The unexpected reigns supreme this college football season.
Three of last year's playoff teams would miss the playoffs if the season ended today, according to the latest AP polling. The only one to still qualify, #4 Alabama, lost to a Zach Calzada-led Texas A&M squad two weeks ago. Those expected to land near the bottom of their conferences, such as Wake Forest and Michigan State, are undefeated, while projected favorites like Clemson and Iowa State have tumbled out of the playoff race entirely.
Trying to find some constant in a field full of uncertainty? Look no further than #2 Cincinnati.
After an undefeated campaign that saw the Bearcats snubbed from the College Football Playoff, Luke Fickell and company have returned with a vengeance. Unlike last year's group, this iteration of Cincy has notched some solid out of conference wins. Double-digit wins over Indiana and Notre Dame on the road are triumphs that even the notoriously stuffy CFP committee must begrudgingly respect.
No player has had more of an impact on Cincinnati's dominance than star quarterback Desmond Ridder. Ridder, a Louisville native, could have entered the NFL Draft following a breakout junior year. Instead, he opted to come back, and the results have been outstanding.
But have they been Heisman worthy? Other contenders from bigger schools, such as Alabama's Bryce Young, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, Ole Miss' Matt Corral, and even Oklahoma's Caleb Williams may get more fanfare, yet none have truly pulled ahead in the race. That leaves the door open for the veteran Ridder, who has taken his game, and his team, to another level.
Ridder Does More With Less
Winning the Heisman has never been about being the most valuable player. The honor is typically given to the athlete that best combines individual and team excellence, which usually favors historic powerhouses. However, Ridder's case should be boosted by the fact that his supporting cast simply isn't near the talent level of his Power 5 competitors.
Over the past three years, Cincinnati has had an average recruiting class ranked 52nd nationally, according to 247Sports. For context, during that time Alabama has been about 3rd nationally, Ohio State 7th, Oklahoma 9th, and Ole Miss 29th. While some rosters are carried by elite receivers and running backs, Ridder has never worked with an offensive skill position player ranked higher than three stars coming out of high school.
Ridder leading a less-talented Bearcats team to an undefeated record should be factored into the equation for Heisman voters. The play of someone like Young at Alabama or Williams at Oklahoma needs to come with a caveat, since we've seen other quarterbacks at those schools put up similar if not better numbers over the past decade. Ridder is carrying Cincinnati to its highest peak as a football program without throwing the ball to future NFL wideouts. That kind of history-making performance is what the Heisman should be rewarding.
Ridder Is A Dynamic Dual-Threat Quarterback
The Bearcats' record is impressive, but Ridder's stats stand out on their own. His ability throwing the ball has noticeably improved from 2020, with an across-the-board jump in QBR, passing yards per game, interception rate, and yards per attempt, according to Sports Reference CFB.
Ridder's rushing production has declined in 2021, which makes sense. Running for 12 touchdowns in 10 games two seasons in a row would be a tall task for any player. Still, a drop from 6 yards per rush to 3.2 may convince voters that Ridder isn't very involved in the run game, which is far from true.
In reality, the emergence of Alabama transfer Jerome Ford as the team's lead running back has taken pressure off of Ridder to do it all on offense. That hasn't stopped Ridder from making an impact; he's on pace to rush for six touchdowns. The end result has been an improved Cincinnati scoring attack averaging 43.5 points per game, good for sixth best in the nation.
Ridder Could Take Louisville To The College Football Playoff
The ultimate question that will likely determine the viability of Ridder's Heisman campaign: Can Cincinnati reach the CFP?
So far, everything that has needed to happen for the Bearcats has. Former top seeds in Alabama, Clemson, Oregon, Ohio State, and Iowa have all fallen at some point in the year. Nobody other than #1 Georgia has truly dominated the competition, and even they could falter in a likely SEC championship matchup vs. the Crimson Tide.
Cincy has proven themselves as a force with their decisive victory over a Notre Dame squad that could realistically finish inside the top 10. While none of their final six games look too daunting, a date with #21 SMU on November 20th presents Cincinnati with the opportunity to notch another quality win.
Desmond Ridder is a winner who is on the precipice of doing what many thought was impossible: bringing a Group of Five team to the postseason. Along the way, he has orchestrated one of the nation's most potent passing attacks while sprinkling in the electric rushing ability he displayed last season.
If Ridder's play stays consistent and the team stays undefeated, then the choice for this year's Heisman is simple. When the kid from Kentucky takes home the hardware in New York City, don't be surprised. He's earned it.