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Aidan Hutchinson is finalist for Heisman Trophy; Kenneth Walker III misses cut

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, is in the running to collect the most recognizable piece of college football hardware.

Hutchinson is among four finalists for the Heisman Trophy, it was announced Monday night, shortly after voting ended at 5 p.m. The other three finalists are Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, the favorite to win, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett. The Heisman Trophy presentation is Saturday in New York.

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III, the Big Ten Running Back of the Year and second nationally in rushing and long considered a Heisman candidate, is not among the finalists. There are 928 voters, including 870 media members.

Michigan’s Charles Woodson, the 1997 Heisman Trophy winner, is the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman given to the “most outstanding player in college football." Winning the trophy is a longshot for defensive players, but Hutchinson is now officially in the mix.

Hutchinson set a program single-season sack record after his three-sack performance in Michigan’s win over Ohio State on Nov. 27. He now has 14 after adding another in Michigan's dominating 42-3 victory over Iowa last Saturday night to win the Big Ten championship, the program’s first since 2004. Michigan is No. 2 in the College Football Playoff and will face No. 3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl national semifinal on Dec. 31.

He was named the MVP of the Big Ten title game, and while he stood on a raised stage on the Lucas Oil Stadium field with his teammates and coach Jim Harbaugh, Michigan fans and his teammates began chanting “Hutch for Heisman” while he spoke to the crowd.

“There’s no player that can affect every single play like Aidan Hutchinson can,” Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara said Sunday. “The amount of physicality he brings, just the level of intent and just really will to make every single play is unmatched, and I think he’s a huge part of our success.

"If the Heisman were to go to the best player in college football, it would go to Aidan Hutchinson.”

Hutchinson, last week projected the No. 1 NFL Draft pick by Pro Football Focus, has been a large part of Michigan’s resurgence this season and why the Wolverines are 12-1 and two wins from a national title. Michigan was 2-4 last season, losing Hutchinson the third game of the season to a broken ankle that required surgery. He could have left for the NFL after last year but decided to return to Michigan to help resurrect the program.

So many of his teammates and coaches have very publicly said Hutchinson should win the Heisman Trophy. He was asked Sunday his take on all of this Heisman push from his teammates.

“I think I’ve shown a lot,” said Hutchinson, who is third on the team with 58 tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. “We’ve got a very good football team. You can’t really control what other people think or other people put you at. I think I’ve done everything I can to put myself in the best position.”

His teammates have not hesitated to promote him for the prestigious award.

“I think it's pretty self-explanatory — he deserves to be the Heisman Trophy winner,” center Andrew Vastardis said after the Big Ten title game. “He showed out every week, been a game changer, not just Saturdays. That guy puts it on the line every day in practice, every day in meetings. More dialed in, more committed and more dedicated than any guy I've ever been around. So, you know, how can you not root for a guy like that that in our opinion deserves it fully.”

Hutchinson also has the attention of Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who said Sunday during an Orange Bowl conference call that he has watched some Michigan games this season and saw part of the Big Ten title game and immediately noted Hutchinson’s play.

“You can tell, high motor, high intensity, serious, just a talented player,” Smart said. “It’s funny, (Saturday) night when I got home and just turned the game on, was watching it, I’ve got a nine-year-old son that loves college football.

“He started talking about Michigan’s players, and that’s the first guy he started telling me about. And I’m like, ‘How’s my nine-year-old son know about Aidan Hutchinson?’ and he knew everything about him and was giving me all these stats. I was pretty amazed, because I just started to fill myself in with Michigan last night, and he was talking about Aidan.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis