Hendon Hooker Not Being A Heisman Finalist Is Shameful, But Vols Fans Are Used To It

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If you walk up to a group of people on any corner in the state of Tennessee and utter the name “Charles Woodson,” you are liable to receive a cross look at best and a right cross at worst. You can now add the name “Stetson Bennett” to that punch-inducing vocabulary.

In 1997, Peyton Manning passed for 3,819 yards and 36 TDs while leading Tennessee to an 11-1 record. He led the Vols to an SEC championship the week prior to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Manning was MVP of that game passing for 373 yards and four TDs. But instead of doing what everyone that actually watches college football knew they should do and award the Heisman to Manning, a bunch of writers from Bloomington, Indiana and Laramie, Wyoming decided to get cute and award the trophy to Michigan’s Charles Woodson. A great player and future Pro Football Hall of Famer in his own right, Woodson accounted for a whopping four TDs and seven interceptions. Charles Woodson remains the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman. 

Fast forward to 2022 and another Heisman debacle involving Tennessee. This time, Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker did not make the list of finalists invited to New York for the ceremony. Hooker finished the season with 3,565 total yards and 32 TDs. He tossed only two INTs while attempting 329 passes.

The Heisman Trophy is presented to the most outstanding player in college football. “Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work,” the Heisman website reads. Hooker is quite literally the living embodiment of this award.

Hendon Hooker Is Deserving Of A Heisman Finalist Spot

While at Virginia Tech in 2020, Hooker was diagnosed with a heart condition that required surgery. He was seen shaking and convulsing on the sideline in a game against Clemson in December of 2020. He was having a bad reaction to required heart medication. Justin Fuente, his coach at the time, claimed he was just “cold.” Hooker was furious with his coach and rightfully so. He decided to leave Virginia Tech for Knoxville shortly after the 2020 season.

Nineteen days after arriving on the UT campus, Hooker’s new head coach, Jeremy Pruitt, was fired. His next head coach, Josh Heupel, promptly brought Joe Milton from Michigan to be the starting QB. Finally, after an ankle injury in Game 2 of the 2021 season sidelined Milton, Hendon Hooker entered and Tennessee would be transformed from punchline to a fun, feel-good, score-happy program.

Hooker would go on to put up monster numbers in Tennessee’s 7-6 campaign in 2021: 3,561 total yards, 36 total TDs, and only three INTs. The reason he wasn’t a Heisman candidate was because Tennessee wasn’t in the Top 10. Then 2022 was more of the same statistically, and Hooker put up mammoth performances against Alabama and Florida in the prime 3:30 p.m. ET window on CBS, vanquishing two long-time Vols nemesis in the process. He led a Tennessee program that was on death’s door months earlier to their first No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff.

Sadly, Hooker would be lost for the season early in the fourth quarter of a loss to South Carolina in the second to last game of the season. For those wanting to point to the South Carolina game as the reason Hooker isn’t in New York, he threw for 247 yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions before tearing his ACL. It wasn’t vintage Hooker but he wasn’t bad. The Vols defense gave up TDs on nine of 10 Gamecock drives and last I checked, Hooker doesn’t play safety.

Too Many Heisman Voters Don’t Actually Watch Games

They don’t even bother to read the box scores. I’m convinced a majority of those entrusted with a vote simply tune into ESPN for analysis and hear someone say “Tennessee lost to South Carolina and lost Hendon Hooker, so let’s move on to Alabama and Ohio State” and do the exact same with their vote.

But not all awards voters got it wrong. Hooker swept the major SEC Awards. He was named Offensive Player of the Year by both the AP and the league’s coaches as well as being named First Team All-SEC. But that didn’t stop those that vote on the Heisman to elect the Second Team SEC QB as a Heisman finalist. That player is Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett. 

This is not meant to disparage Bennett, who also embodies the “diligence, perseverance, and hard work” the Heisman Trophy is supposed to represent. His walk-on to national champion story is one of the best in college football. His numbers weren’t at Hendon Hooker’s level — even with two more games — but they were really good, and Bennett came up big in Georgia’s biggest games. But now let me pose two simple questions that everyone should be able to answer quickly. What is Tennessee’s record with Stetson Bennett at QB? What is Georgia’s record with Hendon Hooker at QB? Your answers tell the story.

Does The Media Harbor An Anti-Tennessee Bias?

Vols fans have long been told they are crazy for believing the “big bad media” is out to get them. This goes all the way back to 1956 when Paul Hornung won the Heisman Trophy over Johnny Majors. Hornung somehow captured the award as part of a 2-8 Notre Dame team. (Remember when I told you that Heisman voters can make the rules up as they go?) Vols fans were made to feel like “deplorables” for rallying against what would have been a disastrous Greg Schiano hire in November 2017. But after the latest slight, maybe it isn’t the Vols fans that are crazy.

It’s time for those 900+ souls handed the responsibility of casting a Heisman ballot to open their eyes and minds instead of looking at their Twitter mentions. I have no doubt that Tennessee’s lunatic fringe has sparked a lot of spite from various members of the college football media illuminati. But that’s not Hendon Hooker’s fault. And a player and person of his caliber not being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy is shameful.

The stated mission of the Heisman Trust is to “ensure the continuation and integrity of this presitigious award.” If that’s true, it may be time to look at the process that leads to a player like USC QB Caleb Williams, who paints obscenities on his fingernails, being awarded a finalist spot over Hooker, a published Children’s Christian author.

I won’t be watching the Heisman ceremony on Saturday and I know I won’t be alone. It’s a broken system that needs to be fixed. I’ll settle for watching the Army-Navy game and shouting my favorite Caleb Williams message into the abyss. 

Chad Withrow hosts “OutKick 360” from 3-6 p.m. ET weekdays across the OutKick network.

Written by Chad Withrow

Chad Withrow hosts OutKick 360 and has covered Nashville sports, statewide, and SEC college issues and headlines since 2004.

One Comment

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  1. Sorry, but I’m not buying Herndon Hooker’s “snub” as “anti-Tennessee” bias. Hooker’s season was good, but the fact that he suffered a season ending injury probably played more of a role than any bias against the Vols. And any objective college football journalist could make better cases for Stetson Bennett, Max Duggan or Caleb Williams (I’m not totally sold on CJ Stroud compared to the other finalists) over Hooker. It’s unfortunate that he was hurt against South Carolina and I’m not discounting how big a role he played in the Vols’ resurgence this season, but I think Hooker would be in New York instead of Stroud without that injury.

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