Who is leading the race for the Heisman Trophy in 2021? If you ask Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin, it's Matt Corral.
The No. 9 Rebels are currently sitting a 6-1 and look like one of the more potent offenses in conference play. Corral has been a staple and a fixture of that success in 2021, throwing for 1,913 yards and scoring 24 touchdowns (15 passing, nine rushing) with just one interception.
In retrospect, winning the Heisman and winning in general correlate. Since 2017, the winner of College Football's highest honor has been awarded to a player whose school was represented in the College Football Playoff — two of which saw their program win it all.
The Rebels quest to remain in the CFP hunt could either extend or be hemorrhaged this weekend on a road trip to face No. 18 Auburn (5-2, 2-1 SEC). After that, they still must face the likes of No. 14 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC) whilst hoping No. 3 Alabama can drop a game.
Kiffin said Monday that Corral's attention isn't on individual honors, but rather the long-term goal. The Rebels QB, however, has produced stronger numbers passing and on the ground (474 rushing yards) than both Alabama's Bryce Young and Ohio State's CJ Stroud, two other quarterbacks expected to be in the running.
"I just get frustrated for Matt," Kiffin said. "He's got all these pieces moving and you think you've got guys and then all of the sudden they get injured. I know what he could do with those main guys."
Corral, who has played limited from his full potential due to an ankle injury, is exceeding expectations in more ways than one. The Rebels are without top wide receiver Braylon Sanders, who hasn't since the first quarter of the Tennessee game. Junior wide receiver Jonathan Mingo has missed the last four games.
Running back Jerrion Ealy has missed time due to injuries. Meanwhile, Ole Miss has been a constant turnstile on the offensive line, most recently losing lineman Ben Brown to a season-ending bicep injury.
So far, it hasn't rattled Corral like it would most starters. Last week against LSU, the junior completed 78 percent of his passing while throwing for 185 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns on the way to a 33-7 victory at home.
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"If you put on the tape and see what he deals with and how he has to move around and make plays versus some other people who just stand back there for 10 seconds and it's wide open," Kiffin said. "His job's a lot harder."
A coach is always going to lobby for his quarterback. Kiffin has a different point. Compare the injuries woes the Rebels have suffered, yet Corral remains a constant and pivotal focus for defensive coordinators to figure out.
Hint — they still struggle. Corral has thrown for over 200 yards in six games and has produced a multi-touchdown game in all seven starts.
Corral is one of two SEC quarterbacks (Florida's Emory Jones) that leads his team in rushing. His QBR of 87.4 ranks fourth nationally, trailing just Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, Young and Stroud.
Adversity usually isn't a qualification for those voting when it come to deciding who will take home the hardware. If it did, Kiffin would consider Corral the front-runner in that aspect.
Maybe that will excel him to being a high selection in April's NFL Draft?
"He plays really well, very competitive," Kiffin said. "Arm strength there are no questions and you can see him under center a few times as well doing pro-style stuff. I would think he's going to be a very high pick."
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