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Can Chase Young make case for Heisman?

By DOUG LESMERISES • Oct 29, 2019 at 11:30 AM

COLUMBUS — Could Ohio State defensive Chase Young win the Heisman Trophy?

The Heisman Trophy, among all sporting awards, is the one most likely to be influenced by media coverage, because the voters are media members, and many of them aren’t wrapped up in college football every day.

There are 870 media voters, plus the roughly 60 former winners to get a vote, and those 900-plus voters after the weekend of conference championship games will read about and watch highlights of the best players in college football.

For Chase Young to win the Heisman, they’ll have to do one more thing — open their minds. The voters will have to allow in the possibility of voting for a defensive end. If they let that seed of consideration take root, then a 6-foot-5, 265-pound record-smashing future No. 1 draft pick will blow up tackles, rip apart quarterbacks, create highlights and do the rest.

“I think it would be good for college football,” said Greg Young, Chase’s father, just before Urban Meyer pulled him onto the Fox Sports postgame show after Ohio State’s 38-7 win over Wisconsin last week. “For a defensive player to get it, it would be good for college football.”

Charles Woodson is the only defensive player to win the Heisman, but offensive snaps and special teams skills put the Michigan defensive back over the top in 1997. Young won’t have that. He’ll have sacks and dominance, and the status as the best player on what might be college football’s best team.

All of that could go a long way. Expect Ohio State to sit out a formal push for any of their players for several more weeks, but Ohio State doesn’t really need to put on Heisman campaigns. It’s not a matter of getting the word out on Young.

It’s a matter of voters accepting it. I think he has a chance to win. But the minds must be opened.

That’s what I told Young and his father after Ohio State’s win pushed the Buckeyes to 8-0, as Young tied Ohio State’s single-game sack record with four, giving him 13.5 for the season. That performance turned the Heisman discussion from a murmur to a debate.

Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt talked about it on the Fox Sports broadcast. Brady Quinn talked about it on the Fox postgame. National college football writer Pete Thamel, who dropped a major profile of Young this week, attacked the topic after the game.

But ask Chase Young to make a case for any defensive player as a Heisman candidate. He did so as he grabbed his bag and headed toward the team bus after Saturday’s win.

“Look at how the stats may be from that side of the ball,” Young said, “not really comparing it to the offensive side of the ball at all.”

Young made the point that a quarterback with big stats can be helped by great receivers and a great offensive line. For defenders, “you’ve got your technique," Young said. So can a pass rusher influence the game as much as a quarterback?

“Definitely,” Young said. “I think we scored right off the two fumbles. I feel like that’s affecting the game as much as the quarterback. That’s two touchdowns.”

He’s right. Young sacked quarterback Jack Coan and forced a fumble at the end of the third quarter that set up a 55-yard touchdown drive. He did it again on the next drive early in the fourth quarter, forcing another Coan fumble, and set up a 45-yard touchdown drive.

This is where even broaching the subject could seem like politicking. It’s not. Young told another reporter he tries to keep the Heisman talk out of his mind. But those of us covering the team are going to keep asking. It’s interesting. He’s deserving. It’s not distracting.

Ohio State moved Young around more Saturday and let him freelance and find more rushing lanes, and that should only increase the pressure on offenses. With 13.5 sacks in eight games, could Young close in on the NCAA single-season record of 24 after playing 13 games? Does 10.5 sacks in five games against Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Michigan and in the Big Ten Championship sound impossible? Even 20 sacks before the Heisman voting deadline on Dec. 9 would give Young’s candidacy a stat to hang a case on.

Voters like stats.

In the last 50 years, two defensive players have finished second in the Heisman voting — Pitt defensive end Hugh Green in 1980 and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in 2012. Young’s candidacy could be stronger than either. Green had 17 sacks for an 11-1 Pitt team that finished No. 2, as South Carolina running George Rogers won the Heisman. College football has evolved and expanded so much since then, voters will see Young’s dominance far more than they saw Green’s.

Meanwhile, Te’o was the leader of the Notre Dame team that reached the title game in 2012, as Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman.

I am one of those 870 media Heisman voters, and I voted for Te’o that year as the best player on a team that reached the national championship game because of its defense. But that No. 1 Notre Dame team wasn’t quite as frightening as this Ohio State team, as Alabama’s 42-14 win over the Fighting Irish eventually showed. Middle linebacker isn’t as glamorous as defensive end.

I think Young could be as dominant as Green, but while playing on a traditional national power like Te’o. This potentially could be the best pure defensive Heisman case ever.

“He is as good as I’ve been around, again, because he’s so versatile,” Ryan Day said after Saturday’s win. “This is a game that was set up for him to kind of get eaten up with multiple surfaces and multiple tight ends. You kind of get lost in the running game, and he dominated. I think it goes to show you how tough he is. His leadership has been off the charts. His energy — he’s the one who’s driving and pushing those guys up front. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

The Buckeyes may need to keep saying them. As they do, minds may be opening. When Young walked off the field after his last sack, he threw his arms to the side while slowly moving toward his teammates on the bench. Young did that because he said he felt his late grandfather, Carl Robinson, was with him in the moment.

“I just felt his presence randomly out of nowhere,” said Young, who has a tattoo for his grandfather. “That was just me putting my arms out to embrace him.”

Maybe Young welcomed in some voters in that moment as well. The ballots aren’t due for six weeks. For now, voters who might be reading this, just keep the idea in mind. The leading contenders at quarterback may cancel each other out, and a defensive end like you’ve never seen may be there waiting.

Maybe that means voters will change their thinking.