Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Kenny Pickett, Aidan Hutchinson named Heisman Trophy finalists for 2021

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud were announced Monday as the finalists for the Heisman Trophy.

Three quarterbacks headlined the nominees during a 2021 season that lacked a clear front-runner into November and was highlighted by great defensive performances.

Quarterbacks have dominated the award in recent years, winning 17 times since 2000, and taking home four of the past five trophies. Last year, Alabama's DeVonta Smith was the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since Desmond Howard in 1991.

Young, a sophomore, was considered a favorite heading into the season, but as the games transpired, it was defensive players like his teammate linebacker Will Anderson Jr., Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis and Hutchinson who stood out.

But after throwing for 421 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-24 win over the then top-ranked Bulldogs in the SEC championship game on Saturday, Young, who is in his first season as a starter, now projects as the overwhelming favorite to take home the award.

He is listed at -4000 odds at Caesars Sportsbook, followed by Hutchinson at 20-1. Stroud and Pickett are each 30-1.

Young, who played backup to Mac Jones during his freshman year, finished the regular season with 4,322 passing yards, 46 touchdowns (three of them on the ground) and only 4 interceptions while completing 68% of his passes.

Young could become Alabama's fourth Heisman winner, second consecutive, but first quarterback. Alabama would also become the sixth school to boast back-to-back Heisman winners.

Hutchinson was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and has been both the anchor and the hammer of Michigan's stout defense. He has recorded 58 tackles and 14 sacks (a single-season Michigan record and second in FBS) and burst onto the national scene during Michigan's victory over rival Ohio State. In a game that would eventually propel the Wolverines to the Big Ten championship game and College Football Playoff, Hutchinson helped stump the Buckeyes' offense and recorded a season-high seven tackles and three sacks.

Hutchinson is Todd McShay's No. 1 overall player in his latest 2022 draft rankings.

Though the Heisman has been largely won by offensive players, Michigan has some history with players on the other side of the ball. Charles Woodson in 1997 is still the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman, and Jabrill Peppers -- the last Wolverines player to be nominated -- was also a defender.

Pickett's story stands out as he's the senior of the four candidates. He arrived at Pittsburgh in 2017, became the Panthers' full-time starter in 2018, and struggled through some mediocre seasons before getting an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

In his fifth season at Pitt, the 23-year-old broke out and set the ACC record for most touchdown passes with 43, overtaking numbers set by Jameis Winston and Deshaun Watson. He added a whopping 4,319 passing yards and a 67.2 completion percentage to boot, as well as the program's first ACC title.

Stroud is the freshman of the bunch, but he led the country in QBR while throwing for 3,862 yards and 38 touchdowns, which led the Big Ten. The Southern California native won the conference's freshman of the year award and was also named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. If he were to bring home the Heisman, Stroud would become only the third freshman winner, joining Johnny Manziel and Winston.

The Heisman Trophy will be presented Saturday in New York (8 p.m. ET on ESPN), returning to its usual routine and date after it was forced to delay and go virtual last year due to the pandemic.

ESPN's David Purdum and The Associated Press contributed to this report.