College football: Top players to watch as the Heisman Trophy race heats up

New York, New York - Less than a month remains until college football's Heisman finalists are selected, and players are making a final push to make last-minute impressions in the final stretch of the season.

Hendon Hooker of Tennessee (l), CJ Stroud of Ohio State (c), and Blake Corum of Michigan are the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy after 11 weeks of college football.
Hendon Hooker of Tennessee (l), CJ Stroud of Ohio State (c), and Blake Corum of Michigan are the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy after 11 weeks of college football.  © Collage: Todd Kirkland / Michael Reaves / Mike Mulholland

The race for the Heisman Trophy is particularly hot this year, and after all the Week 10 madness and Week 11 rebounds, the race is still wide open.

Quarterback Hendon Hooker of Tennessee may no longer be the front-runner for the trophy, but his dazzling showing during Week 11 might be reason enough to add him back to the conversation.

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud has reclaimed the top spot as the Heisman Trophy favorite since defeating Northwestern, and his win against Indiana over the weekend only distanced the Buckeye further from the rest.

Still, nothing is guaranteed in football, and Stroud has stiff competition for the prestigious trophy.

Hailing from his rival school, Blake Corum of Michigan has been running full speed towards the trophy with outstanding performances each week.

Bo Nix of Oregon has been named as the "sleep" contender for the prize after sneaking up in the season with some strong appearances, and Caleb Williams of USC has been a consistent player this season who can also pop up as one of the four names for the award.

Here are the top five candidates for the Heisman Trophy as the regular season draws near and the December 10 award ceremony nears.

CJ Stroud – quarterback, Ohio State

As long as Ohio State keeps winning, Stroud is going to be near the top of the Heisman race!

In last weekends huge 56-14 win over Indiana, Stroud completed 17 of 28 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns – keeping the Buckeyes’ hopes of a Big Ten title and a return to the College Football Playoff strong.

Following his stunning performance amid the poor weather conditions, Stroud earned his third Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor and his second Maxwell Award national player of the week honors.

A semi-finalist of the Maxwell Award and the only Heisman finalist from last year to return to the race this season, the Buckeye passer has broken several records, including the Big Ten Conference record for the most single-game passing touchdowns (6).

Currently, Ohio State is 10-0 with Maryland left before the grueling showdown against rival Michigan, and Stroud is sure to put on some strong performances in his final games ahead.

Hendon Hooker – quarterback, Tennessee

Hooker's Heisman hopes took a major hit during Week 10 after falling to Georgia, but the Vols' QB is back and looking like the loss never even happened.

In the game against Missouri last weekend, the Vols posted a program record of 724 total offensive yards, and Hooker accounted for 405 yards.

The redshirt senior earned this third SEC Offensive Player of the Week honor this season after finishing with 25 of 35 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns. Hooker also rushed for a 50-yard touchdown score.

Currently ranked No. 5 in the playoffs rankings, the Vols still find themselves in the hunt for a College Football Playoff spot with two weeks left of the regular season.

Blake Corum – running back, Michigan

It's been seven years since the last Heisman Trophy was awarded to a running back, but Blake Corum is making a strong case to revive the position back to elite award-winning status.

Corum is arguably the best rushing player this season, and he's consistently led the nation as one of the highest graded running backs.

The junior Wolverine led the nation for several weeks with the most rushing touchdowns (16), and will head into the final two weeks of the regular season with 17 rushing scores and 1,349 yards.

Drake Maye – quarterback, North Carolina

Out of the dust, a new candidate has emerged for the Heisman Trophy and he hails from the ACC.

As just a freshman, Drake Maye has become one of the most valuable college football players of the 2022 season.

The Tar Heel passer has thrown for 3,412 yards and currently ties Stroud at No. 1 for the most touchdown passes at 34. Maye has topped 300 yards passing in seven of Carolina's 10 games, put 584 rushing yards on the ground so far in the season, and will now lead the Tar Heels to their second ever conference championships.

Following his outstanding performance against Wake Forest last weekend that clinched the ACC Coastal Divisional title, Maye earned several honors: The Walter Camp Football Foundation National Offensive Player of the Week, the Davey O'Brien National QB of the Week, and the Manning Award's Stars of the Week honor.

Caleb Williams – quarterback, USC

This season, Williams has been forced to carry a heavy load for the USC Trojans, but the Oklahoma transfer has lived up to the task.

In five games this year, he's thrown for at least 300 yards, passed for 1,152 yards, and attributed to 14 touchdowns with no interceptions in three of those games.

While Williams' performance last weekend wasn't his best, the quarterback still threw 14 completions for 268 yards and had three touchdowns, allowing USC to cruise to a huge 55-17 victory , despite the Trojans losing running back Travis Dye to injury.

Williams' final tests will come as USC faces off against UCLA and Notre Dame to close out the regular season and potentially earn a trip to the Pac-12 championships.

Cover photo: Collage: Todd Kirkland / Michael Reaves / Mike Mulholland

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