By Jeff O'Brien

Hutch for Heisman?

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is stumping for defensive end Aidan Hutchinson to win the Heisman Trophy after he starred in a win over Ohio State that put the second-ranked Wolverines in the Big Ten championship game and national title race.

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ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – NOVEMBER 27: Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates a sack against the Ohio State Buckeyes with teammates during the first quarter at Michigan Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback, and coach, also sent a message to teams in the league.

“I don’t know who has the first pick in the draft, but they should be studying very thoroughly Aidan Hutchinson,” he said Monday. “And, they should take him.”

Pro Football Focus seems to agree, ranking Hutchinson the No. 1 NFL prospect after his breakout performance against the Buckeyes. The 6-foot-6, 269-pound senior had three sacks and pressured quarterback C.J. Stroud 15 times, the highest total since PFF began keeping tabs on the statistic in 2014.

“This is the best moment of my life,” Hutchison said Saturday. “I manifested it and I’m here with my family and teammates on this glorious day.”

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – NOVEMBER 27: Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates a sack against the Ohio State Buckeyes with teammates during the first quarter at Michigan Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

The Wolverines (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten) have one more hurdle to clear to end their longest drought without a Big Ten title, dating to their last one in 2004, and to have a shot at winning the national championship for the first time since 1997.

No. 15 Iowa (10-2, 7-2) stands in their way Saturday in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.

When Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz watched Hutchinson disrupt Ohio State on offense last Saturday, he was reminded of players he faced as an NFL offensive line coach in the 1990s: Pro Football Hall of Famers Howie Long and John Randle.

“Those two guys when I was coaching, they kept me up at night,” Ferentz recalled.

Drawing comparisons to players of this era, Ferentz said Hutchinson also reminds him of former Wisconsin star and Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt.

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ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – NOVEMBER 27: Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Michigan Wolverines looks on during warms up prior to the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

In the 42-27 win over then-No. 2 Ohio State, Hutchinson had three sacks against a team that hadn’t allowed more than two in a game. The performance gave the Michigan native a Big Ten-best 13 sacks, breaking the school’s single-season record set by David Bowens in 1996 and matched by LaMarr Woodley in 2006.

Hutchinson’s dad, Chris, is tied for fourth on Michigan’s all-time list with 11 sacks in 1992.

“I just really wanted to beat my dad,” he said. “I guess I went a little further. It’s so cool.”

Hutchinson stayed in school for this season, putting his NFL dreams on hold, after he broke his right ankle in the third game of the pandemic-shortened season. He came back, relentlessly working out last winter and carrying the intensity of his training into the spring, summer, and this season.

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 20: Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates during the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium on November 20, 2021 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

“We started in January with all the work we put in, mentally and physically to get over that hump, if that’s what you want to call it, to beat Ohio State,” said Hutchinson, pushing the conversation away from himself and toward the team.

With the snow falling and fans filling the Big House field last Saturday, Hutchinson soaked up the surreal moment he envisioned in advance of The Game.

“I visualized fans storming the field, the goal posts coming down — I don’t think they came down — all of that,” he said. “I was crying.”

He was likely not the only member of his family shedding tears of joy. Chris Hutchinson, an emergency room physician, was a captain at Michigan in 1992. His mother, Melissa, also attended Michigan and sisters Mia and Aria are currently students in Ann Arbor.

“Can you just imagine what it would be like to be a great Michigan football player, a captain on the Michigan football team, and then 20-odd years later, see your son, your offspring, also be a captain of the Michigan football team?” Harbaugh asked.

 

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