Breece Hall had an opportunity to become the first Heisman Trophy winner from Iowa State and buck a bizarre Heisman trend. And while Hall had another monster season with 1,774 total yards and 23 total touchdowns, he finished 10th in Heisman voting, miles behind Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, whose runaway victory extended the trend.
As a true freshman in 2020, Young appeared in only seven games, completing 13 of 22 passes in garbage-time relief of Mac Jones, and, obviously, didn’t receive a single vote for the Heisman. Jones received 138 first-place votes en route to a third-place finish before joining eight other top-10 finishers in leaving for the NFL.
Hall (sixth) was the only top-10 finisher who returned to college football in 2021, which set the stage for the likely continuation of a Heisman trend that favors players who didn’t finish in the top 10 the previous season. Since Troy Smith defeated Darren McFadden (second), Brady Quinn (third), and others in 2006, only one player has won the Heisman after finishing in the top 10 the previous season: Baker Mayfield.
McFadden finished second again in 2007, narrowly losing to Tim Tebow, who wasn’t in the top 10 a year earlier, nor was Sam Bradford in 2007 before winning in 2008, or Mark Ingram in 2008 before winning in 2009. Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston, Marcus Marota, Derrick Henry, and Lamar Jackson followed suit.
The streak ended at 11 seasons when Mayfield, one year after finishing third behind Jackson and Deshaun Watson, earned more than 80 percent of the first-place votes to win in 2017. He was the first player to win one year after a top-10 finish since Reggie Bush followed his fifth-place finish in 2004 with a win in 2005.
This season was a historically light year for top-10 returnees; it was the fewest top-10 returnees in the award’s 87-year history. That won’t be the case in 2022 as Young, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (fourth), and Alabama linebacker Will Anderson (fifth) become the first trio of top-five finishes to return since Christian McCaffrey (second in 2015), Deshaun Watson (third), and Baker Mayfield (fourth) in 2016.
And if Young, Stroud, or Anderson win the Heisman in 2022, they’ll be just the second winner to do so after a top-10 finish the previous year since 2006.
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