By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — At a time when Heisman Trophy winners are usually on their way to being first-round picks in the NFL draft, Stetson Bennett is a contender from another era of college football.
The Georgia quarterback already has a national championship ring and this season he has stepped up his own play in an offense that has entrusted him with more responsibility.
At 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, Bennett is no lock to be drafted at all even though he is a bona fide college football star.
“I think I’m as good as quarterback is anybody, but I don’t think about as, like, I’m the best quarterback. Because there’s so many different variables and different offenses and things that you’re asked to do, who you have around you,” said Bennett, who was sporting an old-school look Friday in a red-and-black letterman’s jacket while meeting with reporters and posing for pictures at a Manhattan hotel with three other Heisman finalist quarterbacks.
Southern California’s Caleb Williams is the favorite to win the award Saturday night.
Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud is a finalist for the second straight year for the playoff-bound and fourth-ranked Buckeyes, who face Bennett and the top-ranked Bulldogs on Dec. 31 in the Peach Bowl.
TCU’s Max Duggan had a breakout senior season, leading the surprising, third-ranked Horned Frogs to the College Football Playoff against No. 2 Michigan.
Williams and Stroud fit the modern mold of Heisman contenders.
Thirteen of the last 14 Heisman winners to enter the NFL have been selected in the first round, including all 11 quarterbacks. That does not include last year’s winner, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who is expected to be a first-rounder if he enters the next draft.
Williams has one more year left of college football before becoming draft eligible and is already drawing comparisons to Chiefs’ star Patrick Mahomes.
“It’s pretty cool,” Williams said. “Because everybody watches Patrick and sees all the cool things he can do. I always said, even in high school … obviously it’s special, but I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do that he’s doing out there.”
Stroud is considered a likely first-round pick in April’s draft. Maybe the first quarterback taken. Maybe No. 1 overall, though he hasn’t said for sure this will be his final season at Ohio State.
Duggan is a former four-star recruit with the size (6-foot-2, 210-pounds) and athleticism to be an NFL prospect, too. He also has not decided if he will return for another season of college football.
Bennett conjures up memories of Heisman winners such as Oklahoma’s Jason White in 2003 or Florida’s Danny Wuerffel in 1996: Highly productive college passers on national title contending teams, but not big-time pro prospects.
The last Heisman-winning quarterback not selected in the first round was Ohio State’s Troy Smith, who won the award in 2006 and was drafted in the fifth round by Baltimore.
At 25, Bennett would be the second oldest Heisman winner. Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke was 28 when he won it in 2000.
Bennett is college football’s everyman superstar. The former walk-on who took a detour through junior college has been an unlikely leader of a team packed with blue-chip recruits. He took hold of the starting job early last season and guided the Bulldogs to their first national championship since 1980.
This season, Bennett has be more playmaker than caretaker for an offense that ranks third in the Southeastern Conference with 285 yards passing per game. He has thrown for 3,425 yards and 20 touchdowns and run for seven scores.
Bennett said he has shored up his mechanics in the last year, and is better at self-correcting when his delivery gets out of sorts. Most of his improvement, though, is on the mental side of the game, better understanding what each play is trying to accomplish.
Georgia (13-0) has already thrown more passes this year (430) in two fewer games than it did last season (407).
“So (the offense) so far has been more explosive. And there has been more asked of me this year, which has been fun for me, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” Bennett said. “But I think that comes from me earning it, me being good enough to do that. I don’t think I necessarily was last year. Some spots, but not all the time.”
While Williams acknowledged winning the Heisman was one of many goals he had coming into this season, Bennett never really gave it much thought.
Bennett said Buster Faulkner, Georgia’s offensive quality control coach who he works closely with, told him before the season that the way the offense was evolving a Heisman run would be possible.
“I just heard it and, what does that mean? Right?” Bennett said. “But, shoot, he was a little bit right.”
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