big plays to offset a Beavers offense that’s produced a mere 47 plays of 20-plus yards, which is 78 in FBS.

SELL: Jayden Daniels, LSU

The “Sell” designation has little do with what we should expect from Jayden Daniels on Saturday at Texas A&M.

Daniels is coming off 297 yards passing, 111 rushing and two total touchdowns vs. UAB, and against ranked SEC opponents has poured in 328 yards a game. He’s going to put on a show vs. a four-win team that has allowed 415 or more four times, including 530 vs. Ole Miss and 492 against Florida.

Daniels finds himself in this category with odds that have climbed as high as +10000, equal footing to Nix and Maye, and slightly above Bennett (+12000). It’s going to take chaos for two-loss LSU to make the playoff, and likewise it’s going to take a lot of chaos for Daniels to come out of nowhere in this race.

For more College Football news, analysis, opinion and unique coverage by FanSided, including Heisman Trophy and College Football Playoff rankings, be sure to bookmark these pages.

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