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How realistic is a Heisman campaign for Matt Corral in 2021?

Ole Miss might have a finalist for the first time since Eli Manning 18 years ago.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Mississippi Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

When asked to predict who would win the Heisman trophy this season, past Heisman winner Robert Griffin III had this to say.

“I’m going with the most fun to watch gunslinger in all of college football, Matt Corral. I think he’s going to fix his turnover in bunches issue, and he’s going to go out and lead Ole Miss to be a serious contender in the College Football Playoff. It’s not the safe pick. It’s not the trendy pick. But this guy’s exciting.”

RGIII isn’t the only person predicting this. For instance, ESPN’s Tom Luginbill says Corral looks better than Heisman darling Spencer Rattler. ON ESPN’s COllege Gameday, Lee Corso predicted Corral will win the trophy as well.

Some Ole Miss fans have been a little quick to mount Heisman campaigns for players in the past, pushing for any quarterback or running back who’s pretty good. This is different though. These aren’t Ole Miss fans only. Many people who are relevant on a national stage are already talking up our favorite Californian.

Vegas has also taken notice.

As of this writing, here are the Vegas odds for who will win the Heisman.

  • Bryce Young (Alabama) +400
  • Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma) +800
  • D.J. Uiagalelei (Clemson) +1200
  • Matt Corral (Ole Miss) +1200
  • C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) +1200
  • J.T. Daniels (Georgia) +1500
  • Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) +2500
  • Sam Howell (UNC) +2500
  • Bijan Robinson (Texas) +2500
  • Emory Jones (Florida) +3500

One thing you’ll notice is that Corral isn’t exactly the only quarterback in the top ten. In fact, only one player (Robinson) plays any position other than QB. Clearly, winning over Heisman voters without touching the ball every play is hard thing to do, particularly recently.

While Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith won last season, only one other non-QB (Alabama RB Derrick Henry) has won the award in the past ten years. In order to get a sense of what Corral might need to do to win over voters, let’s take a look at those previous ten winners and what seems most convincing about them.

  • Eight of the last ten Heisman winners played on a team that won 11 or more games with Lamar Jackson and RGIII as the only outliers.
  • Only four of the last ten Heisman winners won a National Championship, but they were nearly all at the very least in close contention for one.
  • Seven of the last ten winners were from schools who are traditionally strong programs while they may experience ups and downs, they have a national pedigree and reach

Of the players who have won at non-traditional powers, there are some common themes. Namely, they either won a lot of games or had a defining “Heisman moment.”

Let’s talk about Heisman moments.

Lamar Jackson and RGIII each had one.

For Lamar Jackson, it was scoring 63 points against No. 2 Florida State. That game was the coming out party for Jackson, ushering in a season that saw him score 51 touchdowns while rushing for an astonishing 1,500 yards. Jackson had the moment and the stats, even if his team wasn’t incredible.

RGIII’s Heisman moment came against No. 5 Oklahoma in the middle of the season. The Bears won 45-38, thanks to Griffin’s 479 passing yards and four touchdowns. That game was another in a long list of stunning offensive outputs from the signal-caller, who finished the season with over 5,000 yards of offense.

So Corral needs to win games, put up prolific stats, and have a stellar performance on a big stage.

Certainly the first requirement there is a bit out of his hands. Sure, he can will the team to victory, but the defense needs to stop opposing offenses a decent amount in order to keep Corral playing calmly.

Against Louisville, Corral’s stats weren’t magnificent. That’s not to say he didn’t play a great game, but that’s a very different thing than putting up huge stats. I personally would prefer to see the refined “take what the defense gives you” Matt Corral all season, as I think it gives Ole Miss the best chance to win a lot of games. If we’re talking about what he needs to do to win the Heisman though, it’s passing for insane stats and doing well on the ground.

And then there’s the Heisman moment element of it all. Luckily, playing in the SEC West, Corral has a couple of chances at those. The Rebels play three games against top 25 teams at the moment, and there are likely several others who will play their way into being ranked. Unfortunately, beating up on a team outside the top ten probably isn’t enough.

Corral almost certainly has to fight and beat Alabama and/or Texas A&M. Both will be tough, but if Corral simply matches his performance against Alabama from a year ago (21/28 for 365 yards and 2 TDs), even that level of offensive output could be enough if the Rebels manage to win the game.

Of course, it’s a very tall task, but the Heisman trophy isn’t an easy thing to win for a reason.