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The Biggest Heisman Snubs Deserve More Recognition

Just like with the College Football Playoff itself, when it comes to the Heisman Trophy, plenty of fans, players and pundits believe that the voters got the top four wrong. While there's little debate that quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. from Washington, Bo Nix from Oregon and Jayden Daniels from LSU belong on the stage in New York, Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. has proved to be a controversial nominee. Who should have taken his place? Let's discuss a few possible answers below.

Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

I'm all for including players who aren't quarterbacks, but if we were going to tap into the wide receiver pool — a great choice in what turned out to be a phenomenal year to do so — Harrison was the wrong choice. He might be the most talented pass catcher in the country, and could have the brightest NFL future, but that's not what this award is about. If it was, Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel wouldn't own one apiece. It's about who had the best season-long performance — and at ninth in the country in yardage and 36th in receptions, Harrison is not that guy.

Malik Nabers, however, is exactly that guy. We've seen a quarterback and receiver grace this stage together in the past — such as Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook or Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith — and we should have seen it again this season with Jayden Daniels and his top target. Nabers leads the country in receiving yardage and is seventh in catches. All year long, he's put up big performances in big spots, and he accumulated numbers that Harrison ultimately did not come close to matching.

Ollie Gordon II, RB, Oklahoma State

STILLWATER, OK - OCTOBER 6:  Running back Ollie Gordon II #0 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys runs onto the field for a game against the Kansas State Wildcats at Boone Pickens Stadium on October 6, 2023 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  Oklahoma State won 29-21.

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In the vein of discussing statistically dominant performers, let's grab the nation's rushing and scrimmage yardage leader, Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon II. He averaged 6.3 yards per tote; and, yes, even if he didn't play in the Big 12 Championship Game, he would have still had more yardage than anyone else — other than Troy's Kimani Vidal, who also needed 13 games to get to his final total.

Gordon scored 20 times in addition to his 1,614 ground yards. He also had some great performances in key moments, such as his 138 yards and two scores in a massive rivalry win over Oklahoma. Unfortunately, he came up extremely short in the conference championship game against Texas — if he had generated one more great, big-game performance, he just might have made it to New York for the Heisman ceremony. But even so, his massive role in even getting an underdog Cowboys team to that point deserves more recognition than Harrison's campaign.

Xavier Watts, S, Notre Dame

It's been a phenomenal year for defense around the country, with so many contenders shying away from the all-offense approach we've seen all too often in recent years. So why not acknowledge that as part of the ceremony for the sport's highest individual honor?

There are dozens of incredible defenders we could pick for this spot, but let's choose the one who clearly is held in the highest regard by award voters: Notre Dame safety Xavier Watts. He just won the Bronko Nagurski trophy, essentially college football's version of the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award. A former wideout who has made a marvelous transition to the other side of the ball — quite like Michigan star and fan favorite Mike Sainristil — Watts anchored a great Fighting Irish defense by securing a nation-leading seven interceptions and even forcing a fumble.

Jalen Milroe, QB, Alabama

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 02: Jalen Milroe #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after passing for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Georgia Bulldogs  in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 02, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Sometimes, individual awards are about stories and narratives. Just ask everyone who voted for Penix, who still has an outside chance to secure the award. From that angle, Milroe fits the bill perfectly: Just as his team fell early to Texas, he went through his own individual struggles as he was benched but came back better than ever. He has the truest "Heisman moments" of anyone in the country, consisting of a miracle game-winning throw to beat Auburn and keep Alabama's playoff hopes alive — and, of course, ending Georgia's 29-game win streak and three-peat bid.

On a very similar note, Milroe can say something that only one of the four finalists can: He still has a chance to win a national championship. If Milroe wins two more games — one of which would be his second of the year over a team ranked No. 1 at the time, and the other would be against either a third undefeated squad or a triumphant revenge opportunity over Texas — he'll make voters look extremely foolish for neglecting his case.

Blake Corum, RB, Michigan

Harrison's case rests upon the fact that he was the focal point of a highly regarded offense and team, and was always the best player on the field (even if sparingly used at times) even if his numbers didn't reflect true dominance. That same logic applies doubly for Michigan's Blake Corum, who was even more definitively the engine of an even better offense — and, of course, still has a shot at winning it all after his Michigan Wolverines knocked off Harrison's Buckeyes.

Like Harrison, Corum's stats come up short in terms of yardage, as he wasn't used as heavily as he was a year ago to protect him from wear and tear after an ACL injury. However, unlike Harrison, he does have other numbers that really pop out, and not just from the field but also from the rest of history. He set a Michigan record with 24 rushing touchdowns on the year and is now tied atop the Wolverines' career list. He is the only player in the Football Bowl Subdivision to score in every game thus far. And has scored twice in nine of those games — including each of his last five — a stretch that includes ranked matchups with Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa, three of the best defenses in the country. Simply put, the case can be made that Corum is the best player on the best team and has consistently been at his best in the biggest spots. That's a Heisman.

Honorable Mentions

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 25: Rome Odunze #1 of the Washington Huskies scores a touchdown against the Washington State Cougars during the second quarter at Husky Stadium on November 25, 2023 in Seattle, Washington.

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With those main candidates in mind, there are a few other fringe contenders who have similar cases. If we want to recognize a great defensive year across the country, as we discussed in regard to Watts, cornerbacks Cooper DeJean and Will Johnson from Iowa and Michigan, respectively, were arguably the best players on the best defenses in the country. And edge rusher Laiatu Latu was phenomenal for UCLA against some of the nation's best offenses, as he earned the top defensive grade in Pro Football Focus' entire system.

Back on the other side of the ball, Nabers wasn't the only wideout who put up better numbers than Harrison did. Washington's Rome Odunze and Oregon's Troy Franklin also had more yards and catches, all while playing for contenders in the country's toughest conference this year.

Finally, in a similar vein to Milroe, Carson Beck didn't put up gaudy numbers like Daniels' or Nix's, but he was phenomenal in really big games all year and piloted a Georgia team that was viewed as probably the country's best for most of the season.

MORE: Why LSU's Jayden Daniels Already Has the Heisman Trophy Locked Up